Credit scores are a complicated business. No-one has a universal credit score. This means there’s no rulebook to tell you how many credit points are lost and won with everything you do financially. Instead, we’re going to talk about the factors that may affect how lenders view you, and how these, in turn, impact your credit score. (You can watch our handy video or scroll down to read more.)
Applying for credit
Every time you make an application for credit, a credit application search (or a ‘hard’ search) will be carried out on your credit report and a mark will be left on your file.
Making an occasional application for credit won’t make much of a difference to your credit score, especially not in the long-term. However, if you make several applications in a short space of time, or if you’re rejected for credit, it’s likely to have a negative impact on your score.
If you want to limit the number of application searches (‘hard’ searches) on your report, you can check your eligibility for a credit product using quotation searches (‘soft’ searches) before you apply. This is better for your credit score, as only you can see the quotation searches on your report (they’re invisible to lenders). You can see your eligibility for products on the ClearScore Offers page of your account.
TIP: Don’t panic if your credit score dips when you’ve applied for a new credit card. If you start using your new product responsibly then your credit score should go back up relatively quickly.
Stability with your address and the electoral roll
It’s no surprise to learn that banks and lenders like to know that the people they lend to are reliable and stable – and therefore can be trusted to repay any debts.
One way they determine stability is to look at how long you’ve lived at your address and if you are on the electoral roll. If you've been living in one place for a long time, this will be better for your credit score than if you are frequently moving between properties.
In addition to this, being on the electoral roll provides the lender with assurance not only that you are who you say you are, but that you’re settled at your current address (another sign of stability).
The age of your accounts
Just like with your address, banks and lenders like to see signs of stability in the age of your credit accounts. So, they like to see that at least one of your credit accounts has been held for several years. Just like your address, this not only proves who you are, but shows you’ve been trusted by another lender over a long period of time. It’s likely to have a positive impact on your credit score if you have an older credit account on there. If your credit accounts are all mostly new this could lower your credit score.
Missing or not paying your debt
If you miss a payment or pay late on a debt, this will be marked on your credit report and it’s likely to have a negative effect on your credit score.
If you miss several payments your lender may place your account into ‘default’. Every lender will have different rules for how many payments you’re allowed to miss before you default. Some will allow you to miss up to 6 payments but for some lenders you may only be able to miss 2 payments before you are declared in default.
Defaulting on a debt carries a much heavier penalty on your credit score than missing a payment.
Missing and default payments will be marked on your credit report and will stay there for 6 years (the maximum time your credit information is held for).
Remember, it’s never too late to pay back a debt. It will always look better on your credit report to pay down a defaulted account – even if the payment is late and it isn’t for the full amount. It will demonstrate to lenders that you’ve tried to make up for the defaulted payment, and this is always preferable to never paying a debt back at all.
How much of your credit limit you’re using
Your credit utilisation will have an impact on your credit score. For example, if you use too much of your total available credit or too much of a single line of credit, it could damage your score.
Lenders may also consider this when they're assessing your creditworthiness and ability to pay back credit. Keeping it under 30% is typically a good strategy.
If your utilisation goes over this level it could be marked as negative factor on your report. Equifax have given the following information as a guide to show how a high credit utilisation might impact your credit score:
If you use between 50% - 75% of your total credit limit, this will show up as an ‘amber flag’ on your credit report, meaning it may have a negative effect on your credit score.
If you are using more than 75% of your total credit limit, this will be a ‘red flag’ on your credit report, and it’s likely to have a more significantly negative effect on your credit score.
This means, ideally, you should think about carefully managing your credit utilisation. So for example, if your total limit is £1000, you might not want to use more than £300. If you have multiple cards or accounts, you might want to share out the amount you're borrowing across the cards, rather than maxing out one card (but only if this makes financial sense).
Other factors relating to your credit limit may also affect your credit score. For example, if you have one credit card with a relatively high credit limit, this may have a positive effect on your credit score as it shows you’re trusted with this level of credit.
Public records: CCJs, IVAs and bankruptcy
If you have a CCJ (County Court Judgement) against you, an IVA (Individual Voluntary Arrangement) or bankruptcy, this information is on the public record and becomes part of your credit report.
If lenders see any of these three items marked on your report, it will have a negative impact on your credit score and it’s likely lenders will be less willing to lend to you. This is because your record shows you’ve gone back on some form of financial agreement in the past.
If you do have one of these on your record, make sure you comply with any rules or restrictions you are given. If you ignore what is asked of you, it can have more serious and permanent consequences on your credit score.
Once your debt is back under control, using a credit builder credit card very carefully will help you rebuild your credit score.
You can learn more about CCJs and bankruptcies (and what to do about them) here.
Mistakes on your report
Mistakes on credit reports can and do happen, and these can have a negative effect on your credit report.
Some of the most common errors include incorrect names and addresses, but other details such as whether you’re on the electoral roll, your debt levels and account status can have mistakes as well.
If your name or address have errors (such as a typo) or if you have used different names/addresses for different accounts, some of your accounts may not appear on your credit report. This may mean you lose out on any positive effects that these accounts may have on your credit score. Make sure you look at the ‘accounts’ section of your credit report to check all of your accounts are there and there’s nothing you don’t recognise. If you want to change something that's not right on your ClearScore credit report (which uses Equifax data), you can raise a dispute here.
If you want a cheat sheet of things to check on your credit report, you can use our article here.
Not having any active credit agreements or credit history
If you don’t have any active credit accounts – i.e. ones that you’re currently using - this may have a negative impact on your credit score. The reason for this is that lenders have no current information about your ability to borrow money and repay it reliably, and therefore you may be seen to be a greater credit risk.
If you have no credit history you may struggle to be approved for credit in the first place (a bit of a chicken and egg situation). There are credit cards out there that might be able to help you if you’re in this situation – credit builder cards – which, if you use responsibly, could help you build up your credit score.