TORONTO — Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have been negotiating with lenders over the past few months, hoping to hold off paying debt amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, those payments are beginning to filter through the credit reporting system.
“We have seen the average number of accounts that are in a payment deferral status triple since before the pandemic,” says Eva Wong, co-founder and chief operating officer of Borrowell, which offers free credit scores and reports.
“It shouldn’t impact the credit score, but it should show up on the credit report.”
The Canadian Bankers Association said that as of June 30, 760,000 account holders had negotiated mortgage deferrals or skipped payments, while 445,000 had requested deferral for credit card debt.
According to Equifax, deferred payments — many agreed to as part of COVID-19 relief programs — don’t harm borrowers’ credit scores. But the payments must be reported in a certain way, and the status of these payments may not get reported to Equifax for up to 30 days.
It’s important to make sure these deferred payments are reported correctly to credit bureaus, because even one false late payment can drop a credit score by as much as 150 points, says Wong. Credit scores are used not only by lenders, but also checked by cellphone carriers, employers and landlords, Wong says. Because it takes time to correct a credit score error, waiting until you “need” your high credit score is a risky move, she says.
“Depending on the type of error, the longer it persists, the more negative the impact,” says Wong. “If it’s showing up as a late payment and it goes to month two, then it’s two months of missed payments as opposed to just one. So I would encourage people to check their credit report and make sure that everything on there looks right.”
Anne Arbour, a financial educator at the Credit Counselling Society in Toronto, says that Canada’s two credit-reporting agencies, Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada, are data aggregators, and it is up to the lenders to create policies on how they report the deferred payments. It’s important for consumers to get clear documentation of their agreement with their lender — such as a bank — when it comes to how they are reporting deferred payments, she says.
“Get as much detail from the lender, from the creditor, as possible about what a deferral will mean and what their practices as far as reporting it — so, whether it will impact somebody’s rating or their score or not,” says Arbour. “And if there is any issue or concern, deal with the creditor first, getting as much written information as possible.”
Arbour noted that deferrals are not an automatic license to skip payments — not only must a formal agreement be struck, but many lenders may have explicit instructions on how interest or even late fees accrues while payments are halted.
Taylor Little, chief of Vancouver-based alternative lender, Neighbourhood Holdings, says that many people skipped payments based on reading about deferral programs, without actually checking to make sure whether the lender was offering deferrals or some other type of payment plan instead. Doing that can hurt a credit score, and likely won’t be counted as an error, he says.
When checking with lenders, Arbour says people should collect a copy of the agreement, a file ID or reference number, and the name of the agent with whom they spoke, in case this information is needed to file a credit score dispute down the road.
If a consumer notices something that might be wrong on their credit score —such as a deferred payment being counted as “late” — the lender is once again the first stop, she says.
“Going back to the creditor themselves is a good first step,” she says. “[Equifax and TransUnion] have worked closely with the Canadian Bankers Association, with the lenders, everybody to try and come up with a way to report any deferrals, whether it was mortgages or credit cards, in a way that wouldn’t penalize the consumer. But the onus ultimately was on and is on the creditors to change their systems.”
In addition to requesting a fix from the lender, consumers can ask Equifax or TransUnion to investigate a mismarked payment, through a credit report update form or investigation request form. Separately, consumers can also now put a “consumer statement” to a credit report to signal to lenders that something is being disputed. Equifax Canada gives an example: “Be advised that the negative accounts on my credit report are related to the Covid-19 pandemic. I intend to make these up as soon as I can find a job.”
Keeping on top of errors — and being quick to correct them if they happen — is easier if consumers stick with a routine and understand the parts of the credit scoring process, says Arbour. For example, free services that offer credit monitoring offer more frequent updates and are different from Equifax or TransUnion’s free yearly reports. Those annual reports from Equifax or TransUnion are also different from the formal scores checked by lenders in a “hard” credit check, she says.
She advised that consumers can take advantage of both credit monitoring services and free yearly reports.
