What is Credit rating

In today’s fast-paced economic environment, understanding one’s financial standing, specifically a credit rating, is a critical factor that influences various aspects of our lives. A credit rating is more than just a number; it is a financial passport that opens doors to various financial opportunities. Credit ratings shape our financial life; they affect our ability to secure loans, dictate interest rates, and even impact employment opportunities in certain industries. Thus, having a clear understanding of credit ratings, how they are determined and how they can be improved is vital for anyone wishing to gain control over their financial future.

Key Takeaways

  1. Understanding Credit Rating: A credit rating is a measure of your creditworthiness, determined by credit bureaus based on various factors like your credit history, level of debt, types of credit in use, payment history, and recent applications for credit.
  2. Credit Score Interpretation: Credit scores range from 330 to 830 in South Africa. A higher score denotes lower risk to the lender and can lead to more favourable credit terms.
  3. Accessing Your Credit Report: You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each credit bureau in South Africa. Your credit report contains vital information about your credit history, payment behaviour, and more.
  4. Lenders and Credit Ratings: Lenders utilise your credit rating to assess your reliability in repaying loans. A high credit rating can lead to approval for credit with competitive interest rates, while a lower rating may result in higher interest rates or declined applications.

Overview of Credit Rating

Defining Credit Rating

Let’s start by getting to grips with what a credit rating really is. In simple terms, a credit rating is a measure of your creditworthiness, a sort of financial health check. It’s determined by credit bureaus, based on your credit information. This information is gathered from various sources, such as banks, retailers, and public records. Your credit rating serves as a snapshot of your financial behaviour and is used by lenders, landlords, insurance companies, and sometimes even employers, to make decisions about your reliability and ability to fulfil financial commitments.

Your credit rating not only impacts your ability to obtain credit, but also the terms on which credit is granted. It can affect interest rates, insurance premiums, and even job opportunities. A higher credit rating generally leads to more favourable credit terms, such as lower interest rates, whereas a lower rating could make it more challenging to obtain credit.

Brief History of Credit Rating in South Africa

The credit rating system in South Africa is a legacy of the country’s complex financial evolution. The inception of the credit rating system can be traced back to the early 1980s when the first credit bureau was established. However, it wasn’t until the introduction of the National Credit Act in 2005 that the regulation of the credit industry and the rights of consumers were clearly defined.

The National Credit Act established norms and standards for credit providers and credit bureaus, provided mechanisms for resolving disputes, and introduced measures to protect consumers from reckless lending. This legislative framework has shaped the credit rating landscape in South Africa, leading to a more transparent and equitable credit system.

Elements of Credit Rating

Understanding the components that constitute a credit rating can help demystify how this financial snapshot is determined. Five main factors influence your credit rating: credit history, level of debt, types of credit in use, payment history, and recent applications for credit.

Credit History

Credit history refers to your past behaviour regarding credit usage and repayment. It includes details such as the number of credit accounts, the duration of these accounts, how often they are used, and how promptly the debts are repaid. A longer credit history with a record of timely repayments tends to enhance your credit rating.

Level of Debt

The level of debt reflects the total debt you currently owe. It includes all forms of credit such as home loans, car loans, credit cards, and personal loans. Having too much debt can lower your credit rating as it indicates a higher risk to lenders.

Types of Credit in Use

The variety of credit accounts you have also plays a role in your credit rating. Having a mix of different types of credit, such as a mortgage, car loan, and credit card, can positively influence your rating. However, this is only beneficial if these accounts are managed well.

Payment History

One of the most influential factors in your credit rating is your payment history. This includes the timeliness of your payments, the frequency of late or missed payments, and any defaults or collections. Consistent, on-time payments help to build a strong credit rating.

Recent Applications for Credit

Lastly, the number of recent credit applications you have made can affect your credit rating. Multiple applications within a short period can indicate financial distress and potentially lower your rating. Therefore, it’s advisable to apply for new credit sparingly.

» Find out more: Stop guessing! Learn how your credit score is determined.

The Credit Bureaus of South Africa

The Role of Credit Bureaus

Credit bureaus play a pivotal role in determining your credit rating. Their main function is to collect, maintain and distribute credit information on consumers. This information is then compiled into a credit report, which forms the basis of your credit rating. Credit bureaus in South Africa gather information from various sources, including banks, credit card companies, retailers, and public records, to provide a comprehensive view of your credit behaviour.

Top Credit Bureaus in South Africa

TransUnion, Experian, Compuscan, and XDS are the four leading credit reporting agencies in South Africa. Each of these agencies has its own system of scoring, but they all evaluate the same sorts of information when computing your credit score. It’s beneficial to familiarise yourself with these bureaus, as different lenders may use different bureaus when assessing your creditworthiness.

How Credit Bureaus Determine Credit Ratings

Credit bureaus use complex algorithms to calculate your credit rating. While the exact formula is proprietary and varies from bureau to bureau, they all assess similar factors as mentioned in the previous section: your credit history, level of debt, types of credit in use, payment history, and recent applications for credit. Each of these factors is weighted differently in the calculation of your credit rating, with payment history and level of debt usually having the most significant impact.

Understanding Credit Scores

What is a Credit Score?

A credit score is a numerical representation of your credit rating. It’s an easy-to-understand number that lenders use to assess your creditworthiness at a glance. In South Africa, credit scores typically range from 330 to 830. A higher score indicates a lower risk to the lender and often results in more favourable credit terms.

