The day when you discover that your name is mud in the world of credit is not the high point of anyone's financial life. When you are refused a credit card or turned down for a mortgage, it can seem like you're stuck in a financial hole and there's no way out.
The good news is that there is a way of escaping from this hole: you can make changes today that will start to reverse your fortunes, and within six months you can have transformed your credit report. You just need to take the right steps along the way.
There are steps you can take immediately - within a week of discovering that you have a problem.
1. Get hold of your credit report from Experian
You'll need to check this over to discover where your finances are letting you down. Your report will give you an overview of your credit accounts and how you are managing them, so you can see where you are going wrong. You can see whether there are CCJs on your report, debts to credit card companies, or problems with other bills. Don't panic if there are multiple problems - focus on gradually putting everything right.
Sometimes people have done nothing wrong, but there's an error on the report that is preventing you from getting credit. You can contact Experian about any mistake and they will work with the lender to correct it.
3. Check for fraud
ID fraud is a major and growing risk, so you may have been rejected for credit because someone has used your identity in order to borrow in your name. Check your record for anything unfamiliar or applications you haven't made, and inform the lender immediately. You should also contact the police and the Experian Victims of Fraud team, who will work with you to repair your record after fraud has taken place.
4. Register to vote
If your credit report doesn't show that you are registered to vote at your address, make sure you register. You can do this immediately online, and it will give lenders the certainty that the address you have given them is correct.
5. Close unused accounts
Check your credit reports for any credit accounts that you have but are not using, and close them down. When lenders are deciding whether to let you borrow, they will take into account the total you are able to borrow elsewhere and will consider it a potential liability. If you don't use the accounts, close them down, and they won't count against you.
6. Check for associations
Check if you have been associated with someone on your record with whom you no longer have a financial link. If an ex-partner you once held a joint account or loan with is still listed as being linked to you, then their finances may be holding you back from getting credit. Contact Experian and arrange for them to be disassociated.
7. Add an explanation
If you have something in your record, such as a CCJ or problems paying your debts in the past, there may have been a good reason for it - such as illness. You can add an explanation to your report - known as a Notice of Correction - to make it clear to lenders that this isn't your normal behaviour.
8. Address your existing borrowing
Take the time to have a proper look at the credit accounts you have. The credit report will show how you have been managing your accounts in detail for the past 12 months, and how often you have been late (and how late you were) in making payments for the previous six years.
Clearly wiping out any bad behaviour from your record will take six years, but you can make a difference immediately by getting things in order.
You need to put yourself in a position where you are paying off at least the minimum on everything every month. If you just pay the minimum, however, this will show up on your record, so try to make sure you are paying it down. If you are struggling with this, look at whether you can move your borrowing somewhere with a lower interest and cut costs across your budget in order to meet your responsibilities.
By month sixIf your problem is poor management of existing credit, then by turning over a new leaf, you won't make an immediate difference. However, within six months, you will have two things in your favour.
The first is that you will have built up a good recent record. Lenders are more interested in your recent behaviour than looking further into the past, so six months will convince many lenders that you are a better potential customer.
The second is that you will have paid off some of your debt. Within six months you should aim to reduce your debts so you are only using 75% or less of the credit that's available to you. That will make you a far more attractive prospect to a lender than a customer who always borrows up to the limit.
At this stage it's worth checking your credit record again, to make sure it is reflecting the changes you have made, and that you are getting on top of your finances. If a credit card or loan has slipped through the net and is still building up a poor payment record, then it could be undoing all your good work.
By month 12If you have stuck with your good habits then all the credit management detail will indicate you have stayed within every credit agreement and have been managing it carefully, which will make you a decent prospect.
After six yearsAt this point all the most serious financial breaches will come off your reports - including details of any bankruptcies, CCJs, and IVAs. This is also the point that any former poor credit management will be erased from your record.
At this point most people will have a great credit record, and be in a position to apply for the best credit card rates and mortgages. There are two exceptions: if you have had your home repossessed or been made bankrupt it won't be on your credit record, but most lenders will ask you outright if this has ever been the case in any applications. If you have suffered either of these, you may need a specialist lender to enable you to get a deal.