In today’s interconnected world, what lenders, utilities and retailers know (or think they know) about you can be all-important if you want the best deals.
A: There’s no simple answer; because – while the Bank of England’s all-important “Base Rate” is just 0.75% – what’s added to that will vary. The more favourably you are viewed as a credit risk, the lower the rate of interest you’ll pay. The reverse also applies – and you may not even get credit at all. Moreover, it’s surprising just how often your “credit rating” comes into play.
“Everyone will know that having a good credit rating and credit report is important if you want to get a mortgage, credit card or loan,” says Lee Healey, Managing Director of IncomeMax CIC, an organisation that helps families take control of their finances through personal money advice. “But it can also affect things like mobile phone contracts, car insurance and bank accounts.”
So, it’s not just banks and finance companies that can reply: “The computer says ‘no’”.
Ask a furniture store if you can pay in monthly instalments, and your credit rating will determine their response. Try to hire a car, rent a flat... even persuade an energy company to give you the best deals… your credit rating will potentially save (or cost) you a great deal of money.
Banks, building societies, retailers, utilities, loan providers and a host of other organisations have a vested interest in reducing the risk they face when doing business. So our key financial transactions are recorded and shared through credit reference agencies.
“There are three major credit reference agencies in the UK: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion,” says Lee Healey, “and they all hold information and data on us which lenders use to make decisions on credit applications. And there are many things that affect your credit reference file - including application details, credit history, electoral roll information, addresses, financial links and fraud data.”
In brief, if we pay our bills on time and don’t run up debts that we appear unable to pay, that’s viewed favourably. Equally, it helps if you are seen to be paying bills, having credit and being “part of the system”. Not having much of a “footprint” can really count against you.
Crucially, your credit score is not written in stone… so paying off a loan or HP agreement could improve it, while falling behind on payments has the opposite effect.
On the credit reference agency sites, you can find out your rating, what they know about you and any negative factors affecting your score. Critically, this provides an opportunity to spot and correct errors.
On top of reports on any credit accounts you have, and payments you have (or haven't) made, there will be data on more serious problems – such as court judgments for unpaid debts, bankruptcies or individual voluntary arrangements.
“To really understand your rating, you should check your credit report file with all three agencies at least once a year,” says Lee. “Under the new GDPR rules, it's now free to check your file - so don't feel obliged to take out paid subscription services.”
Banks and other larger institutions will also keep their own records; and, because they analyse their data differently, they may well vary significantly in how they view you.
Surprisingly, yes. Having a good credit rating is not the be-all and end-all. Those who always pay off cards at the end of the month and regularly move borrowing about to take advantage of 0% deals may find themselves turned down on occasions… after all, who wants to do business with you if you’re not going to make them money?
Finally, says Lee, “Be sensible if you are looking to 'repair' your file by using credit. Improving and maintaining your credit rating really does take time, dedication, perseverance and discipline.”