There’s no shortage of information out there about how to get your credit score. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover most of this is only really relevant to our North American friends. I found it really hard to find good information here in Australia! So, I’ve done the research – and here’s an easy guide on how to get your credit report and your credit score in Australia.
Credit report vs credit score? And what is a veda score?
You’ve probably heard at least one of the above terms bandied about. But what’s the difference?
Your credit report is a report of your credit history. There are three companies in Australia which compile credit reports, and you’ll need to apply to each of them to get an accurate picture of your credit file.
A credit score is a number that is calculated from the information in your credit report and which is a way for companies to evaluate your credit-worthiness. A credit score isn’t definitive, and a bad credit score won’t prevent you from getting credit, but you may pay a higher interest rate or might have to shop around.
A Veda score is a type of credit score that is calculated by Veda, the leading credit reporting agency in Australia. It’s a number between 0 and 1200 and tells a credit company the statistical likelihood of you experiencing a ‘default event’ within the next 12 months.
So what do I need to know about credit reporting?
In Australia, for a long time, we’ve only had negative credit reporting. This meant that your credit file would only contain details of credit applications, defaults, judgements and other similarly “negative” events. A few years ago, legislation was passed which began the transition to ‘positive reporting’, meaning that payment histories would start to be recorded – so your history of on-time payments could be treated as a factor in determining whether to give you credit, or not.
However, Australia is still very much in transition – very few finance companies provide positive reporting data to the agencies, and the agencies often cannot yet compile that data and produce a comprehensive report.
But, in late December 2016, Veda announced that they were moving to positive reporting and that subscribers should be aware that their score may fluctuate more frequently as new data was added. My personal experience with Veda, however, is that there is just no data being added by my finance companies (of which I have many, as you know).
How to get your credit report
You have a couple of options to get a copy of your credit report. You can always pay for an ‘urgent’ copy, or you can apply using one of the processes below and get a copy for free! You will, however, need to apply to all three credit reporting agencies in order to get a complete picture of your credit report, so it’s a bit of a process – but well worth it!
Important things to note:
- you can only get a free report once in any 12 month period or within 90 days of being rejected for credit.
- these processes won’t give you a copy of your credit score – there are separate processes for that.
We’ll come to credit scores later, because IMHO they are secondary to the content of your actual report – that is, if your credit report is good, your credit score will be good. Simple, no?
By far the biggest, and most important, credit reporting agency to get a copy of your report from is Veda. To get a free copy of your report, you can apply here (http://www.mycreditfile.com.au/products-services/my-credit-file). You will need to fill out an online form (have your Drivers Licence and employment details handy) and the process takes about 10 days.
I don’t have anything to support this theory, but my suspicion is that the vast majority of companies only check your Veda report. So, if I was only able to check one report, I’d pick this one.
Dun & Bradstreet
Your second priority should be Dun & Bradstreet (better known as “DnB”). If you’ve ever missed a bill for a major utility company or one of the road authorities, chances are you’ve heard from DnB about your overdue payment. In addition to its role as a credit reporting agency, DnB provides debt collection and agency services to a number of large corporate entities.
Getting your credit report from DnB will take 3 days. You can apply through their website here: https://www.checkyourcredit.com.au/ You will need an electronic copy of identifying documents (e.g. a Drivers Licence or Passport).
New to the Australian credit reporting environment is Experian. The process is a bit more administrative than either of Veda or DnB, but still very do-able. You will need to send them an email requesting a copy of your report and score, and attach copies of identifying documents. A summary of the process is here: http://www.experian.com.au/credit-services/credit-reports/order-credit-report.html and it’s likely to take 10 working days.
So you’ve got your credit report. Now what?
Firstly, read your report – mark it up with a red pen anywhere you see errors. For example, has your name been spelt correctly? Is your address correct? What about your employer? All of these details are added to your report by people who run credit searches on you – so if there is a typo in your credit application, it will be carried over to your credit file.
Check your history!
Pay close attention to your history of credit applications. Did you actually make them? If not, you may be a victim of identity theft – which can be seriously harmful to your financial security! But don’t assume that’s the case, there are occasions when companies run unauthorised credit checks. As an example, a rental company ran a ‘commercial’ credit check on my file as well as a personal one even though I told them it was a personal application. It took quite a while to have that blemish removed from my file! Your level of credit activity – i.e. the number of applications you have in a relevant period – is often a significant factor in credit decisions. Ideally, you want to have less than 5 applications in a 12 month period (and, of course, as few as possible).