“There’s no sort of one size fits all answer — very often mortgages don’t actually appear on credit reports,” says Arbour. “[Mismarked deferrals] haven’t been brought up as a concern just yet. . . . I think come September, it might be a different story. Once deferrals are over, unless people are checking their credit report, they won’t notice it unless they’re in a situation where they’re having to renew their term or renegotiate a rate or a debt management program.”
Source: Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press – August 13, 2020
The act of canceling a credit card is easy. You just call your credit card company, ignore its pleas for your continued business, and tell it you don’t want its card anymore. But if things were really that simple, I wouldn’t need to write an article about it. Closing credit cards can have a significant impact on your credit score, so you need to know how to cancel your credit card in the right way.
Sometimes the best decision is not to close the credit card at all, even if you’re not using it, while other times, you’re better off canceling it, though it may adversely affect your score. It’s an individual decision for every person with each credit card. Here’s what you need to know in order to make the right choice.
Image source: Getty Images
Does canceling a credit card hurt your credit score?
Let’s get this question out of the way upfront. Canceling a credit card will likely hurt your credit score, but how much depends on a few factors, like what your credit limit is, how much you charge to the card, and how long you’ve had it. You probably won’t be able to stop your score from taking a hit if you’re determined to cancel the card, but if you plan carefully, you can minimize how much it drops.
What happens when you cancel a credit card
Canceling a credit card raises your credit utilization ratio and it could also lower your average account age, both of which can hurt your credit score. Your credit utilization ratio is the ratio between the amount of credit you are using and the amount you have available to you. So for example, if you have a $1,000 limit and you carry a $200 balance one month, your credit utilization ratio is 20% on that card ($200/$1,000 x 100 = 20%).
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Your credit utilization ratio across all of your cards matters too. So if you have two cards with a $1,000 limit and one card with a $5,000 limit and you cancel the card with the $5,000 limit, you’ll be bringing your total down credit limit from $7,000 to $2,000, which could have a big impact on your credit utilization.
Credit scoring models like to see a credit utilization ratio under 30% and the lower, the better, as long as it’s above zero. This indicates that you’re living comfortably within your means while a higher credit utilization ratio suggests you need a lot of credit to sustain your lifestyle and that you might be at a higher risk of default. When you cancel a credit card, you’re reducing your available credit, which will automatically drive your credit utilization ratio higher. It’s a pretty big deal because your credit utilization ratio makes up 30% of your credit score.
Average account age is another factor in your credit score. It’s the average age of all the credit accounts, including loans and credit cards, in your name. Lenders like to see an older average account age because it indicates that you have more experience dealing with credit and it enables them to better predict how you’ll manage new credit. Canceling a credit card you only opened a few months ago may not have much of an impact on your average account age, but if you cancel the first credit card you ever got, your average account age will probably drop quite a bit and your credit score will drop accordingly.
Canceling a credit card does not absolve you of your responsibility to pay any outstanding debt and it doesn’t mean that any negative marks associated with that account, like late payments, just disappear. Derogatory marks like these stay on your credit report for seven years, even if you’ve closed the account.
What to know before you cancel a credit card
Canceling a credit card doesn’t always make sense because of the negative impacts the move can have on your credit. Here are a few factors you should look at to decide if it’s the right move for you:
Credit limit: Closing a card with a higher credit limit will have a more significant impact on your credit utilization ratio than canceling a card with a lower credit limit.
Effect on credit utilization ratio: Look at your average spending across all of your credit cards for the last few months and compare this to your combined credit limits. Calculate your credit utilization ratio and then estimate how it’ll be impacted if you cancel a credit card. If canceling the card would push your credit utilization ratio over 30%, you might want to rethink the decision or plan to charge less to your credit cards going forward to keep your ratio within a desirable range. You could also open a new credit card to bring your credit utilization ratio back down again.
Account age: Canceling newer credit cards is safer than canceling older cards because it’ll have a smaller impact on your average account age.
Annual fee: It might still make sense to cancel your card if it charges an annual fee that you’re not recouping in rewards each year, even though doing so might temporarily hurt your credit score.
Rewards: You usually lose your rewards points once you cancel a credit card, so use any that you’ve accumulated before you close the account for good.
