How shopping around can hurt your credit score

Hi Nicole,

I just read your article about credit repair agencies and decided to check out my own score and request my file. I was very surprised to learn that my credit score, which I got through finder.com.au as you suggested, is only "Good 699" [out of 1200].

This type of score seems odd. I have one NAB credit card with a credit limit of about 34k. My monthly balance is around the 3 to 4k mark which is always paid in full by the due date. All of my other bills are paid by direct debit on the due date. I paid out all of my personal loans a few months ago so am debt-free (I always made those payments on time as well). Appreciate any insight you may have.

Bill, Lewisham

Bill, the calculation of a credit score is more mysterious than the Duckworth-Lewis method (if you follow cricket). What's more, the three different credit reporting agencies use three different secret formulae ??? and even scales.

But - on investigation - your model money self seems to have been caught by two innocent-seeming financial moves.

First, though not foremost, your credit file lists you as a director of a company. Equifax (which powers the score distributed by finder.com.au) discloses this additional risk can affect your score.

However, second and more relevant is your applications for credit. Your file lists five in the past five years, the amount of time they remain on there.

Unfortunately, each time you apply for credit (even an increase in your existing card limit or a new mobile phone contract) you grant a company a look at your file - and down goes your score that bit more.

But more damningly from a potential creditor's perspective, three of your applications were close together as (you've told me) you previously looked at the best options to consolidate debt.

My advice is usually to shop around ??? but actually apply for multiple debt products and you'll significantly hurt your chances of getting approved for them.

The pattern of your credit enquiries over time also affects the "risk" you pose. For example, two successive credit card balance transfer applications, say 18 months apart, might have only a minor impact on your score. But more paints a picture of you as a serial switcher, which lenders won't like.

Finally, unsecured debt weighs more heavily than say, a mortgage over a house.

Your credit rating will rebuild with continued financial nous, Bill. And you won't have to wait for all five applications to fall off your file.

Plus, although 699 out of 1200 sounds bad, remember it's considered "good" - you fall in the mid-range (41 to 60 per cent) of Equifax's credit-active population.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is a money educator and consumer advocate.

Write to her at nicolehelps@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

This story How shopping around can hurt your credit score first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.