Bad credit history: What it is and how to improve it
Worried about your bad credit score? Don't worry, there are loads of ways to improve it.
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Bad credit can halt you in your tracks when you want to buy a new car, get a mortgage or take out a personal loan. Fortunately there's a lot you can do to improve your score and set yourself onto a path of financial confidence.
We're breaking down what a bad credit score is classified as, how you can improve it and how to make sure it doesn't happen again in the future.
What's in this guide?
- What is a bad credit score?
- Here's how to improve bad credit scores
- How long does it take to repair a bad credit score?
- What happens if you have a bad credit score?
- What should I look out for in my credit file?
- Why tracking your credit score can help
- A bad credit score doesn't define you
- The top questions we've been asked about bad credit
What is a bad credit score?
On a scale of 300 to 850, anything below 550 is considered a bad credit score. A good score is 700+ and anything around 800 is excellent.
Your credit report contains information about your financial history. Credit bureaus (such as Experian and Equifax) use this information to calculate your risk as a borrower, which is reflected as a credit score. Missed repayments, loan defaults, debt agreements and bankruptcy are all listed in your credit file and can result in a low credit score.
If you have a poor credit score it can get in the way of the credit you want and could mean you're turned down by a lender.
You can work on your score to improve the chance of a deal you're happy with. The key is to understand where your credit score is at and how to improve it.
Here's how to improve bad credit scores
To fix bad credit you can take plenty of action to improve your credit score and improve the likelihood of being approved for a loan.
- Check your credit score. Find a copy of your credit report and credit score for free with the Finder app. You'll also receive notifications whenever something changes in your report, so you can always stay on top of your finances. When you receive your score, you will receive information about what is most contributing to your bad credit rating. Check this report regularly for areas in which you can improve.
- Pay your bills on time. When you stay on top of paying your bills and loan repayments, this can contribute to an improved credit score. It shows banks your improved financial discipline. Under Australia's comprehensive reporting system, your credit file contains positive and negative information about your history. So build on the positives and eliminate the negatives!
- Pay off your debt. First check how much you owe and how many sources of debt you have. Try to focus on one at a time and work on a budget to cut back your spending wherever possible to bring your debt under control. Payments of $150 or more that are over 60 days late will stay on your credit report for 5 years, even after you have paid them. If you're struggling to repay your accounts, contact your creditor to discuss an alternative repayment plan to avoid defaulting on your payment.
- Lower your credit card limit. If you have a high limit that you're not using, contact your bank to lower it.
- Avoid making multiple credit applications. Don't make multiple credit applications in a short period of time, as this will lower your credit score and indicate to lenders you're under financial stress. You can use our chance of approval feature on the Finder app to see how likely you are to be approved for a credit card or personal loan, which won't put any dents on your record.
- Seek expert advice. You can contact the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 to find free financial counselling in your area if you feel you need a little more help. Financial counsellors offer independent expert advice on how you can manage your money and eliminate debt.
You can use Finder's guide to credit repair to pick up more tips.
Worried there might be a mistake on your record?
If you're worried you might have bad credit due to an error, it makes it even more important to stay on top of it. Make sure you're reading your credit report for mistakes. Your report will show three main things:
- All payments you've made over the past two years.
- Payments of $150 or more that are overdue by 60 days. These stay on your credit report for five years, even after you have paid them.
- Applications for credit cards, home loans, personal loans and business loans all stay on your report for five years.
Some bad credit listings can't be fixed, but you should check if there are any mistakes in your credit report.
For example, you may have been a victim of fraud and not be responsible for one or more of the debts listed. It's also possible you've been credited with the debt of a family member or a stranger with a similar name to you.
Contact the credit reporting agency to report any errors and take the matter up with the credit provider if needed. You can also add positive information to your credit report that proves stability in your financial life, including having a full-time job, living at the same address for several years and owning a home.
How long does it take to repair a bad credit score?
Your credit score will update once a month, if that. That means that any efforts you do now to improve your score could see benefits in a month from now.
If you've got some long-term issues with your credit report, you may need to show that you've continuously been working on it. As a result, it could take up to a year or more for your score to significantly improve.
The good news is that you can start making these changes immediately to get your future self in a better financial position.
What happens if you have a bad credit score?
The higher your credit score, the more likely lenders will be to grant you a loan. The lower your credit score, the higher the risk of being forced to pay higher interest rates or being rejected for loans and credit cards. There's also a chance you're not eligible for 0% interest credit cards or loans.
Lenders check your credit file and credit score to determine the risk involved in lending you money and to ensure you can repay borrowed money in a timely fashion. If you have a less than ideal credit score or a few black marks on your file, this will raise red flags for the lender.
While you can't totally get rid of bad credit items on your report, there is a time limit for when they will be removed. All repayment history information will stay on your report for two years. Credit enquiries and applications as well as court judgments, summons and writs will hang around for five years, as will default payments.
But don't worry, it's not all doom and gloom. Your credit score is just one aspect of your finances that banks and lenders look at, so you can improve your chances through:
- Having a steady source of income
- Paying off your loans or debt if you're able to
- Building up your savings
- Improving your credit score
You're not alone if your credit score isn't quite where you'd like to see it. It's possible to improve your credit score with some bad credit indicators still on your file. The sooner you work on the issues dragging it down, the sooner you can reach a higher score.
What should I look out for in my credit file?
Your credit file will give you a few warning signs as to what is causing your bad credit. These include:
Payment history information. All active ongoing payments are listed. If you have any missed or late repayments it may lower your credit score.
Lots of credit enquiries. Credit enquires or loan applications are not necessarily bad but they remain on your file for five years. Having numerous enquiries listed in a short period of time can be a bad sign though. Generally, applying for credit once every three months will not contribute to a lower score so keep that in mind.
Defaults. Debts higher than $150 that are more than 60 days late are considered a defaulted payment. Even once you pay the debt, the default will stay on your credit file for five years. Any overdue accounts listed as a clearout or serious credit infringement will also appear. Serious credit infringements are defaults that are not paid off and will stay on your report for seven years. The creditor must make multiple attempts to contact you at your address without success before it can list a serious credit infringement.
Late and missed payments. Any missed or late payments will be recorded on your file and can reflect negatively on your ability to manage a line of credit.
Writs and summons to court. If you have been summoned to court because of debt or a financial issue, this will be listed on your credit file. This can happen if you can't settle the debt directly with a creditor.
Court judgements. Your file will also hold a record of the outcome of any court cases relating to your debts.
Bankruptcy information. This will be listed if you enter into bankruptcy and will stay on your report for seven years. Bankruptcy lasts for three years and means you have been legally declared unable to repay your debts.
Why tracking your credit score can help
Tracking your credit score is the first step to taking control of your credit score. Knowing where you sit is the top way to know how you can take action to get where you want to go.
The Finder app can help your credit score. We'll update it automatically for you each month and will let you know if your score changes. We'll give you the tools you need to work on your credit, including what's in your credit report, your chance of credit approval and how to improve your credit position. You can also connect all of your accounts in the one place to make it a one-stop shop for all your finances.
A bad credit score doesn't define you
The good news is – you are not your credit score. Even though it can feel disheartening, just because you have a sorry credit score doesn't mean you're a bad person. It could mean you sometimes flashed your credit card a few times too many or you missed a couple of car loan repayments when you were in a tricky spot.
Improving your credit is about what you want your credit to do for you. If you're aiming to buy a brand new car and lower your score enough to get a loan, then this will be a personal success for you. Either way, tracking your credit score is crucial for your goals and the Finder app can aid you every step of the way.
The top questions we've been asked about bad credit
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