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What is a credit score?

Your credit score is a number that indicates how reliable you are as a borrower. Banks and lenders use your credit scores when deciding whether to lend you money or approve your loan application. Credit providers know your credit scores, so should you. 

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How can I improve my credit scores?

Your credit scores cannot be improved overnight – you need to work towards improving them. RateCity can provide you with up-to-date information and smart tips to help you with this. If you haven’t already, the first step is to check your credit scores. 

How many different credit scores do I have?

Depending on how long you've had a credit card or taken out any form of loan, you may have more than one credit score in Australia, and your credit history may cover a number of activities. That's because there's more than one credit bureau in Australia, which means you have more than one score.

In Australia, there are three main credit reporters, with Experian, Equifax, and Illion, though there are others around the world. For your credit score, RateCity works with both Equifax and Experian, providing two credit scores to better understand your credit history, and keep your financial health in tip-top shape. 

Why should I check my credit score?

You have a good credit score, you may be able toconfidently apply for loans with lower interest rates and extra features and benefits. If your credit score isn’t so great, you can get a more realistic idea of what credit products you may be eligible for, and adjust your budget accordingly.

Knowing your credit history gives you a better idea of what goes into your credit score, including what credit behaviours to avoid in the future to grow your credit score and keep it high.By ordering a copy of your credit report, you can look into getting any errors in your credit history corrected, setting the record straight to help improve your credit score in the future.

How often should I check my credit score?

Even if you’re not planning to apply for loans or other credit products any time soon, you may want to think about checking your credit score once per year. This can help you work out if there are any errors in your credit report that may need correcting.

You can typically order one free copy of your credit report per year, though some credit reporting bureaus offer a free copy every three months. You may also be able to order a free copy of your credit report immediately after being declined for a credit application, or after a correction has been made to your credit history.

Credit reporting bureaus may update your credit score every month as new information is added to your credit report, and may be able to send you alerts when your credit score changes.

Understanding credit files and credit scores

What does my credit score mean?

Excellent (Experian: 800-1000, Equifax: 833-1200)

A credit score that falls into the ‘Excellent’ category indicates a high level of creditworthiness. The individual is likely to service a credit product without issue and is unlikely to experience negative events, such as a default, over the next 12 months. The individual is most likely to be approved for all credit products and be offered the most competitive deal, assuming they meet all eligibility criteria.  

Very Good (Experian: 700-799, Equifax: 726–832)

A credit score that falls into the ‘Very Good’ category indicates a strong level of creditworthiness. The individual may not have reached the ‘Excellent’ category yet due to a shorter credit history but has still displayed positive credit behaviours, such as no late payments or defaults. This individual is also unlikely to experience negative credit events in the next 12 months. The individual is likely to be approved for credit products, assuming they meet all eligibility criteria, but may want to consider boosting their score into a higher category.

Good (Experian: 625-699, Equifax: 622-725)

A credit score that falls into the ‘Good’ category indicates a moderate level of creditworthiness. The individual may be a young Australian with a short credit history, or an individual who has faced a negative credit event and is rebuilding their credit score. The individual is somewhat likely to be approved for lower-risk level credit products, such as a car loan or basic credit card, assuming they meet all eligibility criteria. They may want to consider boosting their score into a higher category for approval for a home loan or premium credit cards.

Average (Experian: 550-624, Equifax: 510-621)

A credit score that falls into the ‘Fair category indicates a lower level of creditworthiness. The individual may have faced a negative credit event in the past, such as a default. The individual is less likely to be approved for credit products than those in higher-tier categories. They may want to consider boosting their score into a higher category before the apply for any credit products.

Below Average (Experian: 0-549, Equifax: 0-509)

A credit score that falls into the ‘Fair category indicates the individual has recently faced a negative credit event, such as bankruptcy and/or default. The individual is less likely to be approved for credit products than those in higher-tier categories. They may want to consider working on repairing their credit history and credit score before applying for any credit products. 

Your credit score explained

Your credit score is a numeric measure, usually between 0 and 1000, that tells banks, credit card companies, and loan agencies what your history has been like with paying your bills and debts.

Credit scores are a good indicator of whether lenders can trust you to repay a loan or debt in the future, and base your score on your credit history or experience of repaying loans or settling debts. Australians can typically check their credit score online for free by providing a few personal details. To understand how your credit rating is worked out, you may be able to access your credit report, which can also tell you about the incidents affecting your score. 

Credit rating bureaus categorise credit scores in five tiers ranging from “below average” to “excellent”. Your credit rating can fall into any of these tiers based on the positive and negative incidents affecting it. Positive incidents include borrowing money less often and repaying your credit card debt, while negative events include paying only the minimum amount due on your credit card or defaulting on a loan payment. Other factors that affect your credit score may include the duration you have occupied your current residence, the length of time you have been employed, and the depth of your credit history. 

If you register a series of positive incidents, credit rating bureaus are likely to view your credit profile more favourably, resulting in a higher credit rating overall. Lenders reviewing your loan or credit applications may consider you a less risky customer if you have a high credit score, and your credit history is sufficiently rich yet without controversial events. On the other hand, a low credit score reflects more negative incidents and may make it difficult for you to be seen in a favourable light, affecting your loan and credit applications. From a lender’s perspective, an average or below-average credit rating reflects your likelihood to incur further debt. Checking your credit score, however, isn’t considered either a positive or a negative event. 

While your credit score indicates how successfully you manage debt, it can change over time. This means you may want to take actions to remedy a bad credit rating, one of the reasons to consider checking your credit score periodically.

