How To Improve Your Credit Rating So It's Positively Glowing

Thinking of applying for a credit card or mortgage soon? Read this first.
JakeOlimb via Getty Images

Your credit report is like your financial CV, so it stands to reason that you’d want it in tip-top shape. You wouldn’t let a potential employer look at your CV without making sure it’s up-to-date, says James Jones, Experian’s head of consumer affairs – so don’t apply for credit before giving your report a little spruce up.

It might seem like an effort, but if you’re thinking about applying for a mortgage, credit card, phone contract or any other product where you’re lent money, then it’s important to be aware of it.

First, check your credit score.

Get clued up on what a credit score is. The good news is this is free to do from the three main credit reference agencies in the UK: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. They are all authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Your credit history for the past six years is predominantly what affects your score. If you’ve used several lines of credit, and made expected payments on time, you’re likely to be in the lender’s good books.

Contrary to what people believe, it doesn’t impact your credit score when you check it online. Simply checking your score is called a “soft” inquiry, which doesn’t affect your rating. A “hard” enquiry however, such as when you apply for a new credit card, does affect it. So applying for lots of products in one go would probably ring alarm bells and bring your score down.

If you want a more detailed copy of your credit report (not just your score), you may have to pay – it’s best to shop around. Ideally you should be applying for a copy of the report as early as six months before you start making new applications for credit, says an Equifax spokesperson.

Now, here are some steps you can take to ensure your credit rating is looking as healthy as can be by the time someone official looks at it.

1. Register on the electoral roll.

This takes about five minutes to do (you can do it here) and is seen as a sign of “stability and reliability”. On Experian, for example, doing this on its own would add 50 points to your score.

You can register if you’re aged 16 or over (or 14 or over in Scotland) and a UK citizen (or an Irish, EU or Commonwealth citizen with a permanent UK address).

2. Amend errors in your credit report.

Checking your credit report and asking for errors to be corrected could bump up your score. For example, if you’re penalised for a late payment to a credit card, but you paid on time, you can change this. In most cases the correction will appear on your credit report within 28 days.

You can also add what’s called a “notice of correction” to explain items on your report, such as missed payments, which may have occurred due to life changes like losing your job. “The notice of correction will only be recorded with the credit reference agency you provide it to and will stay on your credit file indefinitely. The lender will see it when considering an application,” says Equifax’s spokesperson.

3. Build up your financial track record.

Sometimes, you have to focus on the long game. Lenders like to see a proven track record of responsible credit management – this could include having your own bank account, paying your phone bill every month, and having your name on some of the household bills. Make sure that, even if your bills are shared with housemates, your monthly payments are always made on time.

4. Get a credit card and pay on time.

It’s not the key to getting a good credit score, but it can help. A five-year-old credit card with a high credit limit, low balance and perfect payment record can boost a person’s Experian score by around 200 points, for example. This could make lenders more likely to let you open products with them.

Always keep credit card balances as low as possible and pay them off in full, on time. You could use your credit card to pay for petrol purchases, for example, then pay it off at the end of every month. You can set up a minimum payment to your card if you tend to spend the same amount each month, or simply set yourself a calendar reminder to pay the balance.

You should avoid exceeding your credit limit, particularly more than once, as this could indicate that you’re spending more than you can afford, advises an Equifax spokesperson.

It actually helps your case if you let your credit card mature (basically, have one for a long time). Having the same credit card for five years, for example, can add points to your score.

5. Make your rent count.

People who are renting might want to register with firms like Canopy or Credit Ladder to have their rent payments reported to Experian, and therefore included in their credit history and score.