My husband and I want to buy a house, how can we go about improving our credit score?
This is an awesome question. I think lots of people come up against this issue at one point or another. Before I get into the detail, straight off the bat I’ll tell you what you don’t need to do, you don’t need to get a credit card. You can build excellent credit without a credit card despite what people say about needing a credit card to build a credit record and strong credit score. Now that I’ve got that off my chest let’s start from the beginning?
Firstly, what is a credit score and what’s it trying to achieve?
A credit score is a number that’s designed to be an indicator of your creditworthiness. This means that the credit score gives lenders an indication of how good you are at paying your debts and how likely you are to default and not pay them. Lenders only want to lend to people that are likely to repay that money and the credit score is an indicator of your likelihood to repay.
Your credit score is built up using all the information a credit reference agency has collected about you over time especially over the last 6 years; information older than 6 years usually doesn’t weigh into your score.
The credit reference agencies that you might have heard about are:
You can also go directly to Transunion or Crediva to get a credit report from but they don’t give you a score directly – they only do so via CreditKarma and checkmyfile, respectively.
If you want to improve your credit score you need to know what your current score is so you can track it. You can’t improve something if you haven’t measured. Credit scores work in the following way:
How come ClearScore and CreditKarma are free?
Both make money by selling products to their customers. But, in my opinion, the way ClearScore goes about it could land you in unnecessary debt so I wouldn’t recommend them. Under the credit information, there’s a section on ClearScore that asks you “How can I improve my credit score” and one of their pointers if you don’t have a credit card, is that you get one. CreditKarma aren’t so brazen.
I feel as though ClearScore keep my score artificially and strategically low to nudge me towards that credit card. So, if you do use ClearScore, know that even if you pay your debts on time, are current on all your bills and are essentially doing everything you should to be classified as financially responsible, you won’t get the top credit score if you don’t have a credit card. I am very anti-credit cards so I would never get one and this one aspect of ClearScore annoys me and stops me from using them.
With all this knowledge about the agencies, this is what I recommend you do to improve your credit score:
Firstly, get a CheckMyFile credit report and credit score. As I mentioned, CheckMyFile’s score is out of 1,000 and based on information from 4 agencies; you will be able to view a lot of the information that all 4 agencies hold on you.
Second, I suggest you check your credit score only (not the credit report) at Experian. Experian have a service where you can view your score anytime for free but you won’t be able to see the full credit report under that service. Because you are getting an Experian report via CheckMyFile there is no need to get it directly from Experian too, at least not in the same month.
The reason I am suggesting you get your Experian score (which is out off 999) is that I find their score very responsive to changes in your financial footprint. If you pay off debts and so on, the Experian credit score improves within a month or two and it’s actually possible to get a perfect Experian score of 999, I have had that several times.
In my experience, Experian’s credit scoring system is the most legitimate and reliable.
Make sure you unsubscribe from CheckMyFile before a month is up because they will start charging you £15 per month after that.
This will mean you lose access to credit reports and the checkmyfile score but that’s okay because you will have the Experian score and to check your credit report on a regular basis, just use CreditKarma. The level of detail Credit Karma has is actually very impressive. They actually have financial details on my profile that Experian seem to have missed and yet, outside of the little bits of missing data, Experian is generally the most comprehensive. FYI, Experian is not paying me to say any of this.
Okay, so what can you do to improve your credit score?
These are the things that will have a huge negative impact on your credit score:
In summary, what should you do to improve your credit score:
Hope this helps, Chrissy.
Have a money question for me?
Based on the things you told us about investing, my husband and I started putting £125 per month each into our SIPP pension. I hope this isn’t a silly question but what are these savings for? When can we expect to start spending that money and should we try to spend it in specific ways or on specific things? Both my husband and I are 30, we don’t plan on having children and our jobs have fixed pension benefits.
That’s a great question. While everyone has a different value system, there are two main reasons that I strongly recommend that people put money into a self-invested pension plan or SIPP a) flexibility and b) security including funds to help pay a mortgage off early.
A SIPP can be better than a stocks and shares ISA, in some cases, because you effectively pay less tax and because you can’t use the money until you are about 58 so it forces you to save.
Let’s talk about each reason in turn:
The first reason: is flexibility over when to retire
In the past, a lot of work-based pensions (aka defined benefit pension plans) used to allow early retirement from between the ages of 55 and 60, most of these type of scheme are being completely phased out and are instead being linked to the state retirement age which for you is currently expected to be 68. There is talk of moving this to age 70, so this is a future possibility.
Whatever happens, the funds that you build up in your SIPP can be taken from 10 years before the state retirement age. This means if the state retirement age moves to 70 you will still be able to use money that’s sitting in your SIPP from the age of 60.
If you and your husband are putting £125 each into a SIPP then when you are 55 years old, you and your husband’s combined pot of savings would be worth £135,000 if the pot of money only grows fast enough to keep up with inflation of about 3%; if you get growth equivalent to the average stock market return of 7% then you would have £250,000 at the age of 55 and if you get an average stock market return of 10% you would have £410,000 saved up.
