What is a credit score?

Understanding the role and influence of your credit score is paramount for anyone seeking financial security, and it holds particular significance in the South African context. A credit score is a critical financial element that affects your ability to borrow money. It is a representation of your financial credibility and trustworthiness to potential lenders. Your credit score is shaped by your past financial behaviours and informs credit providers like banks, retailers and even landlords about your creditworthiness. This, in turn, impacts the decisions they make about offering you a loan, credit card or even a lease agreement.

Key Takeaways

  1. Credit Score Definition and Calculation: A credit score is a numerical representation of your creditworthiness, calculated using factors like your payment history, the amount of debt you have, the length of your credit history, the mix of credit types, and new credit applications.
  2. Credit Score Ranges: Credit scores in South Africa typically range from 330 to 830, with higher scores indicating better creditworthiness.
  3. Impacts of Credit Scores: Your credit score can significantly impact various areas of your life, influencing your ability to obtain loans, the interest rates you’re offered, and even your eligibility for certain jobs or housing.
  4. Accessing and Understanding Your Credit Score: You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the credit bureaus in South Africa. It’s important to regularly check this report for accuracy and understand the factors influencing your score.

Defining Key Terms

What is a Credit Score?

A credit score is a metric resulting from a credit record assessment. It represents an individual’s creditworthiness to potential lenders, such as banks, credit card companies, or landlords. In the South African financial context, credit scores range from 330 to 830. A higher score indicates a lower credit risk, implying that the individual has a history of responsibly managing their credit and is more likely to repay any debts on time.

The Importance of a Credit Score

While we all wish our financial integrity could be measured through personal virtues alone, in the real world, lenders require a more tangible, unbiased measure to assess the risk associated with lending money. That’s where the credit score comes into play. Lenders rely on this three-digit number as a snapshot of your creditworthiness. The higher your credit score, the more dependable you appear to potential lenders, which can translate to better interest rates and more favourable terms on loans and credit cards. On the other hand, a low credit score can limit your borrowing opportunities and make credit more expensive.

Contextualising Credit Scores

Credit scoring in South Africa is a recent phenomenon, with the first credit bureaus appearing in the late 1980s. With the implementation of the National Credit Act in 2005, the role of credit bureaus and the way credit information was handled changed dramatically. The Act aimed to promote a fair and non-discriminatory marketplace for access to consumer credit and to regulate credit scoring processes to ensure transparency and fairness.

The Role of Credit Bureaus in South Africa

In South Africa, credit bureaus play a vital role in the financial ecosystem. They collect and maintain credit information on individuals and provide this information to lenders upon request. TransUnion, Experian, Compuscan, and XDS are the four major credit bureaus in South Africa. Each one calculates credit scores a bit differently, but they all use similar information to assess your creditworthiness.

Understanding Credit Scores

How is a Credit Score Calculated?

An intricate formula analyses numerous different components of your credit history to determine your credit score. The exact formula varies between credit bureaus, but the main factors considered include:

  • Payment History: This is your history of repaying debts. Overdue payments or defaults negatively impact your credit score.
  • Credit Utilisation Ratio: This measures how much of your available credit you’re using. A lower ratio is better for your credit score.
  • Length of Credit History: The longer your credit history, the better, as it gives a more accurate picture of your long-term financial behaviour.
  • Credit Mix: This looks at the several types of credit you have, including credit cards, store accounts, personal loans, and mortgages. A diverse credit mix can improve your score.
  • New Credit: Applying for too much new credit in a short time can harm your credit score as it may suggest financial distress.

Credit Score Ranges and What They Mean

In South Africa, the credit score range typically lies between 330 and 830. Here’s what each score range signifies:

  • 300 – 579: Poor credit. You’ll likely face difficulties obtaining credit, and if you do, the interest rates will be significantly high.
  • 580 – 669: Fair credit. You’re considered a subprime borrower, but you’ll usually still be able to obtain credit.
  • 670 – 739: Good credit. Most lenders consider this a good score and will likely approve your credit applications.
  • 740 – 799: Very good credit. You’re likely to receive better than average rates from lenders.
  • 800 – 830: Exceptional credit. You’re at the top of the credit score range and will enjoy the best rates and terms from lenders.

Factors that Do Not Affect Your Credit Score

Whilst many things can impact your credit score, it’s also crucial to know what doesn’t. Contrary to popular belief, your income, savings, or investments don’t directly influence your credit score. Likewise, your employment status, education, race, religion, marital status, or age also have no bearing on your credit score. Your credit score is strictly a measure of your borrowing and repayment behaviour.

Impact of Credit Score

Why a Good Credit Score is Crucial

A good credit score opens up a world of opportunities. With a high score, you will be able to secure loans with lower interest rates, saving you a considerable amount of money over the loan’s lifespan. It could also mean the difference between being approved or rejected for a mortgage when you’re ready to buy a home. A high credit score can also ease the process of renting a flat, getting a new mobile phone contract, or even landing certain jobs. It’s worth noting that some insurance companies in South Africa also use credit scores to determine premiums.

