How to determine credit score

As we embark on the journey of understanding credit scores, especially within the South African context, it’s imperative that we set the stage by first defining what a credit score truly means and subsequently delving into why this knowledge is not just beneficial, but instrumental to our financial wellbeing.

Key Takeaways

  1. Understanding Credit Scores: Credit scores are three-digit numbers that indicate your creditworthiness to lenders. They are calculated based on your payment history, credit utilisation, length of credit history, types of credit, and new credit inquiries.
  2. Importance of Payment History: Payment history is the most influential factor. Late or missed payments can significantly lower your score, while consistent, on-time payments can boost it.
  3. Significance of Credit Utilisation: High credit utilisation can imply over-reliance on borrowed money, which can negatively impact your credit score. Aim to keep your utilisation ratio low.
  4. The Role of Credit History Length: A longer credit history provides a fuller picture of your financial behaviour over time. However, even those with a shorter credit history can achieve a good score with responsible credit management.

Why is Understanding Credit Scores Significant?

Grasping the fundamentals of credit scores is far from an academic exercise. It has real-world implications that touch virtually every aspect of your financial life. Think of buying a home, purchasing a car, or even getting a new mobile phone contract. Your credit score influences all these and more. More often than not, people underestimate the value of a good credit score until they face a financial hurdle. A higher credit score could mean the difference between securing that home loan with a competitive interest rate and struggling to get approved for credit at all. Therefore, demystifying your credit score isn’t just about financial literacy; it’s about empowering you to take control of your financial trajectory in South Africa’s diverse and dynamic economy.

Credit Scores: A Global Perspective

The concept of credit scores is universal, providing a standardised way for lenders worldwide to assess credit risk. However, the specifics can differ slightly from one country to another. Let’s take a moment to understand these variances before we delve deeper into the South African context.

How Credit Scores Operate Worldwide

Across the globe, credit scores work in a similar manner, gauging a borrower’s likelihood to repay a debt. For instance, in the United States, credit scores range between 300 and 850, just as they do in South Africa. They utilise credit reporting agencies like Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion to compile data and generate scores. The higher your score, the more creditworthy you are considered by lenders.

Specifics of Credit Scoring in South Africa

In South Africa, we have our unique nuances in the credit scoring landscape. The credit bureaus, namely TransUnion, Experian, Compuscan, and XDS, use varying models to compute credit scores. This means that your credit score could differ slightly across these bureaus. However, they all consider similar factors including payment history, credit usage, credit history length, credit mix, and new credit. More on this later.

Components of a Credit Score

To truly appreciate the workings of a credit score, we must understand its components. These are the factors that influence the rise or fall of your credit score.

Payment History

Your payment history carries significant weight in the calculation of your credit score. Consistently making payments on time creates a positive history, showing lenders that you are dependable and likely to repay future debts punctually.

Credit Utilisation

Credit utilisation refers to how much of your available credit you’re using. A lower credit utilisation ratio is viewed more favourably, as it suggests you’re not overly reliant on credit and can manage your debts effectively.

Credit History Length

The duration of your credit record is also important. A longer credit history provides more data for lenders to assess your credit behaviour. Thus, maintaining old, well-managed accounts can benefit your credit score.

Types of Credit

Lenders also examine the types of credit you’ve handled. A mix of credit types—like home loans, personal loans, and credit cards—can indicate that you’re capable of managing different kinds of credit responsibly.

New Credit Inquiries

Lastly, the number of recent inquiries on your credit report can impact your score. Consistently applying for new credit can make you seem riskier to lenders, as it may indicate financial distress.

Each of these components contributes to the final credit score. In the next section, we’ll delve deeper into each of these factors, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of your credit score.

» Read more: Ever wondered what credit scores are? Dive in!

Detailed Examination of Each Component

Now that we have identified the key factors contributing to your credit score, let’s delve into each one in detail.

Unpacking Payment History

Payment history reflects your reliability as a borrower. Lenders are interested in how often you pay your bills on time because it gives them insight into how likely you are to fulfil future obligations. Payment history includes information about how late your payments were, how much was owed, and how recently the late payments occurred. Remember, a few late payments do not spell disaster, but a pattern of late payments can significantly impact your credit score.

Understanding Credit Utilisation

The credit utilisation ratio is the proportion of your total available credit that you are using. It is calculated by dividing your total credit card balances by your total credit card limits. If you’re maxing out your credit cards every month, it suggests that you’re over-reliant on borrowed money. On the other hand, a lower credit utilisation ratio paints a picture of a responsible borrower who doesn’t rely heavily on credit, making you more appealing to lenders.

Assessing the Impact of Credit History Length

The length of your credit history is based on the average age of your credit accounts and the age of your oldest account. Lenders see those with longer credit histories as less risky because they have demonstrated responsible credit management over a more extended period. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good credit score if you’re new to credit, but patience and consistency in maintaining good credit habits can work wonders over time.

Evaluating Credit Diversity

Credit diversity refers to having a mix of credit types, such as mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and store accounts. This aspect is not as influential as payment history or credit utilisation, but lenders like to see that you can manage different types of credit responsibly.

Grasping the Role of New Credit Inquiries

When you request for credit, a ‘hard’ query gets documented on your credit report.. While one or two inquiries aren’t a big deal, several hard inquiries in a short span can indicate that you’re in financial trouble and need a significant amount of borrowed money, which can make lenders cautious.