At age 60 the figures would be £180,000 @ 3%, £375,000 @ 7% and £700,000 @ 10%.
These sort of returns aren’t cuckoo. According thebalance.com, “the S&P 500 Index, delivered its worst twenty-year return of 6.4% a year over the twenty years ending in May 1979. The best twenty-year return of 18% a year occurred over the twenty years ending in March 2000.”
Various sources suggest the S&P 500 has returned 10% before inflation if you buy and hold the money you invest into it. But of course, it’s useful to remember that this past success doesn’t guarantee that future returns will be as good.
Right now you would struggle to find a bank account that gives you an interest rate of 1.5%.
Back to flexibility on when you retire, however, unless you believe the US has no room for growth, then this total of £250/month you are saving could amount to a lot of money over a 25 to 30 year period and this would allow you to retire with a decent income well before the state retirement age.
If your mortgage is fully paid off by the time you retire then your cost of living could be low enough that even a modest growth in the SIPP would provide a comfortable income before your state pensions and work-place pensions kick in.
The second reason: to save the money is the added security from having extra retirement income
Having money in a SIPP means you can top up your retirement income.
Having the SIPP would mean you have 5 sources of income:
If the pension income from your jobs is lower than your final salary having access to extra funds will mean you can more or less maintain your lifestyle. This will be especially important if one person lives a lot longer than the other.
There is one special feature that the SIPP has but all the other 4 pensions do not: and that’s the fact that if you or your husband dies the state pension stops coming through and the work-place pension either stops completely or is massively reduced. However, whatever money is outstanding in the SIPP would fully transfer to the spouse without penalty.
Just to be clear, I will make that point twice: a work-place pension either dies with the person and at that point the spouse receives nothing or, from that point, the spouse gets a heavily reduced benefit – usually 50% of one-third of the amount that was being received before their spouse died.
A LOT OF PEOPLE forget this about SIPPs and other defined contribution pensions. I won’t go into the differences between defined benefit and defined contribution pension plans here but if someone is interested go to themoneyspot.co.uk and leave me a voicemail with your request.
Finally, when can you expect to start spending that money and should you try to spend it in specific ways or on specific things?
Technically, the plan is that you will never have to spend the capital but can just spend the growth.
If the fund is worth £250,000 when you start drawing from it and you are earning a 10% return per year at that point, then you could just withdraw the 10% (i.e. £25,000) or less and spend that.
If your withdrawal rate is lower than the growth rate of the fund then your retirement would continue to grow even as you take money out.
Note that some research suggests that the ideal withdrawal rate to maximise the likelihood that the money will never run out is 4%. But given you have pension income from your jobs in addition to the state retirement and you’re not worried about passing wealth on to children you could be more aggressive than this.
As for how you spend that money, well that is up to you and is a great problem to have. Having more money doesn’t only mean more holidays, it also means you can buy private health insurance which might be a necessity to avoid NHS waiting lists at a time when health problems are more likely. This would give you a lot of peace of mind.
Ability to pay mortgage off early
One thing worth adding, is a note that once you can withdraw money from your SIPP you are allowed to take 25% out as a tax-free lump sum. If your household had £250,000 saved up, you could take £62,500 out in one go which could be used to clear all or most of your mortgage.
You would then be allowed to take the rest out as an income or you could buy an annuity – with an annuity you essentially buy a fixed income which keeps being paid to you for the rest of your life.
I wouldn’t recommend an annuity for you given you have two fixed pensions coming in already, you don’t need the extra security and annuities don’t tend to be worth the money now that interest rates are so low. What you could do instead of buying an annuity is withdraw what you need from the SIPP every year. You would pay taxes based only on what you take out and could manage the withdrawals to minimise the tax bill.
I hope this helps.
Have a money question?
I want to earn extra income, however I work as a nurse in the NHS which takes up my time, do you have any suggestions on any investment that can make money. I am also interested in the stock market but don’t know where to start.
I am interested in both generating extra monthly cash flow now and increasing the amount of money I have in retirement.
Thanks for this question. I love it because I have two nurses in my immediate family, my mother-in-law was a nurse for a long time and my cousin is still one now.
Boosting current income
The, “how can I make a little extra cash now” question is one I asked myself quite recently because I wanted to put extra cash into our household ISAs. There are a few things you can do to boost your cash now:
1. Working extra shifts / locum shifts
My mother-in-law says this is not a great idea because being a nurse is hard enough work, as it is. I agree that it is very demanding work but one of the great features of working at the front line of medical services is that you can actually make more money by working more hours, even temporarily. Some jobs don’t offer opportunities to earn more by working more, you’re paid a fixed annual salary and that’s it - no overtime. Overtime either goes uncompensated or is compensated as time back in lieu.
You can sign up to a locum agency and do the same type of work for higher pay on your free days.
If you want to really juice up your income you can even look at things like working a 4-day week in your regular NHS job (your NHS pension would therefore be lower) and work for a locum agency on the 5th day. The advantage with this strategy is that you will boost your income without working more hours because the hourly rate is higher as a locum nurse. If the extra income is invested wisely it could more than make up for the lower NHS pension.