Sometimes, a low credit score may not be your fault at all, as incorrectly added personal details or a misreported debt can affect your credit rating. Requesting a credit rating bureau to rectify such errors can help fix your credit score, though credit scores can vary between the credit reporting bureaus.

A genuinely low credit score isn’t the end of the world, but knowing why can help you find out how to improve your credit rating, much like how knowing if you don't have a credit score can help put you on the right path to getting one

How is your credit score calculated?

In Australia, comprehensive credit reporting requirements oblige banks and other credit lenders to report your financial status and activities to credit rating bureaus. Since 2014, these reports include both positive changes to your financial profile as well as negative incidents, whereas previously, it was mostly negative. 

Credit rating bureaus then use this information to build your credit report and compute your credit rating. Note that there must be information available about you to have a credit score. Never borrowing money doesn’t automatically imply that your credit score is going to be high; as far as your lender is concerned, your borrowing behaviour is unknown if you’ve never taken on debt of any kind.

When calculating your credit score, credit rating bureaus may assess your bank and credit card accounts for any past issues, including those that may have caused you to open further accounts, often to determine why you did so. As such, the history and frequency of your recent credit transactions may also be examined to understand your financial profile. Again, too many instances of borrowing money can reflect uncertainty on your part in estimating how much money you need, which may make lenders feel you pose a higher risk. 

Another important factor in gauging your creditworthiness is your repayment history: lenders need to know the likelihood of you missing payment deadlines or being unable to pay the amount due within a reasonable time. If you own one or more credit cards, how often you pay only the minimum repayment can affect your credit score. Using a credit card with a moderate borrowing limit, not spending the full limit, and repaying the card debt entirely will likely improve your credit rating, while defaulting on the card or not making payments, even for brief periods, can have negative consequences. 

Your credit score can also be impacted by your utility and phone bills. Every bill of significant value that you need to pay periodically can affect your credit rating and can be included in your credit history. 

To get a direct understanding of how specific positive and negative incidents affect your credit rating, consider reaching out to any of the Australian credit reporting bureaus and access your credit report. You may then be able to use this information when applying for a loan to negotiate better terms. For instance, if your credit report reflects your history of making regular repayments, you may be able to convince your lender to offer you easier repayment options. However, just because you can successfully take on credit doesn’t mean you should go around on a borrowing spree, as a sudden spike in credit transactions may adversely affect your credit rating.

How credit scores impact your finances

A credit score signifies your trustworthiness as a borrower, based on your credit history. Your credit score is based on your credit history and debt - using details from your credit file.

Each credit reporting bureau has its own method for assigning credit scores. For example, Equifax, a popular consumer credit reporting agency in the United States that acquired VEDA in Australia, assigns a score between 0 and 1200.  This is known as the Equifax Score and is calculated after considering your credit history and related details.

Locally in Australia, Clearscore relies on the Experian system for working out credit scores, applying a score between 0 and 1000 to work out how your credit is rated.

Banks and creditors use your credit score when deciding whether to lend you money or approve your loan application. A good credit score establishes your reliability as a borrower.

RateCity's credit checking system uses both Equifax and Experian to provide a more detailed understanding of your credit history, and to help you understand your financial health more clearly. 

How you can help or hurt your credit score

Your credit history records both positive and negative events, which can influence your credit score for better or worse. Here are some of those beneficial and adverse events which can impact your credit score: 

Positive events which may help your credit score:

  • Checking your credit history for errors
  • Paying your bills on time
  • Growing a nest egg of savings
  • Paying off outstanding loans or credit card debt

Negative events which may hurt your credit score:

  • Multiple applications at once
  • Maxing out a credit card
  • Closing a credit card
  • Late payments on bills
  • Defaults
  • Bankruptcy

Are there any ways you can improve your credit score?

When you review your credit report, you should examine every aspect of it in detail, starting with your details. If any of your details, including your name and your driving license number, are recorded incorrectly, someone else’s financial transactions can get registered in your credit report. 

Consider checking the most recently recorded financial transactions to verify their accuracy. Explore whether the number of credit applications is mentioned correctly, or if there is a wrongly included debt marked against your name. An error-free credit report can be useful in understanding the impact of each credit transaction, and in gauging if you need to take steps to improve your credit score.

In case you need to fix your credit rating, one potentially positive move may be paying down any substantive accounts and reducing the number of credit accounts you have. The transactions already recorded in your credit report may guide you in identifying these accounts, or at least suggesting if you need to be more careful in applying for fresh credit. You can also check if you have simultaneously submitted loan applications to several lenders and if you have missed any payment deadlines to set yourself reminders to avoid doing so in the future.

Changing your credit history may not be possible, but you can certainly work on it with guidance. In Australia, there are several government agencies and community organisations that provide such counselling services for free. You can also discuss how to improve your credit score with an existing lender, especially if you are going through financial difficulties and struggling to keep up with repayments on time. If you feel stressed by being unable to make payments on time, you may face harassment from lenders, which can, in turn, affect your ability to take prudent financial decisions and further affect your credit history. 

However, be careful about approaching agencies that claim they can repair your credit history or clear all previously recorded negative transactions. Instead, consider approaching any of the credit reporting bureaus directly to access and understand your credit report. 

Remember that a credit score can be low for many reasons, such as a lack of financial history. Even if past negative transactions continue to be reported in your credit report, accumulating positive transactions can mitigate their impact. You may want to set up annual milestones to gauge if the steps you're taking are moving your credit score in the right direction. 

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