As Canadians navigate their way through the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s understandable so many are concerned about their finances. They worry about paying bills and how that can have a negative impact on your credit score. Here’s what you need to know about how to check your credit score, how to ensure it stays healthy and what factors affect your credit score. We cover all the basics and top strategies for managing it.
Factors That Affect Your Credit Score
There is a range of factors that can impact your credit score:
- Your payment history: The key factor that affects your score is regular, timely payment of bills. For a potential lender, this is a strong predictor you’ll meet future financial obligations. If you’re looking to take out a car loan and your credit history shows you are tardy in paying bills, it could hurt your chances of scoring a new set of wheels.
- Credit utilization: Credit utilization refers to how much of your available credit you use. Making full use of all the credit you have available indicates to financial institutions that you have too much debt. In fact, Borrowell says this one factor determines 30% of your credit score and recommends keeping your credit utilization below 30%. For instance, on a credit card with a $5,000 limit, that translates to a balance of just $1,500.
- Length of credit history: Having a long credit history — whether that’s for a car loan, cell phone bill, or credit card — will help beef up your credit score. To get in the good books, your history should be a positive one, showing regular, on-time payments. Here’s a tip to keep in mind: even if you no longer use a certain credit card, don’t cancel it. Keep it active, since just having it will help boost your credit score in the long run.
- New credit: Applying for a form of new credit – whether that’s a credit card or car loan – can make your credit score dip. Credit churners take note: it can especially impact your number if you apply for credit from different lenders within a short period of time and have a relatively short credit history.
- Types of credit in use: The type of credit can affect your credit score. While you’d expect a mortgage to be considered a greater risk than a credit card (especially since we’re talking serious amounts of money), that’s not necessarily the case. A credit card is deemed riskier by financial institutions since it’s possible to run up your limit without the guarantee of paying it back in a timely manner, unlike a mortgage payment, which is automatically deducted from your bank account each month. A mix of different types of credit, such as a student loan, car payment, as well as credit card may actually improve your credit score. It demonstrates your ability to handle different types of credit.
- Other factors: Another factor that can weaken your credit score is a “hard inquiry.” This means a creditor has made a request to review your credit report as part of its due diligence when you apply for a loan or credit card. The inquiry is noted on your record so you’ll need to be mindful of the type of credit you apply for and how often. While checking your own credit score (recommended and won’t damage your score), a hard inquiry might impact your score. Keeping current with your own score means you can be confident of the numbers if you do apply for a loan or additional credit cards.
Here’s a pro-tip: you can check your credit score for free with Borrowell.
You can also check out our ‘credit score calculator’ which can give you an estimation of your credit score
Credit Score EstimatorEstimate your credit score in about 30 seconds. Just answer a few simple questions about your past credit usage:
How to Improve Your Credit Score
Worried about your credit score? Take a deep breath. Rest assured there are things you can do to help improve your score. Here are a few expert tips to get you started:
- Limit the number of credit applications you make: While it’s tempting to have a lot of plastic in your wallet, ask: how many credit cards should you have? While there’s no hard number, be picky about what kind of credit card will fit with your lifestyle so you can reap the rewards. If you’re a frequent traveller, consider one of the best travel rewards credit cards in Canada. Or if cash is king, one of the best cash back credit cards might be more appropriate. It’s whatever works for you.
- Stay within your credit card limits: If you’re online shopping, it’s easy to throw multiple items into your cart on multiple sites. A credit card with a lower limit will help keep temptation at bay.
- Build up your credit history: If your score is low and you don’t have a track record, applying for a credit card with a low limit will help to build a credit history. Used responsibly, it shows you can handle credit. If you’re worried about getting approved, there are credit cards for bad credit that offer guaranteed approval.
- Pay off your debt: Yes, this isn’t easy, but it’s doable if you follow some simple strategies for paying down your credit card debt. Getting your debt to zero and reducing your credit utilization will help improve your score. If the interest rate on your current credit card is crippling you, consider getting a low-interest credit card or a 0% balance transfer credit card so you can tackle the debt. Make regular payments and get that debt paid off pronto, and you’ll see your credit score rise in time.
- Consolidate your debt: If you’ve got credit card debt, why pay 19% interest (or more!) when you could pay as little as 4%? Another smart strategy is to get a debt consolidation loan, which involves combining all your high-interest credit card debt into a single but more manageable loan with a lower interest rate. There are plenty of options to get the best personal loan interest rates, but Loans Canada is a reputable place to start. It works as a search platform to find the best personal loan to suit your needs and offers loans up to $50,000 and interest rates starting at 5.15%.
- Get an app: Canadian FinTech leader Marble Financial can help you boost your number. It offers a free tool called MyMarble.ca— a free financial dashboard that gives you an overview of your finances and can help you work toward building your credit score. MyMarble.ca connects your financial accounts and analyzes trends to make personalized recommendations about debt and budgeting. You’ll also be able to monitor your credit score monthly to see how your actions impact it in real-time. MyMarble.ca gives you access to Maestro, an online learning tool that offers over 25 modules on budgeting, debt, and credit. Other credit-building apps issue you loans from deposited funds, and make repayments on those loans. They report those repayments to credit bureaus, which raise your credit score
COVID-19 and Credit Scores
If you’re having difficulty making your mortgage payments or credit card payments, Equifax recommends contacting your lender or credit card issuer and speak to them directly. Many financial institutions are offering special programs to help Canadians during COVID-19, such as deferring or reducing credit card payments. A lender approved mortgage payment deferral shouldn’t impact your credit score, but stay on top of your credit score and check it regularly. You can check your credit card for free with Borrowell. Meanwhile, pay what you can to avoid missing payments completely. Read more in The Coronavirus Crisis: A Guide to Credit Card Payment Deferrals.
The Final Word
Your credit score matters. A good score allows you to get a mortgage, credit cards, car loans and more. A bad one makes getting credit of any kind very challenging since companies will see you as a poor risk. Ensuring you have a healthy credit score is also a key factor for getting the lowest interest rates. Make every effort to be a good credit customer. That means regular, on-time payments and limiting how much credit you use at any given time. Protect a good credit score diligently. Once gone, it’s difficult to get back.