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Understanding Your Credit Score and Credit Rating

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Understanding Your Credit Score and Credit Rating

Written by Bryan Daly

Understanding Your Credit Score and Credit Rating


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A credit score is a calculated numerical indicator that lenders use to determine whether a person meets their standard of financial responsibility. In Canada, credit scores generally range from 300-900. The closer your score is to the 900 mark, the safer lenders will feel lending to you, as a higher credit score signals less financial risk on their part.

Importance of Your Credit Score

Do you plan on buying your own house or condo one day? Are you thinking of buying a car in the near future? Poor credit will make this much more difficult.

If you’ve never had a credit card or other type of credit product (loans, mortgages, lines of credit, etc.), then you probably have little to no credit history. This makes it difficult to find financing, as lenders have no information to look at when deciding if you are financially responsible enough to obtain a loan. In other words, having credit history is as important as having a strong credit score.

Want to know how the length of your credit history affects your credit score? Read this.

The Factors That Affect Your Credit Score

Your credit score is calculated using multiple pieces of data, taken from your credit report and grouped into 5 categories. The percentage taken from each section reflects the importance of that specific factor.

The 5 factors that make up your credit score include:

1. Payment History (35%)

Realistically, someone who has a consistent history of making payments on time is perceived as less of a risk. They’re considered more trustworthy than someone who frequently makes late payments, short payments, or misses their payments completely. That being said, this credit score factor takes into consideration both late and on-time payments.

Other important factors include: how late the payments were made (30, 60, or 90 days), whether partial or full payments were made, and the total number of past-due payments. Also included are accounts that have been sold to collection agencies, charge-offs, debt settlements, bankruptcies, foreclosures, wage garnishments, and liens.

2. Outstanding Debt (30%)

This is the amount owed on all credit and loan accounts. It includes how much of your total available credit you’ve already used and the amount of debt you owe in total.  

3. Length of Credit history (15%)

This refers to how long you’ve been using credit for, meaning the ages of your credit accounts are analyzed. A longer history is favourable, as someone with a lengthier history of on-time/full payments shows experience and responsibility when it comes to handling their credit. Conversely, it is difficult to judge someone’s creditworthiness if they have very little credit history.

4. New Credit (10%)  

This includes the number of recently opened credit accounts you have, how many new accounts you’ve applied for lately, and when the last time you opened a new account was. The core assumption here is that if you’ve had multiple credit checks recently, it could signal financial difficulty. Of course, having recently opened various new credit accounts also reflects negatively on your credit score because it implies more payments for an individual to manage.

5. Credit Mix (10%)

This refers to the different types of credit used, such as credit cards, mortgages, store accounts and installment loans, and how many accounts you currently have. It is crucial to apply for credit in moderation, as your credit score drops slightly whenever a credit check is performed.

Don’t forget!

When you’re applying for credit, creditors look at more than just your credit score and credit report. They also want to know how long you’ve been employed for, what your income is, and other relevant indicators before they come to a decision.

Trying to get out of debt fast using your low income? Read this.

Credit Rating

Each individual account that appears on your credit report has its own credit rating. Every credit rating is an evaluation of your ability to repay that account. The Canadian credit reporting agencies give ratings to every item in your credit history individually. These ratings can range from 1 to 9 and are given one of three letters, which represent the type of credit being used: I, O and R.

What’s the difference between a credit rating and a credit score? Look here.

1 represents all payments that are made on time, while 9 indicates that bills were never paid or that the account has gone bankrupt.

I: stands for “installment”, meaning that your loan is being repaid in fixed installments over a certain period of time, such as a mortgage or car loan.

O: stands for “open”, meaning you have opened credit, such as a line of credit or student loans.

R: stands for “revolving”, meaning your credit payments are contingent on your account balance. This is the most common type of credit account among borrowers. A good example is a credit card.

Read this to learn about revolving debt and how to manage it.

These are the different R-ratings one can have, in accordance with the North American Standard Account ratings:

0: Too little credit history or, credit unused.

1: Pays (or paid) within 30 days of payment due date or not over one payment past due.

2: Pays (or paid) in more than 30 days from payment due date, but not more than 60 days, or not more than two payments past due.

3: Pays (or paid) in more than 60 days from payment due date, but not more than 90 days, or not more than three payments past due.

4: Pays (or paid) in more than 90 days from payment due date, but not more than 120 days, or four payments past due.

5: Account is at least 120 days overdue, but is not yet rated “9.”

6: This rating does not exist.

7: Making regular payments through a special arrangement to settle your debts.

8: Repossession (voluntary or involuntary return of merchandise).

9: Bad debt; placed for collection; moved without giving a new address or bankruptcy.

Where to Find Your Credit Report and Credit Score (TransUnion & Equifax)

As we mentioned earlier, the credit reporting agencies, TransUnion and Equifax are the two major sources for providing credit reports in Canada. Your credit score is based on your credit report, which you (and your lender) may access upon request.

You can pull a copy of your credit report by visiting either the TransUnion or Equifax websites. 

The reporting companies issue credit reports to lenders, insurers, and other organizations in order for them to evaluate your creditworthiness.

Here’s an example of how the system works:

  • Applying for a Credit Card: When you apply for a new credit card, the lender/credit card company requests a copy of your credit report from one or both of the main credit reporting agencies. Note that you must provide consent before a creditor can pull your credit report or credit score.
  • The Lender’s Assessment: The lender may use your credit report, your credit score, and any other information you provide (such as income or debt information) to decide whether to approve your request and which interest rates to offer. If you have a low score and bad payment history, you may not get approved. However, if you have a high score and a great credit history, your chances of getting approved increase significantly. If you have no credit history and you’re applying for your first credit card, this process will be much harder because creditors have nothing to evaluate your repayment ability with.
  • The Lender’s Decision: If you are granted a credit card, the creditor reports that account to the credit reporting agencies, then consistently updates it every 30 days or so. The updated information includes your balance and payment activity.
  • Your Credit Profile Updated: The credit reporting agencies revise and update your credit report as they receive new information from creditors/lenders (e.g. if you paid or not, was it full or partial, are they chasing you to pay). The next time you apply for a credit card or other credit product, the process repeats itself.

Credit Myths and Misconceptions – True or False?

There are countless myths and misconceptions found online about credit that you can’t always trust. Relying on this incorrect information and letting it guide your decision process can be very dangerous for you and your credit.

Some of the most common errors include, but aren’t limited to:

  1. Your credit score drops if you check your own credit report. False. it’s recommended that you review your credit report annually. This type of credit check is considered a “soft” inquiry and will not negatively affect your credit score.
  2. It’s good for your credit to close your old accounts. False. A longer history is advantageous and seen as less risky. Closing old accounts will make your credit history look shorter, which is not attractive to lenders.
  3. Paying off a negative record removes the record from your credit report. False. Negative records, such as late payments, will stay on your credit report for up to 7 years. Once an account paid, it isn’t deleted from your credit report. Instead, it is simply listed as “paid.” 
  4. Cosigning means you’re responsible for the account. True. Opening a joint account or co-signing loans implies you will be held legally responsible for said account. All activities and transactions on the joint account are shown on the credit reports for both people involved.
  5. Paying off a debt boosts your score by 50 points. False. It’s almost impossible to calculate the difference in points after such a small changing factor. Paying off your debts is something required, usually not rewarded.

The Health of Your Credit is Important 

Regardless of where you are in your life and your financial goals, a healthy credit score should always be a priority for you. Whether you’re starting from statch or looking to rebuild your credit score, Loans Canada can help. We offer a variety of credit improvement products and services, check them out.

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