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How to Rebuild Your Credit in Canada

By Paul Murphy

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Today, you’ll gain 12 smart actions any Canadian can take to rebuild their credit rating after a consumer proposal, bankruptcy, or a financial crisis.

I’m Paul Murphy, a founding partner of 4 Pillars with 20+ years experience in the financial services industry. Today, I want to answer one of the biggest questions we get: how can I rebuild my credit in Canada?

The truth? You can’t quickly rebuild your credit rating. That’s not what a credit rating is designed to do. It’s a history and profile of you and your potential risk to creditors.

But . . . you can take action today to start making your financial life easier tomorrow.

This guide was written for:

  • People thinking about a consumer proposal and are wondering how long it will take to rebuild their credit rating.
  • Canadian families who went through a consumer proposal or filed for bankruptcy and now are looking to rebuild their credit.
  • Families who lapsed on mortgage payments, lost income, and experienced hardship. You know that your credit took a hit and now want to boost your rating.

 By the end, you’ll understand:

  • How your credit score is calculated
  • 11 exact steps you need to take today to rebuild your credit in Canada
  • The behavior that automatically raises warning signs to creditors

What’s a good credit rating in Canada?

In Canada, each credit reporting agency views the score a little differently. Here is a summary of the ranges. If interested, you can dig deeper into the differences with this article by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. 

Excellent Credit: 750+

Good Credit: 700-749

Fair Credit: 650-699

Poor Credit: 600-649

Bad Credit: below 600

Poor credit rating—This is the score you’ll find with young people starting their adult life with no credit history or if you have damaged your credit rating from previous financial difficulties.

Fair credit rating—A score of 650+ will usually mean you qualify for mainstream lending products and make it easy for you to get loans as long as you meet other criteria set by the lender, such as debt service ratio.

A score below 650 makes it hard to get new credit.

If you don’t want to pay to check your credit rating, this tool gives you an estimated rating.

Here are a few examples of credit reports and credit scores in Canada.

How is your credit rating calculated in Canada?

These are the major factors that providers use to calculate your credit rating.

Balance-to-Limit Ratio. Generally, balances above 50 percent of your credit limits will impact your credit rating. Aim for balances under 30 percent.

Multiple requests to obtain credit. If you suddenly apply to multiple credit cards, apply for a loan, and apply to increase your line of credit, this signals to creditors that you may be experiencing financial difficulties. Try to avoid applying for multiple credit cards and loans in a short period of time.

Hard versus soft inquiries. A “hard inquiry” involves an application for new credit. This lowers your score. A “soft inquiry” involves checking your own credit rating or a credit card checking on your file for updates (such as you recently took out a new car loan) before offering you a credit limit increase. “Soft inquiries” do not impact your credit rating or appear on your file.

On-time payment history. TransUnion says: “A good record of on-time payments will help boost your credit score.”

Collection Agencies. If your account is sent to a collection agency, this impacts your credit rating.

Level of delinquency. There are different levels of delinquency. For example, if multiple creditors send your file to a collection agency or you have a history of missing payments on a number of accounts.

What can you do to rebuild your credit rating in Canada?

If your credit rating has dropped, you can still get credit.  Here are the best ways to rebuild your credit score.

First, let’s assess where you are.

Can you still get credit? Or are you starting from scratch after a bankruptcy or financial crisis?

Some of our readers have declared bankruptcy or filed a consumer proposal and won’t be approved for a credit card.

So, let’s begin assuming you have zero or a poor credit history and need to rebuild. I’ll then give actions for people who have bad credit and are looking for ways to boost their rating.

Before you start make sure all your personal information is reporting correctly on your credit report. Just request a free credit report from each of the two credit reporting agencies, Equifax and TransUnion.

You get a free credit report once a year for no charge. You can call them as well to request a copy of your credit report by mail:

  • Equifax  –  1-800-465-7166 (Automated Telephone Service)
  • TransUnion  –  1-800-663-9980 (Automated Telephone Service)

Here are 11 things you can do to quickly rebuild your credit  in Canada after bankruptcy, a consumer proposal, or a financial crisis where you had to stop paying bills and know your credit rating took a big hit.

As I mentioned, these are based on my experience in the financial industry (20+ years).

ACTION #1: Get collections and bad debts settled

First, you must make sure there are no unpaid debts or items in collections that have not been settled.

If you have unpaid bad debts these need to be dealt with prior to starting any credit rebuilding. We have lots of information on our site about dealing with large amounts of debt. You can read about our credit rebuilding program here.

If you live in Canada, you can also phone your local 4 Pillars office (we have 50+ offices across Canada) as I can’t offer specific advice without seeing your debts and situation. Find your local office here.

ACTION #2: Get your rent positively reporting

If you are a renter, you can now apply to have your rent payments reported to Equifax to help improve your credit score. Tenants rarely receive an extra benefit for paying rent on-time, taking care of the place and just being a good tenant.  By having your on-time rent payments reported to credit bureaus, you can increase your credit score, help minimize the impacts of previous financial challenges and improve a poor credit history.  In addition, tenants benefit from a good tenant history and preferred tenant status.

https://landlordcreditbureau.ca/start-building-credit-4-pillars/

ACTION #3: Open a secured credit card account

If you have no credit history or need to start developing a positive payment history, open a secured credit card account.

This requires you to pay a deposit (such as $500) and this is the limit of your credit. The secured credit card provider reports your payment habits to credit bureaus, which helps you start gaining points.

Tip: when opening a secure credit card, make sure you ask whether they report repayment behavior to TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax. Not all secured credit cards will do this, which defeats the purpose. Pre-paid cards don’t usually report at all.

Remember: the goal of this card is to build your credit rating. So don’t fall behind with payments. Instead, use the card for regular planned purchases such as buying gas twice a month. Then pay the bill immediately after it arrives.