The Credit Score Scale in South Africa

Here’s a general breakdown of what credit score ranges typically mean in South Africa:

  • 800-830: Exceptional – Applicants in this range are considered the lowest risk and often receive the most favourable interest rates.
  • 720-799: Very Good – Applicants are considered low risk, likely to get approved for credit, and receive competitive interest rates.
  • 580-719: Good to Fair – Applicants may be approved for credit but may not receive the most favourable interest rates.
  • 330-579: Poor – Applicants are considered higher risk, and approval for credit may be limited and often comes with higher interest rates.

How to Access Your Credit Report in South Africa

The Process of Obtaining a Credit Report

Knowing your credit rating is the first step towards managing your credit effectively. As per the National Credit Act, you’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each credit bureau in South Africa. Additional reports can be obtained for a nominal fee. Most credit bureaus offer online services where you can request your credit report.

To obtain your report, you’ll typically need to provide personal details, including your ID number, and answer a few security questions. Once your identity is verified, you’ll be able to view your credit report online or have it sent to you via email or post.

Reading and Understanding Your Credit Report

Your credit report will include your personal details, a summary of your credit history, detailed account information, any inquiries made about your credit, public record information, and your credit score. Understanding each of these sections is crucial for managing your credit effectively.

Your credit history and detailed account information show your past and current credit relationships, including the types of credit, the amount of credit, your payment history, and any outstanding balances. This section provides a comprehensive overview of how you have managed your credit over time.

The inquiries section lists any individuals or organisations that have requested your credit report, while the public records section details any public record information, such as court judgments or insolvencies, related to your credit.

Lastly, your credit score summarises all this information into a single number. Knowing how to interpret this score is key to understanding your creditworthiness.

How Lenders Use Credit Ratings

Lenders and Credit Rating Checks

When applying for credit, lenders want to know how risky it is to lend to you. This is where your credit rating comes into play. Before approving a credit application, lenders typically request your credit report from one or more credit bureaus to assess your creditworthiness.

They look at various aspects of your credit report, including your credit score, payment history, level of debt, and types of credit in use, among others. The information in your credit report helps lenders determine whether to approve your application, how much credit to offer, and at what interest rate.

The Impact of Credit Ratings on Borrowing Conditions

Your credit rating has a significant influence on the terms of any credit you may be granted. With a good credit rating, you’re likely to be approved for credit at competitive interest rates. However, a poor credit rating might result in higher interest rates, lower credit limits, or even declined applications.

The Effect of Bad Credit Rating

Consequences of a Bad Credit Rating

Having a bad credit rating can significantly impact your financial life. Not only does it make it harder to obtain credit, but when you do get credit, the terms are often less favourable. Higher interest rates can lead to higher monthly payments and cost you more over the life of the loan.

Furthermore, a bad credit rating can also affect other areas of your life. It can influence your ability to secure housing, as landlords may check your credit rating before leasing to you. Certain jobs, particularly those in the financial sector, may also require a credit check as part of the application process.

How Long Bad Credit Information Stays on Your Report

Bad credit information doesn’t stay on your credit report forever. In South Africa, the length of time that negative information stays on your credit report depends on the nature of the information. For instance, missed payments and judgments generally remain on your report for a period of one to five years, while insolvencies can stay on your report for up to 10 years.

It’s crucial to note that improving your credit rating is a process, and it begins with understanding your credit report and managing your credit responsibly.

About Arcadia Finance

Access your loan effortlessly with Arcadia Finance. Applying is free, and you’re given the option to pick from a pool of 10 reputable lenders. Each lender adheres to the regulations enforced by the National Credit Regulator in South Africa.

Ways to Improve Your Credit Rating

Adopting Healthy Financial Habits

The first step towards improving your credit rating is adopting healthy financial habits. This includes paying your bills on time, keeping your credit balances low, and managing your debts effectively. Regularly reviewing your credit report can also help you spot any errors or identify areas for improvement.

Addressing Debt Issues

If you’re struggling with debt, it’s essential to address the issue sooner rather than later. There are several strategies you can use to tackle your debt, from debt consolidation to repayment plans. If necessary, consider seeking help from a reputable credit counselling organisation.

Importance of Keeping Personal Information Updated

Finally, ensure that your personal information is up to date with all your credit providers and the credit bureaus. Outdated or incorrect information can negatively impact your credit rating. Regularly checking your credit report can help you spot and correct any errors in your personal information.

Remember, improving your credit rating doesn’t happen overnight. It requires time, patience, and consistent effort. However, the benefits of a good credit rating are well worth the effort.


Your credit rating is a vital aspect of your financial health. It’s an indicator of your creditworthiness and plays a significant role in your ability to access credit and other financial opportunities. By understanding and effectively managing your credit, you can take control of your financial future and open doors to a host of financial opportunities. After all, your credit rating is not just a number, but a testament to your financial behaviour and credibility.


What is a credit rating?

 A credit rating is a measure of your creditworthiness. It’s determined by credit bureaus, based on your credit information.

How is a credit rating determined?

Your credit rating is determined based on five main factors: credit history, level of debt, types of credit in use, payment history, and recent applications for credit.

How can I access my credit report in South Africa?

You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each credit bureau in South Africa. You can request your report online by providing your personal details and answering some security questions.

How can I improve my credit rating?

You can improve your credit rating by adopting healthy financial habits, such as paying your bills on time, keeping your credit balances low, and managing your debts effectively. If necessary, seek help from a reputable credit counselling organisation.

What are the consequences of a bad credit rating?

A bad credit rating can make it harder to obtain credit, result in higher interest rates, and even impact your ability to secure housing or certain jobs.

How much do you need?
*Representative example: Estimated repayments of a loan of R30,000 over 36 months at a maximum interest rate including fees of 27,5% APR would be R1,232.82 per month.

Loan amount R100 - R250,000. Repayment terms can range from 3 - 72 months. Minimum APR is 5% and maximum APR is 60%.