Balance: Canceling a card without a balance makes things a lot simpler, but you can still cancel most cards if you’re carrying a balance. You’ll have to decide if you want to continue making monthly payments to your issuer or transfer the balance elsewhere.
Your own attitude toward credit: If you’re someone who is easily tempted to spend more money than you have, canceling a credit card might still be the right play, despite the hit to your credit score. With less credit at your disposal, you’ll have a harder time running up costly debts you can’t pay back.
You should also know that some issuers will try to keep your business when you call to cancel by offering you better reward terms, a lower interest rate, or waived fees. Decide beforehand if any of these offers would convince you to stick with the card. If not, don’t let yourself be swayed by your card issuer’s pleas.
Should you cancel a credit card?
It’s usually best to leave your credit card accounts open even if you’re not using them. They’re there if you need them to make a purchase and they’ll help your credit utilization ratio and your average account age, which will, in turn, boost your credit score.
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You can take the card out of your wallet, but you shouldn’t lose track of it entirely. Keep it somewhere where others do not have easy access to it and continue to monitor your account at least once per month to ensure that someone isn’t running up fraudulent charges on it. A bill for a card you’re not using might also raise your suspicions. Your card issuer might decide to close your account for you after a period of inactivity. You can try contacting the company and asking them to keep your account open, but it doesn’t have to comply if you’re not using the card. Consider making a few small purchases with the card here and there if you want to keep your account active. You could also set up autopay with your credit card for a small bill and then pay your credit card bill automatically from your bank account every month.
Closing a credit card might make sense if it has an annual fee and it’s costing you money. But if you don’t want to do this, you might be able to call your card issuer and negotiate the annual fee. If you’re willing to downgrade your account, you might be able to get rid of it entirely. Canceling your card might also make sense if you’re trying to limit your access to credit to reduce the temptation to overspend. If either of these scenarios apply to you, you’ll just have to make peace with a slight drop in your credit score for the time being.
Whatever you do, don’t close multiple cards at once because this will have a much bigger impact on your score. Limit yourself to one credit card cancellation every six months at most. This will give you time to gradually adjust your spending so that you can keep your credit utilization ratio within a good range and it’ll give your remaining credit accounts time to age a little more, improving your score.
You should also limit how often you apply for new credit or request credit limit increases. While not as severe as canceling a credit card, these requests result in hard inquiries on your credit report, which drop your score by a few points every time.
How to cancel a credit card without hurting your score
The steps you’ll follow for closing your credit card depend on whether or not you have an outstanding balance.
With no balance
If you don’t have a credit card balance, canceling your card is pretty straightforward. Just do the following:
Use up any rewards you’ve accumulated.
Switch any automatic payments currently set up under the card you intend to cancel over to a different credit card to avoid accidental late payments after the account has closed.
Contact your credit card company and tell it you want to cancel your card. Some companies may allow you to cancel your card online, but you may need to call the company or send a letter. Your credit issuer’s website should provide you with instructions. Your card issuer should send you a written confirmation in the mail. Follow up if you don’t get one within a week or two of your cancellation request.
Destroy the credit card. Even though the account is canceled, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Cut the card up or use a shredder. For metal cards, try contacting the card issuer to see if they offer disposal or recycling services.
Monitor your credit account. It’s unlikely, but if your card issuer partially refunds your annual fee or you recently returned an item, a credit could show up on your account after you’ve closed the card. If this happens, contact the credit card company and request that they send you a check for the credited amount.
Monitor your credit report. Check your report to make sure that the account is correctly reported as closed. You may want to wait a few weeks to check this because the card issuer may not report it to the credit bureaus immediately. You can check your credit reports once per year with each bureau for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.
Adjust your spending. Make sure you’re not using more than 30% of your new, lower credit utilization ratio. If you are, try charging less to your remaining credit cards or consider requesting a credit limit increase on some of your other cards to lower your credit utilization ratio again. Note that if you do this, it may cause your score to drop by another few points because of the hard inquiry your card issuer will do on your credit report. But this won’t matter if you’re approved because your new, lower credit utilization ratio will have a larger impact on your score.
