When you apply for a credit card, loan or mortgage, the lender concerned will check your credit file - held by credit reference agencies such as Experian and Equifax - before deciding whether or not to accept you as a customer.
And if your credit score is low, their answer is likely to be no.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways that you can improve your credit score, even if you have damaged it by failing to make payments on time in the past.
Some changes can have an instantaneous effect, while others will take longer to show on your record - but all are worth doing as they will improve your chances of being accepted for the market-leading deals. Here are our top tips to help you improve your credit record...
1.Check that you are on the Electoral Roll
If you are not already listed, then perhaps the quickest and easiest way to improve your credit score is to sign up to the Electoral Roll.
If you are not eligible to vote - because you are a foreign national for example - you should send all the credit reference agencies proof of residency.
You can then ask them to add a note verifying this to their files so that lenders can see at a glance why you are not registered to vote.
2. Make sure your personal information is accurate
Mistakes happen, and credit reference agencies make them just like everybody else.
However, it is in your interests to make sure that the information they hold on you is accurate and up to date.
Otherwise, you risk being rejected for deals that should be within your reach.
Having more than one address on your file, for example, can thwart credit applications. So check that the address the agencies have for you is up to date on all your accounts.
Other things that can have a negative impact on your score include being "financially-linked" to someone with credit problems.
If your partner has a poor credit score, it is therefore a good idea to keep your finances completely separate to prevent your file being tarnished by association.
3. Pay off your debts
If you have a lot of outstanding debt, it is unlikely that banks and other lenders will want to increase the amount you can borrow.
Paying off your debts is therefore a good way to increase the likelihood of you being accepted for mortgages, credit cards and loans in the future.
You do not have to be heavily in debt for banks to treat you with caution, though.
They are also often wary of people with lots of loans or credit cards - even if they do not owe a lot on them.
It is therefore sensible to cancel any unused credit cards and accounts to slash the total amount of credit you can access.
Meanwhile, if you are struggling to keep up with your minimum payments, never mind clear your debts, remember that changing your repayment schedule is preferable to defaulting.
Consequently, you should contact your lender as soon as you realise you will be unable to meet your commitments.
And don't be afraid to seek help from a debt charity such as the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) if you are in serious trouble.
It can help you to come to an arrangement with your creditors under which you make affordable payments.
This will be noted on your credit file, but is less damaging than simply missing a raft of payments because you cannot keep up with your debts.
4. Be a model customer
It can be frustrating that mistakes you have made in the past continue to hold you back even once you are back on track because they are on your credit file.
And unfortunately, there is generally no quick fix for this situation.
In fact, the best way to rebuild your credit score is simply by keeping a close eye on your existing accounts to ensure that you never miss a payment or go over your credit limit.
There are tricks you can use to help with this. When paying credit card bills, for example, the safest method is to set up a direct debit to repay the full - or a set - amount each month.
You could also set up an alert on your mobile phone to remind you when large payments such as your mortgage are due to come out of your account.
Play by the rules, and over time you should see your credit score start to improve.
5. Build a credit history
Poor credit scores are not only reserved for those who have defaulted on debt payments in the past.
Having no history of borrowing can also result in you being rejected by lenders because they have no repayment track record to judge you on.
If this is the case, you could consider a credit-builder credit card designed to help those with little experience of borrowing prove that they can manage the repayments.
Cards of this kind include
Barclaycard Initial, which has a representative APR of 29.9% (variable).
However, you are unlikely to qualify for this card if you have recently missed more than one credit repayment or have a County Court Judgement (CCJ) against your name.
If that is the case, a card such as the
Capital One Classic card with a representative APR of 34.9% (variable) may be more suitable.
Either way, you will need to keep up to date with your repayments to avoid huge interest charges and improve your credit score.
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