Credit score guide
Learn all about your credit score, how to get a free report and how good or bad credit could impact getting a mortgage
In this guide:
What is a credit score?
A credit score is a number that estimates your creditworthiness. It's based on your credit history over the last few years.
Credit history covers everything from:
how many credit cards you have
your outstanding loans
how timely you are paying your monthly mortgage repayments.
When buying a house, lenders use your credit score to decide if you’re likely to repay the loan.
The difference between your credit score and credit report
Your credit score and credit report are linked but are different things.
Your credit score gives an idea about your credit report. It gives lenders an idea of how well you manage credit.
Your credit report is a breakdown of your credit history. It shows lenders details of any loan agreements and any missed or late payments. This gives them a clearer idea of your financial situation. It helps lenders to decide if you’d be a trustworthy borrower.
What is a good credit score?
If you have a track record of paying your bills and credit on time, a lender will see you as having a good credit score.
This helps when you apply for a mortgage, as lenders will view you as safe to lend to.
With a better credit rating, you’ll have more of a chance to get competitive rates than people with lower scores.
What affects credit score?
If you fail to repay a loan it will leave a mark on your credit score.
You could get a County Court Judgement (CCJ) court order if you fail to pay money that you owe. This would affect your credit score.
Both of these situations will affect your credit record for six years. The more recent they are the more effect they will have.
The impact of some missed payments are more severe than others. A lender may not take paying your rent a couple of days late as seriously as going bankrupt.
Having little credit history
You could also have a low credit score without making any mistakes, and more due to a lack of credit activity.
If you’ve been living abroad, or are a student, you're likely to have a lack of credit history.
This means there are few examples of you taking out credit for lenders to judge how creditworthy you are.
Bank accounts that are empty and unused can also impact your credit score.
If you’ve got a limited history, your past dealings with lenders may help you get credit with that same lender.
Being a guarantor
If the borrower keeps up with their repayments, you will not be affected.
If they miss a payment, it will be show on the guarantor’s credit report.
Lenders will often only accept guarantors with a strong credit history.
Having an overdraft
Having an overdraft could affect your credit score if you’ve been overdrawn for a long time. This suggests you find it hard to manage your finances.
Your credit score does not depend on how much you earn. How you manage what you owe is more important.
But you'll need to earn enough to have some disposable income, and enough to repay the mortgage.
Can I get a mortgage with bad credit?
Depending on your situation, there are options for you if you have bad credit.
There are specialist lenders who may accept some marks on your credit record. They may do this if they’re confident that you will not have issues again.
Specialist lenders may charge a higher interest rate or expect a bigger deposit than a mainstream lender.
How can I check my credit score?
You can get a free credit report from one of the main credit reference agencies. These include Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Asking for your credit report does not affect your rating.
The report should show you what’s impacting your score, which could help you improve it.
If any reports have errors on them you can contact the company that made the error. They will then pass this on to the credit rating agencies to correct.
How can I improve my credit score?
Take a break from applying for credit
Lots of credit checks over a short time can have a negative impact on your credit score.
Pay off your debt
If you have many forms of debt, it may be worth paying off some of them so you do not appear overburdened.
Keep up with credit payments
Using a direct debit can make this process easier.
Take out small amounts of credit
You can take out small amounts of credit like an overdraft or credit card if you pay them back. Missing a payment would do more harm than good.
Keep your credit card borrowing low
If you have lots of credit cards avoid borrowing more than 25% of the limit.
Get yourself on the electoral roll
Mortgage lenders use it to confirm your name and address. If you’re not eligible to vote, you should send a proof of address to a credit rating agency instead.
Keep your contact details consistent
Give the same phone number and job title across your applications. Also, try to avoid moving house or switching banks too often.
What are soft and hard credit searches?
When lenders look into your credit score they may carry out a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ search.
A soft credit check can be when you check your own credit score. Or when a company checks it while carrying out a background check.
Only you can see soft searches on your credit report. They do not affect your rating like a hard check can.
Hard checks are used to view your complete credit history. Lenders will carry out a hard check when you apply for credit, such as a personal loan, credit card, or mortgage.
Hard checks show on your records and could damage your credit history if there are too many in a short space of time.
What happens if I get a mortgage with a friend or partner?
If you apply for a financial product with someone else it will link your financial histories. This means their rating will affect yours and yours affects theirs.
Applying for a mortgage together could boost the amount of could borrow. It may not be a good option if one of you has a poor credit rating.
If you have a former partner with debt or credit problems, tell the credit ratings agencies so they know you’re no longer connected.
More about credit
You can get a credit card with a bad credit rating but you'll have fewer options. You may also end up paying a higher interest rate.
Each lender has a different process when it comes to running credit checks.
Some will carry out a soft credit check before issuing you with a Mortgage in Principle.
A soft credit check gives lenders an idea of if they’re prepared to lend to you.
They'll later do a hard credit check to confirm this once your application is submitted.
More lenders go straight to running a hard credit check when issuing a Mortgage in Principle.
If they run a hard credit check at this stage, they will not run another one after your application is submitted. They only need one hard credit check for your mortgage application.
A lender may run another hard check if there's a long time between getting your Decision in Principle and submitting your application. They’ll only do this with your permission.
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Your home could be repossessed if you don't keep up repayments on your mortgage.
You may have to pay an early repayment charge to your existing lender if you remortgage.