The Consequences of a Bad Credit Score

On the other side, a bad credit score can make life challenging in several ways. For starters, it can limit your ability to get credit. You may be denied loans or credit cards, or if you are approved, you may have to deal with high interest rates. This makes borrowing more expensive. A low credit score can also impact non-credit aspects of your life. For instance, landlords may be hesitant to rent to you, utilities might require a deposit, and some employers may even check credit as part of the hiring process.

» Find out more: Confused about creditworthiness? Get clarity!

How to Access Your Credit Score

How to Obtain Your Credit Score in South Africa

Obtaining your credit score in South Africa is a straightforward process. The National Credit Act entitles every South African citizen to one free credit report per year from each of the credit bureaus. If you want to check your credit score more frequently, you may have to pay a small fee. The process typically involves registering on the credit bureau’s website, completing a form with your personal details, and verifying your identity.

Understanding Your Credit Report

Your credit report contains the information used to calculate your credit score. It contains information on your financial accounts, such as the kind of account, the date it was created, the maximum permitted credit or lending sum, account balance, and payment history. It also includes public record information such as bankruptcies, tax liens, or judgments. Checking your credit report regularly can help you ensure the information is accurate and up to date. Understanding this report is the first step towards improving your credit score.

Improving Your Credit Score

Best Practices to Improve Your Credit Score

There are several best practices you can follow to improve your credit score:

  • Pay your bills on time: This is the most efficient strategy to increase your credit score. Consider setting up automatic payments or reminders to ensure you don’t miss due dates.
  • Keep your credit card balances low: Try to maintain a credit utilisation ratio below 30%. Pay down your premium in full every month if at all feasible.
  • Avoid unnecessary credit applications: Applying for new credit can cause a temporary drop in your credit score. Apply for new credit sparingly, and only when necessary.
  • Maintain a healthy credit mix: Having a range of credit kinds might indicate your ability to manage various forms of credit adequately.

Dealing with Errors on Your Credit Report

Mistakes on your credit report can drag your score down. These can range from simple errors, like a misspelled name or wrong address, to more serious issues, like fraudulent accounts opened in your name. If you spot an error, contact the credit bureau immediately to dispute it. They are legally obligated to investigate and correct inaccuracies.

How Long Does It Take to Improve a Credit Score?

Improving a credit score isn’t an overnight process. It requires patience and diligent financial management. The length of time it takes to improve your credit score depends on the reasons behind your low score. For instance, if your score is low because of missed payments, it could take months or even years of consistent on-time payments to raise it significantly. However, if your score is low due to high credit utilisation, you might see improvements within a few months of paying down your balances. The key is to stick to good credit habits consistently.

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The Role of Credit Score in Financial Transactions

How Credit Scores Impact Loan Applications

Your credit score is a key factor in a lender’s decision when you apply for a loan. A higher score can make you more attractive to lenders, improving your chances of approval. It can also help you qualify for lower interest rates and better terms. On the other hand, a lower score can make it harder to get a loan, and if you do get approved, you’ll likely face higher interest rates.

Credit Scores and Mortgage Applications

When applying for a mortgage, your credit score can significantly impact the terms of your loan. Mortgage lenders look at your credit score to determine the likelihood that you’ll default on your mortgage. If you have a high credit score, lenders see you as a low-risk borrower, which can lead to better mortgage rates and terms. If your credit score is low, you may still qualify for a mortgage, but you’ll likely face higher interest rates and less favourable terms.

The Influence of Credit Score on Credit Card Applications

Just like with loans and mortgages, your credit score plays a crucial role in credit card applications. Credit card issuers use your credit score to decide whether to approve your application and to set your interest rate and credit limit. A higher credit score can help you qualify for cards with better rewards, lower interest rates, and higher credit limits.


Your credit score is influenced by various factors, including your payment history, credit utilisation ratio, length of credit history, and credit mix. While certain personal information does not affect your credit score, errors on your credit report can. Therefore, regularly checking your credit report is vital. Improving your credit score takes time, patience, and responsible credit management. But with the right knowledge and tools, it’s a feasible goal that can open up new financial opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the average credit score in South Africa?

A credit score should ideally exceed 610. Scores above 800 are deemed excellent, paving the way for a favorable home loan approval.

How often should I check my credit score?

It’s recommended to check your credit score at least once a year. This allows you to keep track of your financial health and notice any significant changes or potential errors on your report. However, if you’re planning to apply for a major loan like a mortgage, or if you’re working on improving your score, it can be beneficial to monitor your score more frequently.

Can I still get a loan with a bad credit score?

Yes, it is possible to get a loan with a bad credit score, but it can be more challenging. You may face higher interest rates, stricter loan terms, or need to provide collateral. Some lenders specialize in ‘bad credit loans’. However, these can often be more expensive overall, so it’s important to explore all your options.

What are the consequences of a poor credit score on job applications?

Some employers may check your credit score as part of their hiring process, particularly for positions that involve handling money or sensitive financial information. While this practice isn’t universally applied, a poor credit score could potentially affect your chances in these scenarios. It’s important to note that employers can only check your credit score with your permission.

How can I improve my credit score in the shortest time?

Improving your credit score is usually a long-term process. However, you can make some quick improvements by paying off outstanding debt, disputing errors on your credit report, and keeping your credit card balances low. Avoiding new debt and making all payments on time will also help.

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%.