The only times I’ve ever been rejected for credit is when I’ve had 4+ credit applications within 12 months, and/or I’ve been in a job for less than 6 months.
Then it’s time to turn your mind to the remainder of your credit file – this is where things like your defaults, judgements and bankruptcies might show up. If any of these records are there, it’s really important that you confirm their accuracy – as each of these has a significant negative effect on your ability to access credit. Sometimes, defaults are registered through an automatic process and you can negotiate with the creditor to have it removed from your file.
Things to watch out for
- Inaccuracies – even an inaccuracy in the spelling of your employer’s name can make your employment history look less stable!
- Credit applications that you didn’t make – are you a victim of identity theft? Did your finance company simply get overzealous?
- Defaults being recorded, even though you paid the debt – these can be removed, and it’s definitely worth making a few calls.
If you find errors, you usually have to go back to the finance company to ask them to amend your report. This can be a pretty time consuming process, but it’s well worth it.
On the question of timing
Your credit report holds onto information for only a limited number of years:
- 2 years – repayment history. This is fantastic, because it means that your poor payment record will be expunged from your record within 24 months. So there’s hope for all of us who are struggling through with our minimum repayments.
- 5 years – most other information such as credit applications, payment defaults, credit clearouts, judgements and writs and summons.
- 7 years – serious credit infringements (major defaults) –
This is useful information because it helps you to recognise exactly what is worth spending your energy on. For example, a credit enquiry within the last 12 months that has errors would be more important to fix that something four years ago. This is because the older record will be expunged within a year anyway. However, it’s also worth considering personal circumstances – if you’ll be applying for a home loan soon, then you should definitely fix it!
Okay, so I’ve seen my report – but now I want to know my ranking! How to find out your credit score(s)
Credit scores are also somewhat new to Australia. Companies like Veda have been keeping score for a long time, but it’s only recently that consumers could access their own score.
Helpfully, there are many places to get your credit score without affecting your score! Below is a list of a number of places:
- VedaScore: https://www.getcreditscore.com.au/
- Experian Credit Score: https://www.creditsavvy.com.au/
I am not aware of DnB publishing credit scores, but if anyone has heard otherwise – please let me know and I’ll update this!
I’ve got my score – what does it mean?
Your score tells financiers what the statistical probability of you defaulting on an obligation is within the next year. Depressing, right? Mine says I have a pretty high chance of a default. Worse, I think it’s accurate, given my current financial situation.
At a personal level, it’s important not to take this on board – recognise the marker for what it is, but remember it’s just a statistic, not a promise.
But, on all other levels, you should absolutely acknowledge what this means. For example, I know that my credit score is a red flag to financiers and I definitely need to improve it!
Your credit score (and your credit report) are pretty key pieces of information used to make credit decisions about you. So, if your score is low, you’ll potentially find it much harder to access credit. And yes, despite writing a blog about getting out of debt, I believe that there is good debt – so it’s important to build your credit score to help you access that when you need it.
How do I improve my credit score?
Good question. The credit reporting agencies are pretty cagey about how they calculate the score. You have a few options:
- FIRST & MOST IMPORTANT: STOP APPLYING FOR CREDIT! Nothing will do more damage than further applications for credit (except declaring bankruptcy, etc.).
- Second: Pay your bills on time to avoid a default being listed on your credit file. If you can’t make a payment, call up the creditor and negotiate a payment plan.
- Third: If you found inaccuracies in your credit report… get them repaired – this is an easy way for a quick bump in your credit score.
- Fourth: Negotiate with companies to have defaults removed from your credit file (assuming you’ve paid the debt. If not, negotiate a payment plan, on the condition that the default is removed once you pay it off).
- Fifth: Be patient. Unfortunately, the truth is that improving your credit score is like losing weight… it just takes time.
- Finally: Continue monitoring your score – you will start seeing changes in it. I check my credit score monthly and it usually takes 2-3 months from the last credit application to see an uptick (usually negligible). However, after about 6 months you’ll probably see a steadier increase as your credit history becomes more distant.
Credit is such a taboo subject in Australia (and most places) – but I’d love to find out whether you’ve accessed your credit files, did you find errors? Do you think your credit score is accurate?
Last I checked, my VedaScore was 457 (below average, putting me in the bottom 20% of the credit-active population). This means that it is likely that an adverse event is going to be recorded in the next 12 months. NOT IF I CAN HELP IT!