With a balance
The steps for closing a credit card with a balance are essentially the same as closing a card without a balance except you also have to figure out how you’re going to pay back your debt. Some issuers might enable you to continue making monthly payments to them just as you have been. You’ll keep your same interest rate and when your balance is finally gone, you and the card issuer will part ways for good.
Some people prefer to wash their hands of the credit card all at once. In that case, you’ll need to transfer your balance to another card or take out personal loans for debt consolidation and use these funds to pay off your debt before closing the card.
You can apply for a new balance transfer card so your balance will temporarily stop growing, and you’ll have a chance to pay it back interest-free during the 0% APR intro period. But be aware that there are often fees associated with a balance transfer, so you may still end up paying back a larger amount. Personal loans give you a predictable monthly payment, but their interest rates can also be high, particularly for those with poor to fair credit.
Waiting to close your card is also an option if you have only a small balance. Evaluate all your choices before deciding which is right for you. If you decide to continue paying your card issuer for now, you can always decide to take out a personal loan later to get rid of your obligation to the credit card company.
Canceling a credit card is a simple activity, but it requires a lot of careful thought in order to minimize its impact on your credit score. Go through the information above to decide if it’s the correct decision for you, and if it is, follow the recommended steps to close your card with minimum impact to your score
Raymond C. McMillan, BA., Mortgage and Real Estate Advisor – May 17, 2020
In our previous blog we briefly touched on the importance of your credit profile and debt, and how it affects you in the mortgage application process. Your credit profile or credit report gives the lender a snapshot at the way you manage your finances, so they can determine if you are a good or bad credit risk when it comes to lending you money. So how is your credit profile or credit score determined? There are five categories that impact the calculation of your credit score. They are:
Types of Credit
Length of Credit History
Each category has a weight that is used in your credit score calculation and impacts your credit rating.
TYPES OF CREDIT used by you will have an impact on your credit rating. What do we mean by type of credit? Here we are referring to the types of lenders that currently hold any loan you have outstanding. Someone who has finance company credit products and department store credit cards will usually have a lower credit score than someone who uses the financial products of major banks, credit unions and trust companies. Similarly, financing your automobile through the manufacturers finance division or your financial institution will also more positively impact your credit score than using a secondary automotive finance company.
NEW CREDIT also has an impact on your credit score calculation. A high amount of new credit accounts will usually have a lender asking questions. You may wonder why? Usually it is because it is usually an indication of two things, the person has had credit issues in the past and are currently rebuilding their credit rating or they are a credit seeker trying to get access to as much credit as they can in a short space of time. The former is not a major issue for most lenders, providing there is a reasonable explanation, but the latter could be a red flag for some lenders.
LENGTH OF CREDIT HISTORY has a relatively significant impact on your credit score. The longer you have had credit products, the more comfortable the lender will be with you as it displays financial maturity and responsibility. So, it is important to keep that first credit card you ever got with a five hundred dollar credit limit when you sixteen or seventeen years old. While most lenders will want to see a credit profile that is one to two years old, a recent credit profile with a 800 credit score may not be as impressive as a 680 credit score that has reported for more than ten years. Mortagge lenders want to see more than just a high credit score, they want to see how you have managed your debt and credit repayment over an extended period.
AMOUNTS OWED on your credit cards has the second highest impact on calculating your credit score. When applying for a mortgage, lenders are more reluctant to loan money to potential homebuyers who have high amounts of consumer debt – either revolving or instalment. If the amounts owing on your credit cards are at or near the limit for most of the credit reporting cycles, this will significantly lower your credit score. However, of all the variables that impact your credit score, this is perhaps the easiest to remedy. If you have an established credit profile with no payment delinquencies but have credit cards that are all at the limits, paying them off or down to less than half of the credit limit can see your credit score increase by several points in a month to two months.
PAYMENT HISTORY is our final and perhaps most important variable in computing your credit score. The approach here is quite simple – pay your bills on time to maintain a decent credit rating. I always say, “bad things sometimes happen to good people” and these bad things could be anything from job loss to illness to divorce, could significantly affect your ability to pay your bills on time. If you find yourself in any of these situations my advice is to contact your credit grantor and let them know your circumstances so they can work with you and protect your credit rating. It is important to make your payments on time both on your credit cards and instalment loans and avoid late payments and delinquencies. Most mortgage lenders will look at your payment history over the last year or two when reviewing your application to make a lending decision.
