“The human wish to credit good things as miraculous and to charge bad things to another account is apparently universal” – Christopher Hitchens
We are not joking about something like suicide or the depression that can follow from poor financial decisions and outcomes. It can be a very dark time for those who have cooked their goose with financial controllers around the place. A bad credit rating is not a death sentence: It just feels that way in the game of life. The free enterprise system, where we can buy and sell things like goods and our services, is sometimes like a very serious board game – where the stakes are high and not Monopoly™ money. Losing one’s reputation around money and assets can be a difficult proposition to win back. It is more than the discomfort of not being able to afford the things you want. In a highly materialistic nation like Australia your credit rating and wealth are akin to your mobility within the various stratas of society. Door can close in your face and it takes great resolve to soldier on and get through these hard times.
If you are really worried and/or seriously down about your financial situation call the
National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.
Confidential discussions with financial counsellors are available.
What Is A Credit Rating?
There are 3 credit bureaus operating in Australia and it is these agencies that prepare your credit file for the purview of lenders and businesses willing to offer you credit.
Illion Ph. 1300 734 806
Experian Ph. 1300 783 684
Equifax Ph. 138 332
The credit score contained within your consumer credit file is calculated on the basis of the amount of money you have borrowed and whether you have paid it back on time in terms of meeting your repayment obligations. In addition, the number of credit applications you have made, both successful and unsuccessful, impacts upon your score. Usually, the score is between 0 and 1,200. A higher score is better and can mean you are a better risk to lend to. All your identifying data and everything related to the credit products you have accessed or attempted to will be in your file. It may contain repayment histories, defaults on utility bills, credit cards and loans, financial hardship information, bankruptcy and debt agreements, and credit report requests.
Request Your Free Copy Of Your Credit File
You can contact each of these credit agencies and request a free copy of your consumer credit file every 3 months (and within 90 days of being refused credit by a lender). Yes, many of you would rather go to the dentist for root canal work than read about your dismal financial record in detailed black and white. Why put yourself through such a disheartening experience? Why bathe in the recognition of your abject financial failure? Like a good life coach or the cornerman in the boxing ring with Rocky will tell you “we must all face up to our failures before we can move on.”
Otherwise, and this is especially true about behaviours with money, we are destined to keep repeating the same mistakes.
I know in my life, and I suspect many of you would agree, that turning a blind eye to our failings encourages them to flourish like weeds in the garden. The only way to root them out is to sit down with your bad credit rating and pour over these files like a glutton with a glossy cookbook. To get on top of your financial situation and begin the greatest comeback since Ben-Hur you must go through every listing both negative and neutral. Check and recheck your consumer credit file because you may find errors and mistakes.
Your Consumer Credit Report May Contain Errors
These errors and any incorrect information may be the beginning of your slow road back to credit worthiness. Doing your own tax return and studying your credit file can be like getting into a time machine and going back to the scene of numerous financial crimes. You kick yourself and mutter, “ did I really spend that much money on that, him, her, or whatever.” What was I thinking? If you avoid facing up to your wanton ways with money and the trail of unrequited lenders in your wake you will prolong the damage done to your financial prospects for years. We all grow up eventually, some of us take longer than others, and buying important things like property will confront you down the track. If you have messed things up and haven’t cleaned up your act you will regret it.
Many individuals condemn themselves to lives of wasted opportunity unnecessarily, because it is never too late to change.
Stepping out from under the shadow of a bad credit rating can be one of the most empowering things you can do. It won’t happen overnight and it takes sustained commitment and effort – but it is definitely worth it!
A Good Credit Report Lawyer Can Help
If you find genuine errors and mistakes on your credit report you can request to have these fixed by the credit provider. If in the case of you being right they will contact the credit bureau to amend your file to correct the listing or information. If no agreement between you and the lender can be achieved, then you can contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) to make a complaint and to get an independent dispute resolution for free. https://www.afca.org.au/
A lawyer with expertise in credit law can also be of help in this instance. Only genuinely incorrect information and listings can be changed on your consumer credit file. Understanding the time frames for negative listings to stay on your file is important as well because nothing lasts forever. 7 years or 5 years is the maximum for the most serious infringement to stay on your credit file. This involves a situation where an individual consumer has overdue debts to a provider but has left their last known address without paying the debt and has not informed the lender of their new address. Bankruptcies usually stay on the file for around 5 years. Default listings are expunged after 5 years from when they were included in your file. Court Judgements stay on your credit report for 5 years from the date of the judgement. Part IX Debt Agreements exit following 5 years from the date entered or 2 years following the termination date or voided declaration, or the completion of the agreement. Current loans listings endure 2 years from when your loan ends. Your repayment history data hangs around for 2 years from the date your monthly payment was due and payable. Financial hardship information stays on for 1 year following the date the monthly payment was paid under the financial hardship arrangement. Your expert credit law specialist knows the ins and outs of the legislation governing credit reporting in Australia.
Cyber Crime & Identity Fraud
It is particularly relevant to examine your credit reports now in light of the Optus and Medibank hacks. There may have been earlier hacks we don’t know about and your identity may have already been stolen and sold to criminals. It is important to check every listing and detail on your file to ensure that you have not been compromised and identity fraud has meant there are contracts on your file you didn’t authorise. In case of this eventuality you should contact your local police and the Australian Cyber Security Centre to report this identity crime. None of us can afford to stick our heads in the sand and ignore our financial and credit reporting responsibilities.
