It is important to maintain a good credit score to have access to financial services such as a credit card, personal loan or mortgage in the UAE.
Al Etihad Credit Bureau, which was set up in 2014, provides a credit score in the Emirates. It is a three-digit number that indicates how likely customers are to make their payment obligations on time based on their past payment behaviour.
AECB calculates your credit score using information it collects from financial and non-financial institutions in the UAE.
The credit scores range between 300 and 900, with a higher score meaning a lower level of risk, according to AECB's website.
For instance, if a customer’s score is 300, it means they have defaulted on a range of payments such as a mobile phone bill, a loan instalment or a credit card payment.
On the other hand, a high AECB credit score – 657 or above – means that a customer’s credit behaviour reflects a lower risk, which translates into easier availability of credit cards and faster loan approvals.
“Information on each individual is gathered from more than 200 data points from banks and insurance companies, along with utility companies and even the UAE courts,” says Chris Keeling, chartered financial planner at The Fry Group.
“Those with a lower credit score may find it harder to obtain credit, whereas higher credit scores will be more readily accepted due to the perceived lower risk to the lender.”
Consumers with lower incomes tend to know the least about credit scores, according to a June survey of about 1,000 people in the US by the Consumer Federation of America and credit scoring and analytics company VantageScore Solutions.
Only 33 per cent of those polled know a credit score measures the borrower’s risk of not repaying a loan, while 14 per cent said they thought it measured the borrower’s knowledge or attitude towards consumer credit, the survey found.
Furthermore, only 22 per cent of consumers reported knowing that a borrower with a low credit score, when compared with one with a high credit, could pay more than $5,000 in interest on a $20,000, 60-month car loan, the findings showed.
AECB calculates credit scores based on factors such as payment history, credit use, length of credit history, types of credit and recent credit inquiries, says Sophia Bhatti, director of Dubai-based Wimbledon Wealth.
“Remember that building a credit score is a gradual process. Be patient, responsible and persistent in managing your finances, and your credit score will improve over time,” she says.
Improving your credit score can take time and effort but it is possible and worth the effort, says Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching.
We asked experts to list seven ways for individuals to improve their credit score.
1. Apply for credit
Start by applying for a credit card or a small loan. Consider a secured credit card if you are new to credit, Ms Bhatti recommends.
Make timely payments and avoid overborrowing to demonstrate responsible credit use. This builds your credit history and encourages future lending, she says.
“Borrow only what you can comfortably repay to prevent late payments or defaults that can harm your credit score,” she warns.
Mr Keeling says individuals with no lines of credit will not have a sufficient track record of making payments.
“It is important to build a credit score over time, so when credit, such as a mortgage, is required in future, the lender has the appropriate evidence that shows a history of on-time payments,” he says.
2. Make timely repayments
Consider applying for a credit card as long as you are in a healthy financial position, have the discipline to manage one and ensure you can pay the full balance each month, Mr Keeling says.
“The easiest way to improve your credit score is by simply making payments on time. If payments to credit cards, loans and even water or electricity bills are late or missed completely, this will have a negative impact on the credit score,” he warns.
“Credit reports can show missed payments for up to five years, therefore it is important to ensure that expenses are regularly paid on time.”
“Automatic payments such as standing instructions and direct debits could be set up to make these payments easy and on time.”
Ensure utility bills and rent payments are in your name and paid on time, Ms Bhatti says.
While they may not directly impact your credit score, some lenders consider them when assessing creditworthiness. These payments account for 35 per cent of your credit score, she says.
Ms Glynn says the longer period over which you pay each month’s bill on time, the more positively your score will be affected.
“Also, never bounce a cheque as it will not only cost you in charges from your bank, hassle and embarrassment with your creditor, but also negatively impact your credit score. Always make sure there is sufficient funds in your account to cover all cheques written.”
3. Maintain a good credit utilisation ratio
A bank may have provided a high credit limit but this does not mean it has to be used up, says Rupert Connor, partner at Abacus Financial Services.
Credit consumption is a huge factor in determining credit scores, so try to use available credit wisely, he says.
Reduce your credit utilisation as this is seen as a positive by credit bureaus, Ms Glynn says.
Credit utilisation is the amount of credit you are using compared with your total available credit, so keeping your credit card balances well below your limit will help to increase your credit score, she says.
“If you have a credit card, keep your credit utilisation ratio low, ideally below 30 per cent,” Ms Bhatti says.
4. Don’t make multiple applications
Always avoid numerous applications when applying for home finance or any other type of loan as your credit report will be checked by the lender, Mr Connor says.
If too many applications are being made and getting rejected, it will look unfavourable on a credit report, and it could leave a lower score, he adds.
“If you are rejected for any lending facility, this will be recorded on your credit report,” Mr Keeling says.
“If you apply to other lenders and are rejected again, this compounds the issue. Instead, consider why your application was rejected and, if necessary, try to pay off any existing commitments before applying for new lines of credit.”
Also, reduce the number of credit cards you have, Ms Glynn warns. Even if you never use it, excess credit cards will negatively affect your credit score.
5. Pay off overdue debt
Individuals must try to pay off outstanding debts such as overdue balances on credit cards or loans, says Ms Glynn.
Aim to pay them off as soon as possible as the longer they are overdue, the more they are hurting your credit score. This is particularly important for credit card debt, she warns.
6. Monitor your credit report
A credit report is a document that includes personal details, all credit facilities, bounced cheques information and payment history up to five years, according to AECB's website.
It also includes court-ordered financial obligations and balances, and payments of monthly phone, water and electricity bills will appear in credit reports, the agency adds.
The information in a credit report is provided by banks/finance and telecoms companies, as well as utilities and courts.
“A credit report will show all the information that lenders will use when assessing your credit applications,” Mr Keeling says.
“Regularly check it and if you see any errors or inaccuracies on your report, contact the credit bureau to have them corrected.”
7. Don’t pay off loans early
Never close down and pay off loans before they mature as a longer period of credit history is always considered better, Mr Connor recommends.
If you keep making regular payments for a longer time period, credit scores will improve, he says.
Ms Glynn says that in some jurisdictions, even closing bank accounts “can have a negative impact as length of credit history is a factor in your credit score”.
“Keep your older accounts open, even if they have a low balance or you don’t use them frequently. This demonstrates a longer credit history, which can be positive for your score.”
However, be mindful of bank charges on these accounts.
You do not want to unwittingly get in debt due to unmonitored balances in bank accounts being eroded by charges, she warns.
Ways to improve your credit score
- Apply for credit
- Make timely repayments
- Don’t bounce cheques
- Maintain a good credit utilisation ratio
- Don’t make multiple applications
- Pay off overdue debt
- Monitor your credit report regularly
- Don’t pay off loans early