How good debts and bad debts can affect your credit score

How good debts and bad debts can affect your credit score

With political commentators discussing whether the latest Federal Budget has put Australia into too much debt (we’ll leave that debate to the experts), some everyday Aussies may be concerned about the debts in their own household budgets, and what they could mean for their financial futures.

Similar questions were asked back in 2017, when current prime minister Scott Morrison was still just the federal treasurer. At the time, he sorted the government’s deficits into “good debt” and “bad debt”.

What is Good Debt and Bad Debt?

According to ScoMo, “good debt” is borrowing to buy something that may deliver future value or benefits, and “bad debt” is borrowing to make one-off purchases that may not give you back much in return.

For example, home loans are often considered to be Good Debts. You may borrow a lot of money and pay a lot of interest over the mortgage term, but you’ll have a home of your own to live in, or an investment property that can earn you income and/or provide tax benefits. Plus, the value of your property could potentially rise over time, growing your equity.

Borrowing money to invest in shares or cryptocurrency, or to start a business, could be considered Good Debt, as you may be able to earn a return on these assets (though every investment is a risk, and should be carefully considered). Borrowing to pay for education could also be considered Good Debt, as this could help you secure a better job.

The go-to example of Bad Debt is typically a credit card. While carefully-managed credit card debt can be useful for handling everyday expenses, missed repayments can lead to interest charges, which can build over time until they’re more than you can comfortably afford to repay.

Some personal loans could be considered bad debts. Your loan may help you pay for a holiday or a wedding, but you’ll be paying interest charges for the rest of the loan term without receiving returns beyond fond memories and insta-worthy photos.

Car loans could be considered good debts or bad debts, depending on your point of view. On one hand, owning a vehicle can greatly enhance your lifestyle, and can potentially be used for work. On the other hand, vehicles are typically depreciating assets, meaning they’re likely to decrease in value over time.

Before taking on any type of debt, it’s important to consider your financial situation, and to think about whether this debt may help you achieve your personal goals.

How can good and bad debts affect your credit score?

Owing debts doesn’t automatically give you bad credit. If you’ve been keeping up with your repayments (including on Buy Now Pay Later services) and haven’t over-borrowed, a good debt may actually help improve your credit score, as it adds to your credit history by showing that you’re responsible with money.

However, if you’re struggling to keep up with the repayments on your bad debts, or you make multiple credit applications over a short period of time, a lender may be less inclined to lend you more money. You may be charged higher interest rates for a loan or even see your credit applications declined altogether. Multiple loan rejections can quickly lower your credit score, making it much harder to borrow money in the future.

Finding ways to clear some of your bad debts may be able to help improve your credit score over time. You may be able to use a balance transfer credit card or a debt consolidation loan to make progress towards paying off your outstanding debts, then you could look into reducing your credit limit or cancelling credit cards you don’t need.

Checking your credit score for free may be able to get you started working out the best way to manage your debts. If you need more help, consider contacting an accountant or financial adviser, or call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.

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Fact Checked -

This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Georgia Brown before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about credit score

Can I check my credit score without a driver's license?

In Australia, your driver’s license is the preferred identification document for credit reporting agencies. This means you may not be able to confirm your identity using another document, such as a proof-of-age card. You may have genuine reasons like concerns over identity theft for not wanting to provide your driver’s license number. Unfortunately, most credit bureaus won’t allow people to check their credit score without a driver’s license. 

If you don’t have a driver’s license, there’s a good chance you haven’t applied for credit in the past and don’t have a credit score at all. In case you are concerned about identity theft, credit reporting agencies can offer you paid packages that include insurance against identity theft. Such packages may also include monthly credit score checks or alerts whenever your score is updated.

Does borrowing money affect credit score?

Whether it’s through a home loan, a personal loan, or a credit card, borrowing money will affect your credit score. Taking on a home loan or a credit card may have a positive impact on your score, but too many loan applications can bring your credit score down.  

Every time you apply for credit, an inquiry is performed against your name. Too many inquiries can reflect negatively on your credit report, and if your loan application is rejected it will negatively impact your credit score.

How you handle your debt can also make a big difference. As long as you make timely payments you may be able to improve your credit score and overall creditworthiness. However, any missed or delayed payments will likely result in a negative impact on your credit score.

Does home loan pre-approval affect credit score?

