What is a poor credit score?
Your credit score is a number used by credit reference agencies (CRAs) to help give lenders an overall view of how you manage money. There are three main CRAs in the UK – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – all of which use different scoring systems.
These are what different credit reference agencies consider a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ score to be:
|Very Poor||–||0 – 560||0 – 550|
|Poor||0 – 438||561 – 720||551 – 565|
|Fair||439 – 530||721 – 880||566 – 603|
|Good||531 – 670||881 – 960||604 – 627|
|Very Good||671 – 810||–||–|
|Excellent||811 – 1000||961 – 999||628 – 710|
There could be all sorts of reasons for a low credit score, from missed payments to unfavourable financial associations. Keep in mind that most marks on your credit report will only last six years, after which they're removed.
Your low credit score may even be down to having few or no credit agreements, which may be referred to as a thin credit history.
Some of the possible consequences of having bad credit include:
Higher interest rates
Lenders calculate their decision to lend money based on risk. When the risk increases, they will usually charge higher interest rates and offer lower credit amounts or limits to counteract it. This is to offset the potential cost of recouping the money later.
Being eligible for fewer products
While there are brokers who specialise in lending to those with bad credit, your options are likely to be more limited.
It’s always a good idea to use eligibility checkers before submitting any applications. These let you know the likelihood of being accepted without affecting your credit score.
What causes a low credit score?
Some of the most common reasons for a low credit score include:
1. Missed payments
Missed or late repayments are reported automatically and can have a significant impact on your credit score.
If you’re struggling to make repayments, then contact your lender. They may be able to discuss alternative payment plans.
2. You’ve defaulted or got a CCJ
If you’ve missed multiple payments, then this can lead to a default notice.
A default is only served after several (typically 3-6) payments are missed. The lender may ask for all the debt back or arrange an instalment plan. If you pay within 2 weeks, the default will be removed from your file.
The next step after a default is a County Court Judgment (CCJ). A CCJ is a court order for lenders to recover the debt you owe. A CCJ can be removed from your credit file if it’s paid off in full within 30 days.
3. Financial associations
Have you ever shared a credit commitment (loan, bank account, etc.) with someone or acted as a guarantor? This is known as a financial association, and any financial mistakes they have made may also be bringing your score down.
You can contact the three credit reference agencies to get a notice of dissociation if you no longer have a financial connection with the person and want to remove the link.
4. Mistakes on your credit report
Inaccuracies on your credit report can mean your credit score is lower than it should be.
It’s a good idea to regularly check your report with all three main credit reference agencies to make sure everything is correct. If you do think there is an error on your report, you can contact the agency directly to dispute it and ask for it to be removed or corrected.
5. You’re not on the electoral roll
Lenders need to check that you are who you say you are. Being registered on the electoral roll is one of the best ways to prove your identity and address.
It’s easy to get on the electoral roll. You can do it online in just a few minutes, and doing so can even boost your credit score.
If you can’t get on the electoral roll (for example if you’re not from an EU or Commonwealth country), you can register your proof of address with the credit reference agencies independently using a UK driving licence or utility bill. Contact the agency directly to find out how to do this.
6. You have little or no credit history
If you have no record of handling credit previously, lenders have no evidence that you can borrow responsibly. This is referred to as having “thin credit” and can give you a lower score than you’d like. Thin credit can mean you have a low credit score, despite having no debt.
Your score is based on your credit history in the UK over the past six years or so. If you’ve just moved to the UK, any lines of credit from your home country won’t be counted in your report.
You could establish a positive credit history over time with a credit-building credit card. Just make sure you pay back the amount in full each month to get the best chance of boosting your credit score.
7. Changes in credit usage
How much you borrow also affects your score, as this gives a clear picture of your affordability. If you have suddenly spent more on a credit card, like by buying Christmas presents or booking flights, this can cause it to drop.
This is based on your credit utilisation ratio, the percentage of your available credit that you are using. Generally, it’s recommended to stay below a quarter of your credit limit. If you come close to your limit, it may look like you have become more reliant on credit.
The good news is you can see your credit score improve within a month once you reduce your credit utilisation.
Closing old accounts can also affect your credit utilisation, as this reduces the total credit you have available. So, if you’ve recently closed an old account, this may have caused a temporary credit score drop.
8. Multiple credit applications in a short period of time
When you apply for credit, wait 3-6 months before applying again, if possible. Applying for multiple sources of credit in a short space of time can harm your credit score, as it gives lenders the impression that you’re desperate for money.
Every application also adds a hard check to your credit report, which causes your score to take a temporary dip. Applications stay on file for a year.
Use a soft search eligibility checker to understand what your chances are of being accepted for credit - these have no effect on your credit score.
9. You’ve only got one type of finance
Successfully managing a range of credit commitments (e.g., an overdraft, mortgage, credit card, mobile phone contract, and car insurance) demonstrates an ability to handle credit well. It can also help to increase your credit score.
10. You’ve taken out a mortgage
Have you recently taken a mortgage out? This can cause your score to drop, as lenders haven't seen consistent repayments yet. A year of on-time payments will be a positive signal on your credit report.
How can I clear my bad credit?
Your credit score will naturally shift and fluctuate over time, based on how you handle your existing credit and the changing circumstances of your finances.
Sudden temporary drops in your score are often nothing to worry about and even the most serious of mistakes are repairable with time. You can start making positive changes today by following these simple steps to building your credit score.
If you’re struggling with debt, you can access free financial advice and support from a professional debt specialist. Visit Money Wellness, StepChange, Citizens Advice, National Debtline, or Money Helper to find out more.