Keep in mind a poor credit score is not a life sentence and can be fixed with a few steps. In the case of delinquent debt that has been transferred to a collection company, settling that debt and repairing your credit is a quite simple process.
As a consumer, it is important to check your credit profile periodically to ensure there are no inaccuracies. To check your credit score, you can contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax Phone: 800-685-1111, Experian Phone: 888- 397-3742 and TransUnion Phone: 800-909-8872.
The writer: Raymond McMillan is a mortgage broker and real estate consultant and principal of The McMillan Group who has been in the banking, mortgage and real estate industry since 1994. He has been licensed as a mortgage broker since 1999 and has helped many people purchase their homes and invest in real estate. You can reach him at 1-866-883-0885 or visit www.TheMcMillanGroupInc.com
Here’s what most Canadians likely know about their credit score: It’s a number somewhere on a scale from 300 to 900 — and the higher that number, the easier and cheaper it generally is to get credit.
If you want to take out a mortgage or auto loan, a good credit score improves your chances of being approved and getting a lower interest rate. A high score may also give you access to instant-approval credit cards and loans.
No one really knows exactly how credit scores work
For obvious reasons, Canada’s two credit-reporting agencies, Equifax and TransUnion, do not reveal the exact formula through which they come up with credit scores. If they did, it would become easy for anyone to game the system.
The implication here is that most advice you get about how to improve, build or repair your credit score is really an educated guess. Based on anecdotal evidence and what they see dealing with clients, financial advisers have a pretty good idea of how different types of behaviour affect credit scores. But they can’t tell exactly how much of a difference each one really makes.
That’s why Douglas Hoyes, a licensed insolvency trustee at Kitchener, Ont.-based Hoyes, Michalos and Associates, is skeptical of strategies that entail taking out costly loans just so you can supposedly build or repair your credit score faster.
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Borrowing at, say, 30 per cent interest is guaranteed to cost you a pretty penny. The gain, on the other hand, it quite uncertain. Taking out a loan will definitely improve you score if you make your payments on time, but how much of a difference will it really make? No one can say for sure.
Given the uncertainty, Hoyes advises borrowing through the lowest-cost debt you can access and trust that your credit score will gradually improve if you keep on top of your finances.
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For those with no credit history or a poor credit score, a good first step is getting a secured credit card such as the Home Trust Visa, according to Hoyes. “Secured” credit means the lender will ask you to put down, say, a $1,000 security deposit for a $1,000 credit card limit. The point of such a credit card isn’t to borrow money to finance expenses for which you don’t have cash at hand but to show that you can make disciplined debt repayments.
Secured credit cards normally come with steep interest rates. The no-fee version of the Home Trust Visa charges interest of 19.99 per cent, but borrowers need not worry about it if they pay off their balance in full and on time, Hoyes noted.
Credit scores are designed with banks, not you, in mind
You might think that diligently paying off your credit card bills as soon as they come would get you the best possible score. You might be wrong.
Some financial advisers and debt management experts believe carrying a small balance of up to 30 per cent of your available credit on your card might actually boost your score more than having a balance of zero.
That’s because “credit scores are meant for the benefit of the banks, not you,” said Hoyes.
Banks are happy with customers who reliably repay their debt. But they also make money off charging interest. So they may be happiest with customers who will eventually repay their debt but keep carrying a balance, on which they’ll have to pay interest, explained Hoyes.
He advises doing what’s best for your pocketbook and skipping on financial behaviour that will ultimately cost you more — even if it means your credit score will be a bit lower.
Credit scores don’t matter as much as you think
A third thing to keep in mind about credit scores is that they aren’t necessarily the only metric a bank will use to assess your creditworthiness. “Banks may have their own formulas, too, which are different from whatever Equifax and TransUnion are using,” noted Hoyes.
Finally, he added, a bad credit score won’t shut you out of borrowing forever. Even bankruptcy is something you can recover from relatively quickly, if you have a good, stable job and show financial discipline, said Hoyes.
