Will a balance transfer improve your credit score?

Will a balance transfer improve your credit score?

When you’re struggling to get on top of your credit card debt, one solution that may offer some financial relief is a balance transfer. However, you may be curious as to how this may affect your credit history and score. Especially if your existing debt is already causing stress or has hurt your credit score.

Let’s take a look at how a balance transfer may affect your credit score.

What is a balance transfer?

A balance transfer credit card is a type of card that allows someone to transfer the debt of an existing card onto this new card, which typically offers a zero per cent interest rate for a set period.

Once the zero per cent interest period ends, the balance transfer credit card will revert to a generally higher-than-average ongoing interest rate. This means that if you’re unable to pay off your original balance in the interest-free period, your debt will start to accrue interest again.

This allows the cardholder to pay off their existing debt on the balance transfer card without further accruing interest on the outstanding balance. This credit card may be one type of helpful debt management solution for Aussies struggling to get on top of their credit card balances.

Keep in mind that some balance transfer credit card issuers charge a balance transfer fee (generally around 1 - 3 per cent of the balance). The process of transferring your debt from one card to another may take several days and paying off your balance may take the entire balanced transfer period. So, if you’re looking for an immediate fix to your debt problems, you may want to consider alternative options.

Can a balance transfer affect my credit score?

Using a balance transfer credit card is the same as applying for and taking out any financial product. Meaning, it will be reflected on your credit history.

But a balance transfer credit card may affect your credit score in both positive and negative ways.

Positive impacts of a balance transfer card on credit score:

  • Take control of your debt. Taking out a balance transfer card to pay off your debt, may fall under the category of ‘positive events’. Thanks to comprehensive credit reporting, your credit history no longer records just the negative events and credit applications you make. Positive occurrences, such as working to pay off a debt or removing a debt altogether, may now potentially boost your credit score.
  • Regular repayments. Another positive event that may improve your credit score is the act of making regular repayments on your credit card. Late payments, or missing payments altogether, may be reflected in your credit history and have an adverse impact on your credit score – especially if a very late payment turns into a default. By making a debt payment plan and budgeting to pay off your card debt through a balance transfer, this may in turn improve your credit score.

Negative impacts of a balance transfer card on credit score:

  • Rejected applications. Not unique to balance transfer credit cards but still worth noting, if you apply for a balance transfer credit card and are rejected, this may hurt your credit score. This is especially true if you make multiple applications, as this can show a level of financial carelessness and lead to application rejection. Be careful to read the terms and conditions carefully and understand the eligibility criteria of a balance transfer card before applying and try to apply for only one credit card at a time.
  • Multiple balance transfers. Not only can multiple applications and rejections hurt your score, but if you’re opening multiple balance transfer credit cards, this may also display a lack of control of your finances. If you’re struggling to pay off your credit card debt, consider opting for a balance transfer with a lengthy zero per cent interest period, such as two or more years. And if you know your balance transfer period is coming to an end, consider reaching out to the card issuer and requesting hardship support.

Ultimately, a balance transfer credit card may improve your credit score if used responsibly and you attempt to pay off your balance in full by the end of the interest-free period. Before you apply for a balance transfer card, consider setting a careful budget by cutting out frivolous spending. Focus on paying off your balance to the best of your ability so you can get your finances and your credit score back on track.

   

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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

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.

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 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.

 

Why should I check my credit score annually?

You may not need to get your free credit rating every year, but it can help you stay informed. A yearly free credit report can help Australians keep track of the impact of various financial transactions on their credit score.

Your credit score helps inform financial organisations, particularly lenders, about the sort of payer you are. Depending on how you've paid down debt in the past, it will have affected your credit score in various ways. In Australia, the inclusion of Comprehensive Credit Reporting (CCR) means that you can find out which transactions affect your credit score positively, as well those that have a negative impact.

Because of this, you may want to consider getting a free credit report once a year irrespective of whether you’re planning to apply for a loan or take on other debt. Checking your credit report can tell you if there are errors in your credit file, which affect your credit score and need to be corrected.

What if your credit score has dropped for no reason

The importance of checking your credit score regularly is hard to overstate as the changes may not be as relevant to your life, and there may be the occasional error, but what should you do if it drops for no reason?

Credit reporting agencies calculate your credit score based on the information they receive from lenders, banks, credit card providers and utility companies, among others. This report takes into account both the credit enquiries these companies make, as well as your payment history with them, and may include other factors. But because some reports may come in at different times, delays can appear like drops. 

Suppose you missed paying a bill while on holidays and the supplier couldn’t reach you, or something like it -- in this instance, the provider may report the default to the credit reporting agency, which can cause your credit score to fall when the credit reporting agency eventually sees the information. Because of an obvious delay, the drop can seem random.

Regularly checking your credit score and the transactions that have appeared can provide some understanding as to why a credit score drop might have occurred, and even provide some understanding as to how you can fix the drop, improving your credit score in the process. 

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. 

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.

 

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. 

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.