Are you paying over the odds for your credit cards, loans, or mortgages? Consulting your credit report might help you determine whether you could apply for better rates on your lending.
Why is Your Credit File Important?
Your credit file is an important dossier of information. It includes the most recent six years’ worth of records concerning your application, lending, and repayment history.
The records are kept by credit reference agencies – namely Callcredit, Equifax, and Experian – and help lenders to assess your creditworthiness.
The strength of your credit report is a vital factor in a lender’s decision to accept or reject an application for credit. It may also determine the strength of the deal you are offered.
If you apply for a long-term 0% balance transfer credit card, for example, a lender witnessing a ‘good’ rather than an ‘excellent’ credit score may decide to offer a shorter term than the advertised maximum.
You are entitled to purchase a copy of your report for £2 from any provider. Equifax and Experian offer a one-month free trial, which grants unlimited access to a user's credit report, but you will need to cancel if you wish to avoid the monthly fee.
Find out more about what you can expect to find on your credit report.
Maintaining and Improving Your Credit Score
There are measures you can take to manage your credit history and avoid the issues that will look unfavourable to a lender.
One standard rule is to avoid making too many applications in a short space of time. Lenders may see this as a sign of desperation, or decide that you hope to take out more than one source of credit at the same time.
Other factors that may influence your credit score are the amount of credit you use and the number of applications you make.
Lenders want to see that you handle sensible amounts of credit responsibly. It is likely to raise alerts if you are regularly maximising your credit card limits or applying for new credit too frequently.
For young people who are not homeowners and who have not yet completed a payment agreement, specialist credit-building products can help to build up a solid impression of your creditworthiness.
General Dos and Don’ts to Improve a Credit Score
- Make sure you’re on the electoral roll.
- Pay bills on time. Just a few days late can make a difference.
- Check regularly for mistakes or incorrect details on your credit record.
- Apply for credit when you need it – applying for more than 4 forms of credit in a year can lower your credit score.
- Consider specialist credit card providers which help people to improve a credit record.
- End financial associations with ex-partners. Taking out a product jointly with them will affect your credit score.
- Use more than around 75% of your available credit limit, where possible.
- Apply for more than one credit product at a time. Each application can negatively impact your credit score.
- Leave old credit card accounts and direct debits open if they are no longer needed.
- Take out more than two forms of credit within a six month period.
Find out more about the determinants on our finance blog.
The Possibility of Cheaper Deals
Learning more about your credit score is important, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it gives you the chance to query mistakes if you encounter them.
Secondly, it will help you take steps to correct any wrongs.
Thirdly - and perhaps most importantly - a good credit score is the gateway to cheaper credit, which could allow you to save hundreds on your existing deals.
While personal loan rates have steadily fallen in recent years, average credit card rates have been creeping towards 18%.
On that basis, transferring a credit card balance of £2,000 to a 0% deal for 24 months (a dozen cards are currently available at this term or longer) could save upwards of £350 in interest over the term if the balance is paid off evenly.
A little over two years ago, we were celebrating the availability of 90% LTV mortgages at a then-knockdown rate of 5.39% (Halifax, Yorkshire BS).
Fast forward to 2014, and the best deal currently available at this loan-to-value range is almost two percentage points lower, at 3.48% (Post Office).
On a £150,000 mortgage, this would save more than £3,600 (£160 per month) over the two-year offer period.
Initiating a so-called ‘soft search’ will allow you to view your credit report without registering more activity on it. And understanding what lenders see when they process an application will help you to make more realistic judgements about what to apply for.
Without an excellent credit score, applying for a table-topping deal is less likely to be successful. But discovering that you have established a good credit history will allow you to apply for cheaper deals with a measure of confidence.
Helpfully, some banks now alert their current account customers if they have been pre-approved for a credit card - a handy indicator that an application will not be wasted. Why not ask your bank if they operate a pre-approval system based on your history with them?
If New Year resolutions involve getting on top of your finances, you can't go too far wrong in getting your hands on your credit report and using that to assess whether savings could be made through cheaper forms of credit.