More people check their credit report and score on New Year’s Day than on any other day of the festive period, according to credit reference agency Equifax.
Its data shows Christmas Day is only the third most popular day of the holidays for the essential annual task.
Whichever day you’re planning a financial health check over the Christmas break, use Which?’s nine simple tips to help improve your credit score.
1. Check all three of your credit reports for mistakes
In the UK, there are three credit reference agencies (CRAs) that collect and keep information about your borrowing and financial behaviour. These are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
When you apply for credit, the lender checks your credit report with one, two or all three CRAs. With this, plus the information in your application, it will make a decision on whether to lend to you.
To get an idea of where you stand, CRAs produce a credit score that reflects the information held in your credit report to see how likely you are to be approved for credit. While they all calculate your score slightly differently, most of the factors they use are the same.
A good credit rating can take years to build, but one piece of incorrect information can undo all your hard work in an instant, so make sure all the information held by CRAs is accurate and up to date.
It’s best to check all three credit reference agencies as the information can differ. You’ll never be penalised for checking your report.
- Find out more: how to check your credit scores for free
2. Add rent payments to your credit report
Private tenants can ask their landlord to report payments to The Rental Exchange, or they can self-report via CreditLadder or Canopy.
These companies use open banking to allow them to track rental payments through your current account with your permission.
CreditLadder is the only service that reports rent payments to all three credit agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), but this service cost £5 a month. However, you can access the service for free if you opt to report to just one agency.
Canopy offers a similar service called RentTracking, and it will report payments to Experian and Equifax for a charge of £4.99 a month. It also will report your payments to just one agency for free.
Council or social housing tenants can ask their landlord to report payments to a free scheme called The Rental Exchange. This information will appear on your Experian credit report.
- Find out more: what is a rent reporting platform?
3. Check that your name is on the bills
Did you know that women have a lower average credit score than men?
In April earlier this year, credit score provider Credit Karma (which is powered by TransUnion data) revealed that this ‘gender credit score gap’ was caused by women not having financial products in their own name.
The research found that 31% of women have some or all of their financial agreements in their partner’s name and were less likely to have credit cards, mortgages and personal loans.
If you don’t have loans or credit cards, putting things like mobile phone and utility bills in your name will help build your score.
4. ‘De-link’ with any ex-partners and flatmates
If your partner or flatmate has a bad credit rating this will not affect yours, but it will if you have a joint financial product with them.
This could include a joint account you may have set up with your flatmates to pay bills that has an overdraft facility.
When you have joint financial products, a link is formed and lenders may look at your partner or flatmate’s credit reports as well as yours when assessing an application.
So if you have broken up or are no longer living with the same people, make sure you close or update the accounts.
- Find out more: joint bank accounts explained
5. Get on the electoral roll
Being registered on the electoral roll means lenders can easily confirm that you live at the address given in your application.
Experian says registering to vote could boost your score by as much as 50 points. You can register to vote on the government website.
If you aren’t eligible to vote in the UK, you need to send all three credit reference agencies proof of residency (utility bills and a UK driving licence) and ask them to add a note to your report to verify your identity and main address.
6. Make your Netflix payments count
Watching your favourite Christmas film over the holidays could help boost your score.
Last year Experian launched a new tool called Experian Boost that lets you boost your score by sharing details of your regular outgoings, such as council tax and subscriptions to the likes of Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime, which normally wouldn’t get picked up by your report.
It also counts regular payments into investments and savings such as Isas and monthly saver accounts.
The tool is free to all customers with an Experian account and a current account with a bank or building society that supports open banking.
- Find out more: all you need to know about Experian Boost
7. Try a credit-builder card
If 2021 has left you with a poor score or you have a ‘thin’ credit history because you’ve never borrowed before, consider getting a credit-builder credit card.
These cards tend to offer a lower credit limit and have a higher-than-average interest rate. This means you will need to make sure you pay off what you spend each month to avoid paying a hefty interest bill.
If you keep up regular repayments, you should see your credit score improve in six to 12 months.
- Find out more: the best credit cards for bad credit
8. Consider paying more of your credit card bill
If you’ve been left with some extra cash after Christmas, consider paying a bit more off your credit card – instead of the minimum amount. If you only pay the minimum, lenders may assume you’re struggling to clear your debts.
Paying off more also will leave more credit available, which could help lower your credit utilisation.
Borrowing more than 90% of the limit on a credit card or across all the credit cards you have can knock 50 points off your credit score, according to Experian. However, keeping your balance below 30% of the limit will boost it by 90 points.
Find out more: how to pay off your credit card debts
9. Use ‘soft searches’ for new borrowing
If you’re thinking of applying for a new credit card or loan over the holidays, make sure you check your eligibility first.
When you apply for credit, a lender will perform a ‘hard credit search’ to check if you are eligible. These leave a ‘footprint’ on your credit file, which is visible to other lenders.
Too many hard checks over a short period of time can affect your credit score for six months, according to Experian.
So it’s worth asking lenders to perform a ‘soft search’ rather than a hard credit search so you will get an idea if your application will be accepted.
Find out more: our guide on how to improve your credit score has more tips to help boost your rating