Taking care of your health, protecting your family and providing for basic household needs is currently on the top of the priority list for many Australians as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep across the world.
However, in these times of economic uncertainty, it’s vital to think about your finances and how to maintain a healthy credit score. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in their recent survey on the impact of Coronavirus on households found that 1 in 3 Australians reported a deterioration in household finances from mid-March to mid-April.
With the continuing financial instability, it’s essential you become financially prepared to ensure your credit score and finances are protected for the road ahead. We’ve put together the top 5 steps to protecting your credit score during the Coronavirus crisis.
1. Check Your Credit Report
The first step to maintaining a healthy credit score is to check your credit report. You can check your credit score for free by getting in touch with one of three credit bureaus in Australia: Equifax, Experian or Illion.
Your credit report will include all of the following information:
- A list of credit products you’ve held in the last two years,
- Repayment history for those credit products,
- Any defaults on utility bills, credit cards and loans,
- All of the credit applications you’ve made,
- If you’ve been Bankrupt or have been in a Part 9 Debt Agreement, and
- Any credit report requests you’ve previously made.
All of the above information is used to calculate your credit score. A credit score will sit between zero and either 1,000 or 1,200, depending on which credit bureau you used to retrieve your report. It also relates to a five-point scale, ranging from excellent to below average.
The lower your credit score, the more risk you have as a borrower. If your credit score is below average, you’ll find it difficult to obtain finance from banks and lenders. Whereas if you have a high credit score, you’ll find it easy to apply for a loan and may be offered a low interest rate as you are deemed low-risk.
2. Dispute any Inaccurate Credit Information
When you receive your credit report, it’s important to check that everything listed is accurate. Credit bureau and the banks and lenders they partner with have a legal obligation to ensure your credit information is up-to-date and correct. If you find that the information on your credit report is incorrect, you can contact the credit bureau you received your report from and ask them to fix it for free.
Some companies claim they can repair your credit report by removing black marks or cleaning fixing your credit history. You need to be weary of these credit repair companies as they often charge large fees for a service that you can generally do yourself for free. You can find more information on credit repair companies on the Creditsmart website.
3. Continue to Meet Your Minimum Repayments
Under normal circumstances, the best way for you to get out of debt fast is to pay off your full statement balance each month. Continuing to pay the full required amount will save you interest in the long-term. However, if your finances have taken a hit due to the Coronavirus crisis, paying the full amount is unrealistic, but it’s important that you continue to repay the minimum amount on your debts to avoid any negative impact on your credit score.
4. What if I Can’t Afford to Pay?
If you default on your loan, it can leave a black mark on your credit report, making it difficult for you to borrow credit in the future. While one late payment is unlikely to damage your credit score, consistent failure to repay your debts can adversely impact your credit score. There are options available to help ease financial stress during these times.
- Negotiate with your bank or lender – most banks and lenders have assistance available for customers affected by the Coronavirus. As long as you keep an open line of communication with them about your financial situation, they will be likely to offer assistance by way of decreased fees and charges, lowering interest rates and offering repayment holidays.
- Ask for a home loan deferral – banks are offering a 6 month deferral on home loan repayments for customers suffering financially due to Coronavirus. If you are up-to-date on your home loan repayments when the bank grants you relief, your credit score will not be affected.
- Access your superannuation – as a last resort, you can access your superannuation early to pay down debt. This will not affect your credit score.
4. Access Free Financial Assistance
Maura Angle, Director of Community Engagement at the National Debt Helpline, told the New Daily that “if you’re umming and ahhing or feeling like you’re already under financial stress, get help. The longer you leave it, the worse it will get.”
The National Debt Helpline is a free service putting Australians experiencing financial hardship in touch with trained financial counsellors who are able to help with a range of complex problems.
Fiona Gurthie, Chief Executive of Financial Counselling Australia agreed, saying that “there will be a way through this” and to “talk to a financial counsellor, it can be life changing – so please ring.”
You can call the National Debt Helpline today on 1800 007 007.
Contact Debt Rescue
If the Coronavirus pandemic has caused you to sink further into debt, we can help put a Debt Management Plan (DMP) in place. Our DMP can combine your debts into one, easy-to-manage, affordable repayment – allowing you to rebuild your finances and put money towards that much-needed emergency fund. A DMP can come in the form of:
- An Informal Agreement,
- A Part 9 Debt Agreement, or
- Personal Bankruptcy.
It’s important you are proactive about your finances during these challenging times to protect your credit score. Our qualified team are available to assess your financial situation and provide a solution to help you get back on your feet. Get in touch with us today on 1800 560 569 for a free 30-minute consultation.