Also, keep your eyes open for higher paying promotions.
2. Do some extra work in another field.
If you have another skill that you can monetise you can look into doing extra work in that field. So ask yourself, "what other skills do I have?" I'll give you an example from my own life:
In my early 20s when I worked in banking the bonuses were not good one year and to make some extra money I slipped flyers into doors offering massages (for women only) at my house for £25/half-hour. I had someone sign up that very day. I had done a course in therapeutic massage at London College of Massage for fun and when I needed it, that skill helped me boost my income. I didn’t do it for long but it showed me that if I wanted to earn more money I could monetise other skills in my free time.
There are some things you can do that don’t even need a new skill such as babysitting. You could sign up at childcare.co.uk or sitters.co.uk and your credentials as a nurse would be very attractive to people that needed a babysitter for nights out or weekends. You haven’t said whether or not you have childcare responsibilities of your own so I don’t know if this is possible for you.
If you have skills that you can monetise online then list yourself on freelance websites like upwork or fiverr. There is a wide range of professions people hire for on these sites. I have used these sites myself to buy all manner of things including artwork, copy, copy editing and even voiceovers! Imagine that, all you’d need as a voice over artist is a microphone that records your voice clearly. Some people make serious money side-gigging on these sites.
These first two options are not completely aligned with your question as you asked for “investments that you can make” but I decided to add them to give a fuller answer.
3. Invest in or produce products that make cash.
Investing in something necessarily involves parting with money in the hope that you’ll earn even more money. You haven’t said how much money you have to invest so here are a few options.
Can you make something that people would be interested in buying that you can sell on etsy, eBay, amazon or Facebook marketplace?
Make a few samples of what you want to sell and list them on all these sites. I ran a product business myself for almost 6 years mostly using Amazon so I would recommend that you:
I would never discourage anyone from starting a business but having experienced it, I would tell you that it is very hard work. It involves a lot of long hours and is nothing like as glamorous as our culture makes being an “entrepreneur” sound. A business could consume absolutely every free moment you have – evenings and weekends. And all that time might not even produce a profit. Investing in a business comes with a lot of risk – stats vary depending on source, however, 80% to 90% of businesses fail in under 3 years.
Could you make money teaching something online? You could create a course and list it on Udemy, Teachable or another similar site. This would take some time to produce well, in the first instance, then you would need to spend some money on marketing your course but you could keep the costs very low.
Alternatively if you want to teach a GCSE or A-Level subject (High school level) or even a university course level, you can sign up to places like tutorful (previously, tutora).
5. Invest in property.
If you have enough for at least a 25% deposit then it may be worth looking into property investment. Because interest costs on buy-to-let property are no longer fully tax deductible, (that means, you can’t subtract the interest payment from the rent you receive before calculating your tax bill), property is not as attractive an investment as it used to be. That said, if you can buy a place with cash, or if the property produces a high enough profit to clear the mortgage within a reasonable amount of time (I personally target 10 to 15 years) then it could be worth doing.
Overall, the option you go for will depend on your risk tolerance and the amount of cash you have to invest. If you are relatively risk averse and don’t have cash to invest then working more to earn more will be more attractive. If you can tolerate some risk and do have some spare cash saved up, then investing in property will provide you with medium risk while investing in a business will be the higher risk option.
Boosting retirement/future income
If you’re looking to boost future income then you have two main options:
Property investing we've already talked about.
The stock market provides a good return over long periods of time; most investment advisors would suggest an investment horizon of 5 years or more. Putting money into the stock market in the hopes of a good return in a year or less is gambling rather than investing, that's why I didn't offer it as an option when we were thinking through how to "boost income now".
The most tax efficient options for investing the stock market are investing via an ISA or a SIPP. ISA are individual savings accounts and SIPPs are self-invest pension plans, they are a type of personal pension.
If you invest the money via a SIPP then you won’t have access to that money until you are between 55 and 58 years old. The exact age will depend on your age and has been set at the state retirement age minus 10 years.
The SIPP is a good option because for every £100 you put in, HMRC pay back £25 of tax and this saving is automatic. It is claimed by the SIPP provider and is shown on your investment account. The maximum you can put into a pension a year is £40,000 or your salary whichever is lower. So, if you earn £30,000/year you can put up to £30,000 into your pension without getting a tax charge. If you earn more than £40,000/year and haven’t reached the lifetime allowance of £1.055m, you can put up to £40,000 into your pension without getting a tax charge/penalty.
I will be writing several blogs on investing over the next few months that should hopefully build your confidence to make the move. In the meanwhile, you might find this useful: What platform should you use for investing and what should you invest in.
I hope this is helpful.
Have a question?
If you have any personal finance questions send them to [ME] – I will answer whatever piques my fancy via a blog post.
Heather on Wealth
I enjoy helping people think through their personal finances and blog about that here. Join my personal finance community at The Money Spot™.