Home loan pre-approval can give you a better idea of the amount you can spend when buying a property. It can also tell you about the steps you need to take to finalise your home loan and receiving the funds. Depending on how you approach a lender, pre-approval could include a credit inquiry which does affect your credit score. Some lenders, however, may offer an online pre-approval which is faster and doesn’t involve a credit history check. An online pre-approval may only consider your financial capacity and offer suggestions on how to prepare yourself to take a home loan.

Most lenders, however, will likely prefer to make a full assessment of your financial situation by requesting a credit report in addition to your bank statements and tax returns. Such a credit inquiry, sometimes called a hard pull, is usually recorded on your credit file and can therefore affect your credit score. If you approach several lenders and all of them initiate credit inquiries, this will impact your credit score negatively. Sometimes credit reporting agencies make an exception in terms of including multiple credit inquiries if they are made within a certain period. It would still be best to avoid making multiple applications with different lenders.

What are some advantages of a good credit score?

You should know about the advantages of credit score improvement as there are many occasions when having a good score is helpful. If your credit score is categorised as good, very good, or excellent, it can indicate you have strong borrowing power. This may encourage lenders to give you special discounts on interest rates and other loan terms. You may also find it easier to get approved for a credit card or a property rental. You can also try to negotiate terms using your superior credit score as leverage.

A high credit score indicates that you are financially responsible, but it requires you to be disciplined. If you currently have a good credit score, you still need to remember not to apply too often for credit cards or loans as these can quickly pull down your score. On the one hand, you may have better access to credit, but your good financial habits mean that you may not need to access this credit. Having some credit products can help build up your credit report, and therefore your credit score. You would just need to keep the debt and limits to a minimum and pay the bills on time. It’s never advisable to take out credit that you can’t afford to pay as it negatively impacts your credit history.  Even if you have a good credit score, you can always improve it further.

Does breaking a lease affect your credit score?

When you sign a lease, you’re agreeing to pay rent for a certain period. But what happens in case you need to break the lease midway? Does breaking a lease affect your credit score? 

If you’re planning to break a lease early, you might be required to give a certain amount of notice, pay two months' rent and an early termination fee, or you should be willing to forfeit your security deposit.

If you’re able to pay all dues before moving out, breaking the lease is unlikely to affect your credit score. However, if you leave without paying, your landlord could use a collection agency to collect any unpaid rent. Your landlord could even sue you, and if you lose, you may have to pay the dues and court costs. While landlords typically don’t report unpaid rent to credit bureaus, there’s a possibility that a collection agency will report it. Collection mentions can stay on your report for several years and may affect your credit score.

Furthermore, breaking a lease could create issues when you're looking to rent in the future. A future landlord could contact previous landlords or check your rental history, and any mention of a broken lease could make you appear as a high-risk tenant, putting the rental application at risk.

Can a debt collector affect your credit score?

When a creditor is unable to contact you by phone or by sending you a formal notice in regards to outstanding debt, they will often outsource the job to a debt collector. The debt collector can try to reach you by phone, or they can attempt to contact you face to face. If they cannot get through to you by either method, they can only report back to the creditor but not directly report a payment default to the credit rating agency. So, can debt collectors affect your credit score? No, they cannot do so directly.

However, if you owe money, you have an obligation to return it or communicate your difficulty in doing so to the creditor as well as to any involved debt collector. If they cannot contact you, they can report a serious credit infringement against you, which may affect your credit score for many years. Creditors can also take the legal route, and a court judgment against you can also severely impact your credit score.

You should remember that debt collectors need to abide by specific rules and cannot harass you by repeatedly calling or visiting you, or by threatening to confiscate your possessions if you don’t pay up. Similarly, they cannot threaten to file a default against you, especially with a credit bureau.

Do landlords check credit scores?

For landlords, credit score checks can tell if a potential tenant has a history of delayed or missed rent payments. Usually, a poor record of repayments is likely to result in a low credit score. Also, your credit history may include information from tenancy databases such as the number of times landlords have inquired about your credit score. 

If there are too many inquiries within a short time, landlords may conclude that you have had issues renting in the past.  However, there is no rule as to when landlords check your credit score. Some might check every time they receive a tenant’s application. In some cases, landlords may even rent out their property to tenants with a poor credit history if they can submit additional documents or sufficiently explain their situation and how they are trying to address it.

 What credit score do landlords look for?

Landlords may look for issues relating to repayment rather than a specific credit score, although a low credit score probably suggests that you’ve had repayment issues. In general, if your credit score is categorised good, very good, or excellent - which corresponds to an Equifax credit score range of 622 - 1,200, landlords may not scrutinise your credit history too closely.

