South Africans don’t know their credit scores, even though the three digits that represent your creditworthiness are amongst the most important financial information there is about you.
Your credit score can determine whether you qualify for loans, what interest rate you’ll pay, whether you’ll be able to finance a new car or if a landlord will consider you a suitable tenant. Even potential employers can request to see your credit report.
In short, everyone from banks to retailers will make up their mind about your financial trustworthiness based on your credit score. It’s more influential than any other reference you can provide.
That’s why it’s a good idea to check it regularly.
By law you are entitled to one free credit score annually from any of the credit bureaus. But only checking your credit score once a year may not be enough. A lot can happen in a year and if there’s a sudden downward change in your credit score you need to respond quickly. It could be anything from an error to identity theft.
Here are three reasons why it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit score and some easy ways to do it.
Knowledge is power
It pays to know your financial profile – literally. A better credit score will enable you to get better interest rates on loans and other credit facilities.
Although the credit bureaus will only provide one free credit score a year, there are other ways to keep tabs on how well or poorly you’re being rated. There are a number of online tools that enable you to access your financial rating, such as Pulse.
It’s free and you can access it as often as you like. It provides a credit rating – poor, getting there, good or excellent – which is easier to understand than the three-digit score. It also explains how the rating is calculated, tracks it over time and provides information about what you can do to improve it.
Early warning stops mistakes and scams
Credit bureaus can and do make mistakes. You’re more likely to pick these up if you regularly check your credit rating. A sudden drop may indicate that something’s wrong. If this happens you can contact a credit bureau to find out why and if there isn’t a reasonable explanation, it may be a mistake.
The other possibility is that someone is using your personal details illegally, posing as you to borrow money or open accounts. The sooner you find out about this, the faster you can react and minimise any damage.
A common misconception is that regularly checking your score or using a tool such as Pulse negatively impacts your credit profile. While it is true that some credit checks, such as in-depth checks by banks or other financial institutions can affect your score, tools such as Pulse don’t.
Checking gives you control
Regularly checking your credit profile, particularly using a tool such as Pulse, which provides information about what is influencing the rating, gives you a good understanding of how to improve it. By limiting negative behaviour, such as not paying accounts on time, and responsibly managing your debt you can gradually increase your credit score.
There are lots of reasons people don’t check their credit scores – they think it’s too difficult or are scared of what they might find. The reality is with the online tools available, it’s quick and easy to do and knowing what it is puts you in a better position to maintain or improve it.
It’s how the financial world sees you and by understanding the sort of impression you’re making you can do something about it.