Not having a credit score can be a bit of a Catch 22 situation, as having a credit score will help you qualify for credit, but at the same time for someone with no credit to begin with, how does an individual get a score? This is especially difficult for a first-time applicant for a loan or credit card as the lender needs to establish their creditworthiness. What thenl is the solution? Where should an individual start?
Globally, credit information companies or bureaus are trying to break this hold to establish credit scores by using alternate information such as rent payment details and information from public records to help establish credit history. As on date in India, we do not have a similar practice, and having a credit history is the only way to pull up credit scores.
Why is a credit score important?
A credit score is a numeric representation of your creditworthiness and is the first piece of information a lender will view when you apply for a fresh line of credit, be it a bank or any other financial institution. The score helps them determine whether you are likely to default on a loan, or whether the loan will go ‘bad’. Typically ranging between 300 and 900, a healthy or good score can help you obtain a loan when you really require one. Often, it can be the differentiator between an application being approved or rejected. While a loan for low credit score is not impossible to get, it could mean a compromise in the loan terms and conditions, especially with regards to the rate of interest being offered. A good score is most likely to result in the most competitive rates.
Help! I don’t have a credit score! What do I do?
Even if you don’t have a credit score to begin with as of now, do not worry. Let’s take a look at the options open to you, in order to start building your credit score.
Secured credit card – This is a sound way to get started on building your credit history, and banks are willing to offer this product to their existing customers. The card is linked to a fixed deposit that you maintain with the bank, and if need be, dues are recovered by liquidating the deposit. Of course, if you are looking to establish credit history, make sure that all payments go out on time, with no delay and ideally in full. When done over a period of time, it indicates healthy credit behaviour, that the person is able to handle credit responsibly. This will help your score, and over time even increase credit score.
Become an authorised user – If you are finding it difficult to avail of a card in your name, consider becoming an authorised user jointly with someone (typically immediate family) who already has a credit card. The repayment behaviour will help you put together your own score, as the primary cardholder’s good payment history will appear on your credit report. If you do choose this option, make sure you monitor your credit report at regular intervals to ensure correct reporting is taking place.
Make small purchases – If you’ve held a card in the past and did in fact have an established credit line, you can look at ‘reviving’ it by making a small purchase on the card, which will immediately pull you back into getting a credit score. Remember, credit bureaus use algorithms to develop a score, and one of the requirements is a usage pattern which will come in only once you use a card. Hence to start off the process, make a purchase, but also make sure that you pay off the dues as soon as the card statement comes in. This information once reported to the bureaus will help you begin establishing a credit history.
Once you have credit, be judicious in its usage. Timely payments go a long way in making sure that your history remains good, as does the length of accounts you have open. Hence retain good ‘old’ debt if possible, as keeping an account that is for example a decade old will boost your credit score. To make sure that you do not fall into a debt trap – and this is very important for first-time users – do not sign up for more cards than you can manage. Further, do not spend more than you can comfortably repay, in order to set up what you had intended in the first place – a good, strong credit history that over time will work for you.
Once you have started building a credit score do keep in mind that it requires financial discipline in order to maintain a score and subsequently even boost it. Over a period of time it can be done, and in the long run will prove essential to help you stay financially fit.