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How to boost your credit score

Have You Done These Simple Things That Boost Your Credit Score?

Lots of us are keen to do anything we can to improve our credit scores. Maybe it’s because we have a particular goal that’s dependent on having a credit score in good shape, have a need to borrow and don’t want to pay through the nose in interest charges, or are simply chasing after the fabled 700 out of 700 score. And, while a lot of working your way to a top notch credit score is a game of patience (you don’t go from zero to hero overnight in this game!), there are some things you can do to make sure you stay on the right track, and perhaps give you a little boost along the way.

Register to vote

Registering to vote is not only a great way to boost your credit score, it’s something that, if you’re eligible to vote, you must do – or you could be at risk of being fined. Getting yourself on the electoral roll doesn’t mean you have to cast your vote on polling days if you don’t want to. But, being registered makes it easier for lenders to confirm you are who you say you are, and is a sign that your situation is relatively stable: if you’re registered to vote, you’ve laid down some roots. Someone that is who they say they are and has a stable situation is probably more likely to pay back what they borrow, and therefore will receive a higher credit score.

But doesn’t registering to vote mean I’ll get spammed with junk mail?

Not necessarily. When you register to vote, you can opt out of being included in the “open register”, which is the version that companies can buy and use to send you letters promoting their products and services. If you’re not on the open register, you should find your name ends up on way fewer mailing lists and you get less junk through the door.

What if I can’t register to vote for safety reasons?

In some rare situations, such as if you’re part of a witness protection programme or are fleeing domestic abuse, registering to vote may put your safety, or the safety of someone you live with, on the line.  In these situations, it is possible to register to vote anonymously by filling out a special form and submitting evidence that explains why you should be allowed to register this way. Registering anonymously means you can vote if you want to, but your name and address won’t be included in the electoral register – and so can’t help boost your credit score.

In this situation you may want to add a note to your credit report that explains why your electoral roll information isn’t available – called a Notice of Correction. These notes aren’t included in your credit score calculation, but will be seen by lenders and may help sway their decision on whether to lend to you or not.

I’m not eligible to vote in the UK – what can I do?

If you’re not eligible to vote in the UK, for example because you’re not a British citizen or aren’t a citizen of a Commonwealth country, then unfortunately without taking the citizenship test and becoming a British citizen, there’s not much you can do get the score boost registering to vote gives you. Some people choose to add a note explaining their circumstances to their report – another Notice of Correction – but although these are seen by lenders and can be taken into account when making decisions on applications, they don’t count towards your credit score, unfortunately.

Check for mistakes

Regularly doing a sweep of your credit report to check for mistakes, errors and fraud is key to making sure your credit score stays in the best shape possible. Even a tiny mistake like a slight difference in your address between accounts can have a big impact on your score, so imagine what a whole account that doesn’t belong to you showing up could do! Making sure all your information is correct and up to date is key to improving your credit score.

Check out our guide to correcting mistakes in your credit report, which tells you what to look out for and how to fix anything you find! 

Pay your bills

We know that paying all your bills on time, every time, is much easier said than done for a lot of people. And, particularly during 2020, it’s become even more challenging to stay on top of everything for many.

But, your track record of paying your bills on time – whether for something as big as your mortgage or as relatively small as your phone bill – is a big chunk of how lenders decide whether you’re likely to pay them back if they lend to you. The more often you pay all your bills on time, the better your credit score will be.

Pay down high balances

As well as paying all your bills on time, if you’re sitting on big balances for credit cards, catalogue accounts, or other types of borrowing that you can dip in and out of (also known as revolving credit), then making a plan to reduce these balances and pay the debts off completely will help your credit score, because it’ll lower your credit utilisation.

Credit utilisation is the name given to how much of the overall credit available to you that you’re using. It’s best explained with an example or two, so let’s get stuck in.

Let’s say you have one credit card, with a limit of £1000. Your balance is £500, which makes your credit utilisation 50%.

With us so far? Let’s mix it up a bit. As well as that credit card, you also have another credit card, with a £2000 limit, that you also have a balance of £500 on. On that card, your credit utilisation is 25%. But your overall credit utilisation is 33.3%. That’s because in total, you have £3000 credit available to you between your two cards, and you’ve got balances that add up to £1000.

How low do I need to keep my credit utilisation to boost my credit score?

Great question. Generally, the less of the credit you’re using (and therefore the lower your credit utilisation), the better it is for your credit score. As a rule of thumb, the Money Advice Service suggest keeping your overall credit utilisation at 25% or less.

You might think that if you pay down your balances and then don’t spend on those accounts again, so your credit utilisation is 0%, then that’s going to be best for your score. But, it might not be. Having credit accounts is great, but if you never use them and so never have a bill to pay, then nobody knows if you’d be able to pay back what you borrow or not! Our recommendation is, once you’ve paid down your big balances, to use your credit card(s) to do small amounts of spending you’d do anyway, like paying for your groceries or your petrol, and then square up the bill in full every month when your statement lands. This keeps your balances low, but your accounts will be in use so lenders can see you’re managing your money well.

Limit how often you apply for credit

Another one of the biggies when it comes to your credit score is how often you’re applying for credit. Applications you make – whether or not you end up getting the loan or credit card in the end – are visible on your credit report because of the “hard search” that the lender carries out when you submit your application. And, lots of applications in a short space of time can have a negative effect on your credit score. Making a lot of credit card or loan applications close together can come off like you’re keen – too keen – to get your hands on the money, and might be biting off a bit more than you can chew, or repay. But how many applications is a lot? As a general rule, 3 or more in a 12 month period. And to improve your credit score, you’ll ideally apply for credit once a year, or less.

But, we don’t want you to not apply for credit when you need it because you’re worried about the impact on your credit score. Life happens, and sometimes you need to do a lot at once, or in a short space of time. If you’ve thought it through and you know that now’s the right time to get that sofa on finance even though you only got a new credit card to transfer your balance to one with a lower rate a couple of months ago, and only applied for a mortgage a couple of months before that, then you go for it. But if you can hang on and spread the applications out a bit more, then it’d be a sensible thing to do.

If you’ve been applying out of curiosity to see if you’d be approved, though, or because you were struggling to make ends meet without borrowing more and more, then if you can, you should knock that on the head.

If you’re struggling for money, borrowing is rarely the answer, and it may be time to step back, take stock of your situation and get some proper advice on what to do. Perhaps rehashing your budget is part of the answer, or maybe it’s time to look into consolidation and debt management options.

If you’ve been applying out of curiosity, then you can still get your fix of seeing how likely you are to be approved for credit by using comparison sites to check out the options available to you. These sites still leave a marker on your credit report, but unlike full applications for credit, it’s a “soft search” marker, which is mostly put there so that you know who’s been searching your credit report – it won’t be made visible to any lenders you do decide to apply for credit with.

Remember, improving your score won’t happen overnight

Working your way up to a better credit score, whether you’re already in a good spot or have a lot of work to do, won’t happen overnight. It’s a process that requires patience, but once you know you’re on the right path and doing these things, you’ll love seeing how much your score’s gone up every month!

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