Whether signing up for a mobile phone plan, a business loan or a home loan, approval can come down to one thing: a person’s credit history. But many Australians have never checked their credit file, nor do they have a clue how to do so.
Yet big changes to the information held on consumer credit files means it’s now more important than ever for consumers to keep a clean record, according to Australia’s leading financial comparison website RateCity (www.ratecity.com.au).
Alex Parsons, CEO of RateCity.com.au, said under the updated credit reporting scheme, lenders are able to find out more about the way Australians use credit.
They now have access to information such as the date a credit account was opened and closed, the current limit on each open credit account as well as a person’s repayment performance history. But importantly, it also allows consumers to take steps to improve any flaws in their credit file.
“In the past, a late payment on a phone bill or loan could put a ‘black mark’ on a consumer’s record for years to come,” he said. “But with the new ‘positive’ changes to credit reporting, consumers will have a chance to redeem themselves and effectively add ‘green ticks’ to their file as they do so.
“While the changes to credit reporting will officially come into effect on March 12, 2014, additional data is backdated to December 2012, so it’s important to be on your best repayment behaviour already.
“That means staying on top of all your bills and paying on time, which is the only way to ensure a problem-free credit history,” he said, urging people to take a greater interest in their credit file.
Despite this, latest research from credit reporting agency Veda has revealed that most Australians don’t spend much time thinking about their credit files. The study found that 80 percent of people have never checked their credit history, while 93 percent don’t know how to access their credit record.
How the changes impact consumers
Parsons said the changes will impact consumers in different ways, depending on how they use credit.
“A consumer who has had sketchy credit history with a black mark in the past, but is now working hard to rectify their credit situation, stands to benefit the most from the new credit reporting,” he said.
“That’s because banks will have more insight into their credit file. But this consumer will need to be diligent in making an effort to improve, because the banks will be watching.”
For those who have good credit and always pay their bills on time, there will be no significant impact to this consumer, he said: “These people may even see better rates offered by the banks and they can prove they are low risk.”
A consumer which has had no major black marks or default, but has been a bit slack in paying bills on time, will need to be more careful if they want to be able to apply for credit in the future as bad habits like paying a little late each month will now show up on file, he added.
Alex Parsons’ tips for consumers
Set up automatic direct debits from your transaction accounts to pay bills on or before the due date
- Use electronic banking to your advantage
- Reduce any unnecessarily large credit limits you may have
- Get organised! Set reminders – It doesn’t matter whether you use an app on your phone or the traditional post-it on the calendar, whichever system works best for you will help keep you on top of your bills. It may even help to set the reminder a few days before, so, if you do forget, you still have time to make the payment.