Report a Cyber Crime – https://www.cyber.gov.au/acsc/report
Medibank Customer Cybercrime Health & Wellbeing Line – 1800 644 325
Optus Customer Scammed Line 133 937
What Does a Bad Credit Score Mean?
Basically, every time you ask someone for money they will say NO. Your bad credit score warns prospective lenders away from you as a bad risk. The more unsuccessful applications for credit you make the worse your score gets. It is like being the most unpopular kid at school – nobody wants to go to the dance with you. Recent studies into the effects of financial failures on individuals shows strong correlations with conditions like clinical depression and poor health outcomes more generally. (Guan, 2022) Very few people can suffer the financial shunning of the bad credit rating without feeling its ill effects and consequent diseases like Cancers and heart disease are more prevalent than anyone would wish. (Whitehead, 2017) The stress associated with a bad credit rating over a sustained period of time can be awful.
What Can You Do To Fix Your Poor Credit Score?
You may have come across a litany of ‘so-called’ credit repair companies advertising their services like saviours in the desert of financial despair. They claim to solve all your problems and to quickly fix your bad credit score. Don’t believe the hype! Many of these businesses are owned by the same companies that you owe money to already. This is another means of getting their funds back with extra helpings on top in terms of lock-in contracts and generous fees for helping you out. There are certain things you need to understand about how the whole system works. Credit reporting in Australia is governed by legislation – The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). There are laws in place to protect your rights and you need to be aware of these if you want a fair fight. There are several excellent government websites with the necessary information for you to go to school on.
In addition, there are specialist credit lawyers who can go into bat for you on a No Win No Fee basis. Getting professional help from a qualified source can make all the difference to your ultimate outcome.
Facing up to your problem behaviour with money is the first step- just ask any recovering alcoholic or drug addict. You will need to make the commitment and the sustained effort to change your ways and do the right thing around moneys you owe. Nobody can wave a wand and hey presto Harry Potter your credit rating is rosy again. Your consumer credit file will need to begin to reflect your responsible actions in regard to repayments made on time. A credit file is a mirror held up to reflect your past behaviour in a financial sense. Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest borrower of them all? Make it a mantra, “I will pay my bills on time!” If you are a serial offender around not paying your bills you might consider going to see a financial counsellor. We all need to grow up at one time or another. You may not have had a responsible role model in your life in regard to someone who managed money well – your parents might have struggled to do this. It is no shame to admit that and seek professional help. We can all get better at things with the right assistance.
Communication is the best course of action with those that you owe money to. You can request financial hardship assistance from your lender. Unfortunately, pride can get in the way for many of us and we bury our heads in the sand rather than communicate with the lender. This always makes things worse in the medium and long term. Stay on top of communication lines with all those that you owe money and ask for help when necessary.
“A thousand mile journey begins with one small step.”
- Chinese proverb
This saying is particularly apt to paying off bills and turning your financial life around. It is so true because you must establish new habits around money. The black hole in your world can be transformed into a real point of light. Reward your responsible behaviour with some small thing to honour the new you. Celebrating your victories on the path to financial redemption is all part of the empowering journey. Psychologists would talk about delaying gratification as the key to re-establishing new positive behaviours around things like spending and saving. Wanting everything now and not being able to afford it is what gets us into trouble in the first place.
A bad credit rating is not a death sentence: It just feels that way in the game of life. Remember that you can rise again like the Phoenix from the ashes of your burnt credit rating. Many famous individuals have done this before including President Abe Lincoln, Lady Gaga, Mike Tyson, Walt Disney, Cyndy Lauper, and many more. Everybody makes mistakes in life and a bad credit rating does not last forever. We are all afforded second chances in life if we can make the hard yards and change our ways with money. Good luck and get help if you need it because it is out there for you.
Credit Smart, What is a good credit score? , https://www.creditsmart.org.au/know-your-credit-score/what-is-a-good-credit-score/ , Viewed 27th November 2022.
Equifax, What is a bad credit score?, https://www.equifax.com.au/personal/what-bad-credit-score# , Viewed 28th November 2022.
Guan N, Guariglia A, Moore P, Xu F, Al-Janabi H (2022) Financial stress and depression in adults: A systematic review. PLoS ONE 17(2): e0264041. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0264041
McGurran Brianna, How to “Fix” a Bad Credit Score, https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-education/improving-credit/how-to-fix-a-bad-credit-score/ , Viewed 28th November 2022.
Medibank, Cybercrime health & wellbeing, https://www.medibank.com.au/contact-us/ , Viewed 29th November 2022.
Money Smart, Credit Repair, https://moneysmart.gov.au/managing-debt/credit-repair , Viewed 27th November 2022.
Optus, Optus notifies customers of cyberattack compromising customer information, 22nd September 2022, Viewed 18th October 2022.
Optus, Scammed?, https://www.optus.com.au/support/consumer-advice/scams#:~:text=Your%20personal%20information%20is%20private,team%20are%20ready%20to%20help. , Viewed 29th November 2022.
Whitehead BR, Bergeman CS. The effect of the financial crisis on physical health: Perceived impact matters. J Health Psychol. 2017 Jun;22(7):864-873. doi: 10.1177/1359105315617329. Epub 2015 Nov 30. PMID: 26628216; PMCID: PMC5614487.