How to Improve Your Credit Rating

Navigating your financial life can often feel like you are navigating a complex maze. With countless decisions to make and factors to consider, understanding how to better your situation can be overwhelming. One aspect of personal finance that often leaves individuals confused is their credit rating. This measure of financial health affects not only your ability to borrow money but also influences your standing in various other aspects of life.

Key Takeaways

  1. Understanding Credit Ratings: Your credit rating is a numerical summary of your credit health. It is calculated using factors like payment history, amount of debt, length of credit history, types of credit, and recent credit applications.
  2. Negative and Positive Impact Factors: Your credit rating can be negatively impacted by late payments, defaults, court judgements, bankruptcy, and a high credit utilisation ratio. It can be positively influenced by regular, on-time payments, a low credit utilisation ratio, a long credit history, and a mix of different types of credit.
  3. Strategies to Improve Credit Rating: Improving your credit rating involves effective budgeting, regularly checking your credit report, reducing overall debt, managing credit utilisation, and building a good credit history.
  4. Dealing with Negative Marks on Credit Report: Addressing issues such as errors on your credit report, defaults, court judgements, and bankruptcy can help improve your credit rating over time.

The Value of a Good Credit Rating

The role a good credit rating plays in your financial life cannot be overstated. A high credit score signals to lenders that you are a reliable borrower, making them more likely to approve your credit or loan application. It is the key to unlocking benefits such as lower interest rates, higher borrowing limits, and more favourable repayment terms.

In South Africa, businesses, financial institutions, estate agents and even some employers use credit ratings to assess an individual’s financial credibility. Therefore, a strong credit rating not only empowers you with more financial options, but it can also enhance your overall quality of life by giving you greater borrowing power, helping you save money on interest, and providing peace of mind knowing that you have a safety net in times of financial need.

South Africa’s Credit System: An Overview

South Africa has a well-established credit system governed by the National Credit Act (“NCA”). The NCA aims to promote a fair and non-discriminatory marketplace for access to consumer credit. The credit rating in South Africa is expressed as a numerical figure, ranging from 0 (poor credit health) to 999 (excellent credit health), based on an individual’s credit behaviour.

TransUnion, Experian, Compuscan, and XDS are four main credit bureaus within South Africa and these bureaus collect information about your credit behaviour, creating a detailed credit report that captures your financial history. This information includes but is not necessarily limited to the number and types of accounts you have, your payment history, and the amount of debt you have, etc. These factors all contribute to your credit score, which serves as an indication of your reliability as a borrower of credit.

Improving your credit rating requires consistent effort and a deep understanding of how the credit system works. This guide aims to provide the insights you need to better manage your credit rating and navigate the South African credit system. So, whether you are trying to improve your score, maintain it, or are starting from scratch, this guide will be your roadmap to a healthier financial future.

Understanding Credit Ratings

As we delve into the world of credit ratings, we first need to unravel what it is and how it is calculated. A credit rating is like your financial fingerprint — a unique identifier that tells lenders how responsibly you manage your financial obligations.

Defining Credit Rating

A credit rating is a numerical expression derived from an individual’s credit files to represent their creditworthiness. Simply put, a credit score is a numerical summary of your credit health. Lenders use credit ratings to evaluate the probability of a customer repaying their debts. A higher score means you are seen as less risky to lenders, while a lower score can make it more difficult to secure credit.

How Credit Ratings are Calculated

Credit ratings are calculated using a mathematical algorithm that evaluates the information in your credit file. This includes your payment history, the total amount of debt you owe, the length of your credit history, the types of credit you use, and recent applications for new credit. Each of these factors contributes differently to the overall score. In South Africa, credit scores typically range from 0 to 999, with a higher score being more favourable.

South Africa’s Credit Rating System

In South Africa, the credit rating system is designed to give lenders a clear and reliable way to assess risk when issuing credit. The abovementioned credit bureaus keep track of various aspects of your financial behaviour, including whether you pay your bills on time and how much of your available credit you are currently using. Each of these factors plays a part in determining your credit score.

» Discover: Why does your credit score change?

Your Credit Report: An Overview

Your credit report is the raw data behind your credit rating. It is a detailed history of your credit behaviour and gives potential lenders a more complete picture of your overall creditworthiness.

What is a Credit Report

A credit report is a comprehensive record of your credit history compiled by credit bureaus. This report includes personal information, account information, public records (such as bankruptcies), enquiries about your report, and overdue debt. Potential lenders use your credit report to help them decide whether to lend you money and at what interest rate.

How to Obtain Your Credit Report in South Africa

In South Africa, every individual is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the four credit bureaus. You can request this report directly from the credit bureau’s website. It is wise to review your credit report regularly to check for errors or signs of identity theft.

Reading and Understanding Your Credit Report

Your credit report can be a bit difficult to understand at first glance. It contains various sections, including personal information, a summary of your credit history, details of your accounts, and public records. Understanding each section and regularly reviewing your credit report can help you stay on top of your financial health.

Improving your credit rating requires understanding your credit report and learning the factors that can impact it negatively and positively. Let us examine those in more detail next.

Negative Impact Factors on Your Credit Rating

There are various financial behaviours which can negatively impact your credit rating. By understanding these factors, you can take steps to avoid them and maintain a healthier credit score.

Late Payments

One of the most significant factors affecting your credit rating is your payment history. When you consistently pay your bills late, or fail to make one or more payments, this reflects poorly on your credit report. This behaviour indicates to potential lenders that you may be unreliable when it comes to meeting future repayment obligations.


