Will debt consolidation hurt my credit score?

Like any other loan, a debt consolidation loan can have a good or bad impact on your credit score.

Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage or any other loan secured on it.

When you take out a debt consolidation loan, the initial credit search that the lender makes, plus each repayment on the loan, will be recorded by credit reference agencies (CRAs) in your credit file. There are three main credit reference agencies in the UK: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These CRAs are where lenders turn when assessing the risk of lending to you.

Broadly speaking, if you make each payment on time and in full, and you start to reduce your debt, then debt consolidation will benefit your credit score. However, there are a few different ways it can impact how you come across in your credit record – which is more than just a number.

Does debt consolidation impact your credit score?

Yes. From the perspective of the CRAs that determine your credit score, a debt consolidation loan is treated like any other type of loan. It can affect your credit score in the same way as, say, car finance, a credit card, a mortgage or a personal loan.

How can debt consolidation hurt your credit score?

Taking out a debt consolidation loan should help your credit score if used correctly, but it can negatively affect your credit score in the following situations:

  • The initial credit search. When you apply for any credit product, the lender considering your application will run a full credit search, which does have a small negative impact on your credit score. This is normally then cancelled out by a couple of months of on-time repayments.
  • Missing a payment. If you miss a payment then, as with any loan, you’ll significantly damage your credit score and your ability to access affordable credit in future.
  • Your credit utilisation ratio. Your credit utilisation ratio also has a bearing on your credit score. This is the amount of credit you’re using, compared to the credit available to you. For example, if you have 2 credit cards with £5,000 limits, but you only have £50 outstanding on each, that’s a 1% credit utilisation ratio, which is very good. When you consolidate debts, your credit utilisation ratio might go up at first but should then improve as you gradually clear your debt. If you take out a debt consolidation loan but then don’t use it to pay off your existing debts, you’ll likely increase your credit utilisation ratio and hurt your credit score.

Don’t forget that other activities will have a bearing on your credit score at the same time. So while using debt consolidation correctly stands to improve your credit score, if you’re missing payments on your mobile phone contract at the same time, for example, then your score will go down, not up.

How can debt consolidation help your credit score?

There are a couple of ways that debt consolidation can improve your credit score, especially if you’re struggling to repay your current debts:

  • Making repayments in full and on time demonstrates responsible use of credit. You need to use credit responsibly to build up a positive credit history and boost your score. Timely repayments on any credit product are the best way to do this.
  • By reducing the admin and the number of payments, you make it less likely that you’ll miss one. Missed repayments are just about the worst thing you can do in terms of your credit score. One of the key benefits of taking out a debt consolidation loan is that it makes it easier to manage your repayments (and might even help reduce the cost of them as well). This means that it should be easier for you to meet your repayments and eventually pay off your debts, both of which will naturally help improve your credit score.
  • Your credit utilisation ratio. Taking out a debt consolidation loan should also reduce your credit utilisation ratio as long as you correctly use the new loan to pay off your existing debts. According to Experian, your credit utilisation ratio accounts for 30% of your credit score, and lowering your ratio should have a noticeable positive effect on your credit rating.

Even if paying off your debt consolidation loan has a minimal positive impact on your credit score, it’s also worth keeping in mind that it could also prevent the damage you could do to your credit rating by not consolidating your debt.

How else can debt consolidation impact how lenders see you?

It’s worth remembering that your actual credit score is just one part of your credit record as a whole, and would-be lenders look at much more than just your score when assessing your circumstances.

For example, you could have a low credit score, but very manageable debts and a healthy income versus your outgoings. By contrast, you could have a high credit score, but be close to the limit of manageable debt.

Debt consolidation is all about reducing your debt as quickly, easily and cheaply as possible. And after that, you’re likely to end up in a stronger position to get a favourable mortgage, and you’ll likely become more appealing to would-be lenders.

While a debt consolidation loan will be visible on your credit record, it’s very unlikely that it will be visible as a “debt consolidation loan”. Instead, your record will show each instalment against the lender’s name. The lender might be called “Debt Consolidation Loans R Us” or it might be obvious that shortly after you took out a large loan, you closed several smaller loans – in which case it would be possible to infer that you’d consolidated debt. However, there’s nothing wrong with consolidating debt. It’s often the smartest choice and many of us will consolidate debts in one way or another in our lifetimes.

Finally, don’t apply for multiple debt consolidation loans in a short space of time because this may suggest to lenders that you’re unable to properly manage your debts.

What credit score do I need to get a debt consolidation loan?

There’s no definitive credit score you’ll need to get a debt consolidation loan, but you’re likely to need at least a “fair” credit rating to be eligible for an unsecured loan at a reasonable rate.

Borrowers with a low credit score may be able to access larger sums or better rates with a secured debt consolidation loan.

Debt consolidation loans for bad credit

How to consolidate debt

There are various financial products you can use to consolidate debt – from a credit card through to a traditional bank loan or even remortgaging. The best option for you will depend on your situation, but we’ve written an in-depth overview to help you understand your options.

Debt consolidation explained

Bottom line

In summary, a debt consolidation loan can improve your credit score via the following steps:

  1. You use your debt consolidation loan to pay off your existing debt.
  2. Your credit utilisation ratio then improves as a result of clearing your old debts.
  3. Your payment history also improves as your debt consolidation makes it easier to manage your repayments.
  4. You pay off your debt consolidation loan in full, leaving you debt-free and demonstrating that you are now a responsible borrower.

Read about how different factors can affect your score

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Written by

Tom Stelzer

Tom Stelzer is a writer for Finder specialising in personal finance, including loans and credit, as well as small business and business loans. He has previously worked as a freelance writer covering entertainment, culture and football for publications like FourFourTwo and Man of Many. He has a Master of Media Arts and Production and Bachelor of Communications in Journalism from the University of Technology Sydney. See full profile

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