ACTION #4: Get a cell phone with a contract

I know—it’s cheaper to buy your own phone or go with the low-cost mobile providers like Koodo or Wind. But applying for a cell phone on a contract is a great way to start rebuilding your credit history.

You can often offer phone companies a deposit (such as $300 on your account) if they deny you based on your credit history.

Major phone companies report your payment habits to the credit bureaus.

Tip: pay your bill every month. Set-up automatic payments with your bank if this helps. Paying your bills on time every month will dramatically help to improve your credit rating. This means on the day they are due. All the reporting is automatic, so even three days late makes a difference. Pay your bills a few days earlier if possible.

ACTION #5: Don’t switch plans, open new cards, or apply for ‘pre-approved’ promotions

Let’s say you are doing well with your secured credit card. You also signed up for a cell phone that is reporting positively to Telus.

Then you check the mail—Koodo has a new deal, a new secured credit card offers you a better rate, and a ‘pre-approved’ credit card offer comes through.

If you have good credit, it pays to switch vendors or accept introductory offers. But creditors like to see an established credit history and building a history of positive payments is critical.

If you frequently close down credit cards (to get new reward points) then you will never develop a long-term credit history and this will impact how quickly your score improves. Keep one credit card open for a long time and establish a history of on-time payments.

Also, “pre-approved’ doesn’t mean you will qualify but it does guarantee if you complete the application form they will check your credit and it will show as a hard inquiry. You don’t want hard inquiries on your credit file right now.

The good thing is, if you are getting “pre-approved” mail then your score is moving in the right direction.

Tip: don’t be tempted by new offers. Stick with your current providers and build a long history of regular payments. Stay strong!

ACTION #6: Every week, do the work

Getting hit with NSF fees or overdrawing your account is a bad sign to creditors. Be alert. Check your bank balance every week and make sure you are living within your means.

TIP: We like YNAB for budgeting (though it requires manual entry) and Mint.com for monitoring expenses. But a better plan is to schedule 20 minutes every Sunday to review your bank statement and stay alert. Keeping receipts and checking them off against your online banking will also increase awareness on how your money is being spent and highlight any spending habits you might want to change. Put the time in and work on your finances every week.

ACTION #7: Avoid shutting down accounts

Building on the previous point, keep accounts open rather than shutting them down.

For example, let’s say you spend too much on your secured credit card and it goes close to the limit and you feel like you are slipping back into old habits.

You declare a cash diet, cut up all your credit cards, and vow never to use them again.

This might prevent you from going into debt—but doesn’t help rebuild your credit rating.

A better solution is to leave your accounts open—for example, lock your credit card in a safe and then always ensure the minimum payment is made and look at your budget and see what changes can be made to quickly pay down the balance.

TIP: don’t cancel accounts, instead keep them open.

ACTION #8: Maintain a variety of accounts

TransUnion says: “A healthy credit profile has a balanced mix of credit accounts and loans.”

That means, having a mix of credit types such as a Future Shop credit card, a MasterCard, a car loan, and a line of credit will gain you more points on your file.

Of course—this must be done carefully and only apply when you know you will qualify and you know that any debt you take on can easily be repaid. Be careful!

Don’t carry too many accounts. Having too many credit accounts can be a warning sign for creditors.

TIP: Here is a good rule: never more than three credit cards, never more than two retail balances (such as a Future Shop card), and don’t take out multiple loans. Also, having multiple balances on each card will cause you to lose points.

ACTION #9: Check for errors on your credit report

At least once a year, you should pull your credit file and look for any errors.

It’s not uncommon for errors to appear on your credit file (such as a creditor reporting a missed payment when you actually paid it). If you find an error, you can ask the credit bureaus to correct it.

As I mentioned you can get a free credit report from each of the two credit reporting agencies, Equifax and TransUnion, once a year for no charge. You can also call them and request a file by mail: Equifax  –  1-800-465-7166 (Automated Telephone Service) and TransUnion  –  1-800-663-9980 (Automated Telephone Service).

TIP: check your credit report for possible errors and ask the credit bureaus to fix them.

ACTION #10: The best credit card balance ratio

If you are able to get a credit card, then you’ve probably heard about credit utilization.

This means the percentage of credit you use every month. For example, if you have a credit limit of $10,000 and carry a balance of 90 percent of that every month, even if you make the payment on time every month, this is a bad sign to creditors.

To rebuild your credit score, keep your usage of credit between 10 and 20 percent. A lot of blogs will recommend 30 percent but to keep it safe, keep it below 20 percent.

TIP: when you do get a credit card, only use 10 to 20 percent of your monthly limit. For example, if you have a $10,000 credit limit don’t carry a balance of more than $2,000.

ACTION #11: Catch late payments immediately

Life happens. People miss a payment every now and then.  But if you have a late payment, it will be reported to your credit report. Catch up as soon as you can and always make that payment the priority.

If you are trying to rebuild your credit, a missed payment is a small step backward each month.

TIP:  Computers track your payments so sometimes errors can happen (such as a payment on Friday not being entered in the system till Tuesday due to a holiday). You need a system for double-checking that all payments have been made. Use a simple spreadsheet and double-check at the end of the month.

ACTION #12: Enroll in a credit building program

Financial professionals can help you take the right steps to building your credit as fast as possible.

At 4 Pillars, we do things such as:

  • Show families how to settle collection items
  • Help them correct reporting errors
  • Show them different financial products that can help rebuild their credit
  • Explain how credit scores are calculated and analyze possible actions to take

Credit rebuilding isn’t one size fits all and every plan is different depending on your current situation and future credit needs.

If you’d like us to review your file and suggest some actions to take, email your local 4 Pillars office.

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