“I have plenty of clients who bought houses two years after being discharged from bankruptcy,” he told Global News.
Source: By Erica Alini National Online Journalist, Money/Consumer Global News
Few have heard of them, but they’ve been around for a few years: Bankruptcy scores.
Most Canadians know about credit scores, and some are acutely aware of their three-digit number. Where you fall on a scale from 300 to 900 can affect whether or not you qualify for a mortgage for your dream house, a car loan or a credit card and how much you’ll pay for the privilege of borrowing that money.
But there’s often another set of numbers that could cause lenders to deny you a loan or hike your interest rate — even if your credit score doesn’t look so bad. Financial institutions often rely on bankruptcy scores to gauge the probability that you’ll go financially belly up in the next 12 to 24 months.
The latter “is an empirically-derived model designed specifically for the Canadian market,” TransUnion Canada told Global News via an emailed statement. “The score ranges from 100 to 950, with lower scores indicating a higher risk of filing for bankruptcy or [a consumer] proposal,” the company added, noting that financial institutions, telecom companies and lenders in the auto-loan industry, among others, use it.
TransUnion has had bankruptcy scores for a number of years but introduced its CreditVision score in 2015, it said.
Equifax did not respond to two requests to provide additional information on its Bankruptcy Navigator.
How bankruptcy scores work
Bankruptcy scores are aimed at detecting risky borrowers that sometimes go under the radar with traditional credit scores, licensed insolvency trustee Doug Hoyes told Global News.
“It turns out that there is a significant difference in behaviour between the person with bad credit who will not file bankruptcy and the person with a similar bad credit score who will declare bankruptcy and this is what your bankruptcy score measures,” Hoyes, co-founder of Ontario-based debt-relief firm Hoyes Michalos, wrote in a blog post.
Sometimes, there’s a lag between when an overstretched borrower reaches the point of no return and when that reality will be reflected in his or her credit score. It’s possible for people with scores in the 600-700 range to be on the verge of defaulting on their debt repayments, said David Gowling, senior vice-president at debt consultancy MNP.
“Some people come in telling me how great their credit score is, but then you find out they’re using one type of credit to pay another type of credit,” Gowling told Global News. And because they’re still able to make minimum payments, “the credit score hasn’t caught up,” he added.
According to Hoyes, compared to someone with a bad credit score who will stay afloat, someone who is at high risk of going bankrupt tends to:
Use credit more often;
Apply for credit more often and have more recently acquired debts or credit accounts;
Have fewer accounts in collection. (This is because people who rely on debt to pay more debt are often careful about not missing payments in the belief that this will grant them access to more credit);
Have a higher credit utilization rate, i.e. carrying a credit balance that takes up a large percentage of your borrowing limit.
While credit scores are a look at your borrowing history in the rear-view mirror, bankruptcy scores likely pick up on these telltale signs of might happen in the near future, Hoyes told Global News.
In general, the credit file of someone at high risk of bankruptcy tends to show much more recent activity, which is why applying for new credit in an attempt to improve your credit score can backfire, according to Hoyes.
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What bankruptcy scores mean for you
Bankruptcy scores affect borrowers in three main ways, Hoyes said. Like credit scores, they can influence both how much you’ll be able to borrow and at what rate. But they could also result in lenders deciding to sell your debt to so-called debt buyers.
Debt-buyers are companies – sometimes collection agencies – that buy delinquent debt at a deep discount and then try to collect some of that debt.
If a lender has, say, 100 borrowers who are late making debt repayments, it can use a bankruptcy score to decide which ones to offload to a debt-buyer. Selling the riskiest accounts for a fraction of the face-value of the credit balance means writing off some debt, but the loss for the lender might ultimately be less than if the borrowers filed for bankruptcy.
The thing is, though, that there’s no way to know what your bankruptcy score is. While consumers can review their credit reports and purchase their credit scores, bankruptcy scores are typically only available to lenders.
The key takeaway, though, is that if you’ve reached the point where you’re using new debt to pay old debt, your decent-looking credit score is probably meaningless.
Source: Erica AliniNational Online Journalist, Money/Consumer Global News