A default on your credit report indicates a failure to repay a loan as per the agreed terms. This is a serious mark against your credit rating and tends to remain on your credit report for several years. This negatively impacts your chances of securing credit in the future.

Court Judgements

Court judgements related to debt repayment can also harm your credit rating. If a lender requires to take legal action to recover a debt, this shows on your credit report and serves as a red flag to potential lenders.


Bankruptcy is one of the most severe negative factors impacting your credit rating. It indicates serious financial distress and suggests to potential lenders that you are a high-risk borrower.

High Credit Utilisation Ratio

Your credit utilisation ratio is the percentage of your available credit currently being used. This also affects your credit rating. A high credit utilisation ratio can be a sign that you are overly reliant on credit and may struggle to repay future debts.

While it is crucial to understand these negative factors, we can balance the perspective by looking at behaviours that can positively affect your credit rating.

Positive Impact Factors on Your Credit Rating

Just as certain actions can negatively impact your credit rating, others can have a positive effect. Understanding and practicing these behaviours can contribute to a healthier credit rating. We take a look at these below.

Regular, On-Time Payments

Maintaining a record of consistent, on-time payments is one of the most effective ways to boost your credit rating. This sends a positive signal to lenders that you are responsible and reliable in managing your debts.

Low Credit Utilisation Ratio

Keeping your credit utilisation ratio low indicates that you are not overly reliant on credit. This demonstrates to lenders that you can manage your debts effectively.

Long Credit History

A long history of good credit is beneficial for your credit rating. It provides a larger data set for potential lenders to review and indicates that you have experience handling credit.

Credit Mix

Having a variety of credit types – such as personal loans, credit cards, and a bond — can positively impact your credit rating. This shows lenders that you can manage different types of credit responsibly.

By understanding these negative and positive impact factors, you can take steps to enhance your credit rating. Next, we shall dive into several strategies that can help you do just that.

Strategies to Improve Your Credit Rating

Understanding your credit rating and the factors influencing it is the first step towards improvement. Now, we shall delve into specific strategies that can help you enhance your credit rating.

Budgeting for Success

Crafting and sticking to a budget can help you manage your finances effectively and avoid late payments and defaults. By setting aside funds for your financial obligations each month, you can ensure that you are consistently making payments on time – a key factor in boosting your credit rating.

Regularly Checking Your Credit Report

As mentioned earlier, each South African is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the four credit bureaus. Regularly reviewing this report allows you to spot any inaccuracies that could be hurting your credit score and take steps to correct them. It also allows you to track your progress as you work to improve your credit rating.

Reducing Debt

Decreasing your overall debt load can improve your credit rating by lowering your credit utilisation ratio. You might consider strategies like the ‘snowball method’ — focusing on paying off the smallest debts first to gain momentum – or the ‘avalanche method’ -Making the minimum payment on each debt, then using any remaining available funds to pay the debt with the highest interest rates.

Managing Credit Utilisation

Keeping a low credit utilisation ratio is vital for a healthy credit rating. Try to keep your ratio below 30% if possible. This means that if you have a credit limit of R10,000, you should aim to use no more than R3,000 at any given time.

Building a Good Credit History

Establishing a solid credit history takes time. By consistently making on-time payments, managing your credit utilisation, and responsibly handling various types of credit, you can build a strong credit history that positively impacts your credit rating.

While these strategies are designed to improve your credit rating, there may be times when you need to manage negative marks on your credit report. We will explore how to manage these next.

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Dealing with Negative Marks on Your Credit Report

Negative entries on your credit report, such as late payments, defaults, or bankruptcies, can significantly harm your credit rating. Here is how you can address these:

Correcting Errors on Your Credit Report

Mistakes happen. If you spot an error on your credit report, it is vital to address it promptly. Contact the relevant credit bureau and provide them with evidence to support your claim. The bureau will then investigate and correct the error if validated.

Dealing with Defaults

If you have defaulted on a loan, the first step is to get back on track with your repayments. You may need to contact your lender to discuss your options. In some cases, lenders might be willing to restructure your debt or change your repayment plan to help you manage.

Handling Court Judgements

If a court judgement has been entered against you, it can significantly damage your credit rating. It is prudent to seek legal advice on how to manage this. Once you have paid the debt, the judgement can be rescinded, and the credit bureau notified to update your report.

Recovering from Bankruptcy

Recovering from bankruptcy takes time, but it is certainly possible. Once you are discharged from bankruptcy, focus on the strategies discussed earlier to gradually rebuild your credit rating.

In addition to managing these issues, it is also crucial to understand the legal framework governing credit in South Africa. We will discuss this in the next section.


Improving your credit rating may seem like a daunting task, but with the right knowledge and strategies, it is an achievable goal. Your credit rating reflects your financial health, and taking steps to improve it can open a world of opportunities — from securing a loan for your dream house to landing a new job or even starting a business.


How can I check my credit rating in South Africa?

You can request a free annual credit report from each of the four major credit bureaus in South Africa.

How long does it take to improve a credit rating?

There is no set timeframe for improving a credit rating, as it depends on various factors, including your current score and your financial behaviour. However, with consistent effort, you can start seeing improvements within a few months.

What is the National Credit Act (NCA)?

The NCA is a South Africa law which regulates the credit industry and protects consumers from reckless lending practices. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of both consumers and credit providers.

What is the role of the Credit Ombudsman?

The Credit Ombudsman assists in resolving disputes between consumers and credit providers or credit bureaus. This free service is available to all consumers in South Africa.

What is the impact of bankruptcy on my credit rating?

Bankruptcy is one of the most severe negative marks on a credit report and can significantly lower your credit rating.

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%.