Common Misconceptions about Credit Scores

In the journey of understanding credit scores, it’s equally crucial to address common misconceptions that can cloud judgment and lead to missteps. Let’s debunk some of these myths.

Debunking Myths Surrounding Payment History

Some people believe that one late payment won’t affect their credit score. While it’s true that a single late payment won’t cause your score to plummet, it could still have a negative impact. Your payment history is a record of your reliability as a borrower and any blotches on this record can make you seem riskier to lenders.

Clarifying Confusion about Credit Utilisation

Another misconception is that as long as you pay off your credit card balances each month; it doesn’t matter how much of your credit limit you use. This is not true. Even if you pay off your balances every month, having high credit utilisation can still impact your credit score negatively. Lenders might think that you’re reliant on credit to get by, which can make you seem like a higher risk.

Demystifying Fallacies about Credit History Length

A common fallacy is that you can’t have a good credit score with a short credit history. This is misleading. While a longer credit history can provide a fuller picture of your credit behaviour, even those new to credit can still achieve decent scores by managing

Addressing Misunderstandings about Types of Credit

One myth that needs debunking is that you need to have one of each type of credit to achieve a good credit score. In reality, it’s not necessary to diversify your credit types just to improve your credit score. The key is to manage whatever types of credit you do have responsibly.

Dispelling Doubts over New Credit Inquiries

Finally, some people fear that checking their credit score will lower it. This is a misconception. You can check your credit score as often as you like without it impacting your score. These are considered ‘soft’ inquiries and are different from the ‘hard’ inquiries lenders make when you apply for credit.

Now that we’ve cleared up these misconceptions, let’s delve into the practical implications of negative and positive financial behaviours on your credit score.

Effects of Negative Financial Behaviour on Your Credit Score

We all make mistakes, but when it comes to our finances, some missteps can have long-lasting effects. Let’s consider how certain negative behaviours can impact your credit score.

Late Payments

Late payments are one of the most common and damaging hits to a credit score. Creditors report late payments to credit bureaus, which will remain on your credit report for years. Furthermore, late payments can have a domino effect – with late fees adding up, leading to greater debts and potentially more late payments. This is why prompt payment is crucial in maintaining a healthy credit score.

High Credit Card Balances

Maintaining high balances on your credit cards can also negatively affect your credit score. Even if you manage to pay off these balances on time, the high credit utilisation suggests a heavy reliance on borrowed money, which may make you seem less financially stable to lenders.

Frequent Borrowing

Frequently applying for new credit can give the impression that you’re in financial distress, which can also lower your credit score. Each new application results in a hard inquiry on your credit report, which may decrease your score slightly. Several hard inquiries within a short period can compound this effect.

Negative Records

Serious negative records, such as defaults, foreclosures, and bankruptcies, can have a profound impact on your credit score. These indicate significant financial difficulties and could take a long time to recover from.

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Positive Financial Habits to Boost Your Credit Score

Just as negative financial behaviours can harm your credit score, positive habits can significantly improve it. Let’s look at some beneficial practices.

Cultivating On-Time Payments

Making your payments on time is the most effective way to improve your credit score. This habit alone can significantly improve your creditworthiness, as it demonstrates to lenders your commitment to meet your financial obligations.

Maintaining Low Credit Card Balances

Keeping your credit card balances low can also positively influence your credit score. This is because low credit utilisation indicates that you are living within your means and are not overly reliant on borrowed money.

Building Credit Slowly but Surely

Instead of applying for multiple new credit lines in a short span, take a more measured approach. Build your credit slowly by demonstrating that you can manage a few accounts responsibly before gradually taking on more.

Minimising Negative Records

Avoiding severe financial mishaps such as defaults and bankruptcies can help maintain a good credit score. This is why having a budget, building an emergency fund, and living within your means can all play significant roles in credit score management.

In the end, while the journey to improve your credit score might seem long, the rewards make it worthwhile. Let’s summarise what we’ve learned.


Credit scores, at their core, are derived from factors such as payment history, credit utilisation, length of credit history, types of credit, and new credit inquiries. While there are commonalities in how scores are calculated globally, the South African system has its distinct nuances influenced by local credit bureaus’ models. Grasping these determinants is pivotal to fostering beneficial financial habits. Timely bill payments, low credit utilisation, a prolonged and varied credit history, and steering clear of superfluous hard inquiries can enhance your score. A robust credit score paves the way for attractive interest rates, better credit terms, and expanded financial autonomy.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often is my credit score updated in South Africa?

Credit scores are typically updated every month, coinciding with the update of your credit reports. However, different credit bureaus may have varying update schedules.

Can I check my credit score for free in South Africa?

Yes, South African credit bureaus are required by law to provide one free credit report per year. Additional checks within the year may incur a fee.

How long does negative information stay on my credit report in South Africa?

Negative data, such as past due payments or defaults on payments, normally remains on your credit history for three years. More serious infractions, like bankruptcies, can remain for up to ten years.

Can I improve my credit score in South Africa if I’ve had serious financial problems in the past?

Yes, you can always work on improving your credit score, no matter your financial history. The key lies in adopting better financial habits, like timely payments and maintaining a low credit utilisation ratio and sticking to them over time.

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%.