Do you need a credit score to rent a property?

A credit score is used by banks and lenders to understand your financial health and wellbeing, but you may not be aware that it's used as a way for landlords to understand whether or not it's risky to get into a financial relationship with you.

When you’re looking to rent a property, your landlord may check your credit history to get a sense of your capability to pay rent in a timely fashion. Landlors may look at your history of repaying debts, and this as a benchmark to understand the likelihood of you paying your rent on time, or not.

 

Why your credit score may differ between Experian and Equifax

Two of Australia's biggest credit reporting bureaus are Experian and Equifax, and while they both do the same thing, it’s not uncommon to find that your credit score can differ significantly.

Firstly, Experian and Equifax each have their own credit reporting algorithms to interpret and quantify your personal credit history. That means that while they do the same sort of thing -- credit tracking and reporting -- they may not handle it in the same way. Your credit history may therefore be similar, but not identical between Experian and Equifax.

While neither reveals exactly how they work, each also likely work in different time frames, which means your credit history may be viewed differently between the two. One could look at the most recent, while another might be weeks apart. For this reason, scores can vary.

Finally, there are different scales at which they work, and depending on the types of transactions your credit history has seen, this may impact the overall result slightly different, thus making the scores different. 

What can impact my credit score?

Your credit score isn't set in stone and can change with every financial decision and action you take. While you checking your score is a soft check and won't impact the result, payments and other actions can affect the score. 

The very things that can impact your credit score include your payment history (late or on time), the age and type of credit you have and owe, your debt balance (both current and delinquent, if any), recent payment behaviour, the credit available to you presently, and if you have any court judgements or actions resulting form bankruptcy.

Australia's Comprehensive Credit Reporting (CCR) also tracks your positive payments, and allows your credit score to be impacted positively, as well. 

How does my credit score affect the interest rate offered by lenders?

When you apply for a loan, lenders will typically access your credit history. By studying your credit report, they can not only estimate whether you are a reliable borrower, but also calculate the maximum amount you can borrow and repay completely before the loan term expires. Your credit report can also tell lenders about the other kinds of debt you’ve taken and whether you earn enough to make additional repayments. 

If you don’t have too much outstanding debt, or if you’re managing your current level of debt well, you’re more likely to have a higher credit score. For some credit products, lenders usually offer a lower interest rate for applicants with a fair credit score. If they don’t, you can always try to negotiate it, given your higher creditworthiness. You should remember that asking for a lower interest rate may not affect your credit score, but applying for the loan certainly has an impact.  

What is a good credit score?

Across Australia's major credit score providers, Experian and Equifax, there are five tiers, ranging from "below average" to "fair" to "good", "very good", and "excellent", with your score designating where you sit. As the tiers suggest, an Experian credit score between 625 and 699, and an Equifax credit score between 622 and 725, is technically considered to be in the range of "good". Anything above this is even better.

However, lenders will typically favour the borrowers with the highest credit scores which means that applicants with a "good" credit score may not be offered an interest rate as competitive as one offered to a borrower with a "very good" or “excellent” credit score.

Can a bad credit score affect rental applications?

A landlord may check your credit score to work out how trustworthy you are, and whether you'll pay your rental obligations on time. So, can a bad credit score cause you to miss out on renting property?

When looking at your credit score for rental applications, landlords may not see a low score as a reason to instantly reject applications. Some may be more generous, and could be willing to consider a tenant with a lower credit score, or even request some form of additional deposit to act as security against possible future problems.

Alternatively, you may want to consider asking a guarantor to co-sign your lease, which gives the landlord peace of mind as they have an alternate payment source if you cannot make payment.

Does a credit score check impact your credit score?

You may have heard that when a bank or lender performs a credit check, that it can impact credit score. But checking your own credit score isn't the same, and won't affect your credit score in the same way.

There are two types of credit checks that can be recorded in your credit history: hard credit checks and soft credit checks.

Hard credit checks occur when you apply to borrow money from a bank or lender, such as when you apply for a credit card or loan. A soft credit checks occur when your credit file is accessed outside of applications to borrow money, such as when you check your own credit score or credit history.

Checking your credit score is a request for information and not an application to borrow money, so it should not affect a lender’s decision to accept or decline your credit applications. As such, it's a soft credit check, and is unlikely to affect your credit score, positively or negatively.