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What is a credit score?

We explain what a credit score is and why it matters

04 February 2017Isabelle Coetzee 5 min read
Blyde River Canyon South Africa

Check your credit score today

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Your credit score plays a huge role in whether you’re approved for credit. We find out exactly what a credit score is and where you can find yours.

You may have heard that your credit score is an integral part of your personal finances. Without a good score, you won’t be able to qualify for a credit card or get a mortgage for your home.

But what exactly is a credit score? In this article, we find out everything you need to know about credit scores – including how you can improve yours.

A credit score is a three-digit number that reflects your creditworthiness. It's calculated based on the factors in your credit report, such as your payment history and credit enquiries. Your credit score helps lenders decide whether to give you credit. The higher your score, the better you managed your debt in the past. This means that you’re more likely to repay your debt in the future, so you’re considered low-risk and will easily qualify for credit.

A high credit score means that your application for credit is more likely to be accepted. You will also be eligible for better interest rates and better deals when borrowing money.

At ClearScore , you can access your credit score and report for free, forever. Sign up or log in to find out what your credit score is.

Your credit score is determined by the credit bureaus of South Africa. Your lenders gather information about your credit behaviour, such as whether you paid your bills on time, and they then report this to the credit bureaus.

Note that lenders are not required to report your credit behaviour to the bureaus. However, larger lenders often choose to report to a bureau of their choice. As a result, each credit bureau has slightly different information about you.

Each credit bureau values items on your credit report differently. For example, at Experian, your payment history is considered the most important factor, so it counts 35% towards your credit score.

Each credit bureau has its own scoring system. For example, TransUnion will give you a credit score between 0 and 999, while Experian will give you a credit score between 0 and 740.

This means that you will have different credit scores from different bureaus. However, they will ultimately tell a similar story about your creditworthiness.

At ClearScore, we have partnered with Experian so that we can deliver your credit score to you on our easy-to-use platform. This means that, just like Experian, your credit score will be out of 740.

A good credit score will be different depending on the credit bureau you request your score from. To give you an idea of how it works, let’s use Experian as an example. These are the ranges you can expect from them:

Credit score

Experian band

ClearScore name



Let's start climbing


Below average

On the up



On good ground



Looking bright



Soaring high

If you have a credit score that’s above 615, you’re doing well and lenders won’t consider you a huge risk. If your credit score is above 634, you have a good chance of being approved for credit. Finally, if it’s above 658, your credit score ranks among the top in the country.

Don’t feel discouraged if your score is considered below average or poor. Through ClearScore, you can sign up for self-paced, interactive coaching plans to boost your score – the best part? It’s free.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but having no previous credit history will have a negative impact on your credit score. This is because you need a credit history to build your credit score and, without it, your credit score will be zero.

Besides this, there is also a range of negative credit scores that will prevent you from taking out credit. Have a look at the following table to see what each one signals:

Credit score



The bureau doesn’t have enough information to give you a credit score. Learn how to build your credit score with this Coaching Plan.


Records cannot find you, indicating you may be deceased. If this isn't the case, you can raise a dispute.


You are under sequestration, which means that your assets are being repossessed. To learn more about the legal consequences of not sticking to your credit agreements, read this article.


You are under debt review. During this period, you are barred from taking out any further credit. If this isn’t the case, find out why it’s still showing up on your report here.


You have an active dispute on with one of the credit bureaus. Your credit score will remain in a negative status until this is resolved. Read this article if you’re having trouble with this process.


There are fraud warnings on your account because someone may be taking out credit in your name. Find out how to take action against this here.

Your credit score relies on the information on your credit report. This includes your payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, credit enquiries, and types of credit.

If any of these factors are unfavourable, your credit score will go down. Have a look at how each of these can hurt your credit score:

  • Poor payment history: If you have a store card and you forget to pay your account for several months, this will be noted on your credit report and your credit score will decline. If you continue to miss payments, this may escalate to defaults and court judgements.
  • Too much debt: If your combined credit limit is R10,000 and your debt is R9,000, then you would have used 90% of your credit limit. This is considered too high and, as a result, your credit score will go down.
  • Short credit history: If you have only had one credit card for 6 months, this will be considered a short credit history. Lenders prefer seeing long-term credit commitments.
  • Too many enquiries: Every time you apply for credit, your prospective lender views your credit report and this is considered an “enquiry”. If you have too many of these in a short span of time, it will seem as though you’re desperate for money and your score will drop.
  • Poor credit mix: If you only have short-term debt, then lenders won’t be able to determine whether you can handle long-term debt. However, this only counts 10% towards your credit score, and you should never borrow money unless you need it.

If you're planning on borrowing in one way or another, for example by getting a home loan, you'll want to prove to the lender that you're a risk worth taking.

Even if you’re not planning on borrowing money right now, you might change your mind in the future. Making small changes now will get you much further than a big push right before you need to borrow money. Start building your credit score today by taking the following steps:

  • Pay your bills on time: Make sure you always maintain a good credit history. Set up debit orders and set reminders to ensure you pay your bills each month without fail.
  • Keep your debt low: By keeping your credit utilisation below 30%, your credit score will grow. For example, if you have an overall credit limit of R10,000, don’t borrow more than R3,000 at a time.
  • Don’t close your accounts: Once you pay off an account, you can keep it open, even if you’re not using it. This will then count as having a longer credit history.
  • Be sparing with applications: If you’re looking for a personal loan, only apply to one lender at a time and wait for the outcome before you take any further action. If you’re rejected, consider improving your credit score first before applying again.
  • Improve your credit mix: If you have only paid off long-term debt, such as a student loan, you can consider opening a short-term debt account, such as a credit card or store card. Both of these also offer other benefits, such as travel discounts and shopping rewards.

Once a year, you’re allowed to request a free credit report from each of the credit bureaus. Simply reach out to the credit bureau of your choice and tell them that you’d like to see your credit report.

Alternatively, you can view your credit report through ClearScore – anytime, anywhere. Simply sign up or log in to see your entire credit report. It will always be free, so you have nothing to lose.

Key highlights

  1. A credit score is a three-digit number calculated based on your credit report
  2. A higher score means you’re more likely to be accepted for credit
  3. ClearScore shows you your Experian credit score
  4. Having no credit history can affect your score negatively, as you don’t have any evidence that you’re a reliable borrower
  5. The factors that have the biggest negative impact on your score are late or missed payments, defaults, Court Judgments and bankruptcy
  6. Everyone has at least four different credit scores, from the four main credit reference agencies in South Africa.

Isabelle Coetzee Image

Written by Isabelle Coetzee

Freelance Copywriter

Isabelle is a freelance finance writer and journalist in Cape Town. She helps make managing your personal finances calm, clear and easy to understand.