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By Richard Chater

How I built up a 999 credit score as a medical student

4 min
Dr Richard Chater profile

My name is Rich and two years ago, as a 21-year-old 3rd year medical student, I reached a perfect 999 Experian credit score. I’m now due to qualify in August, own a home and have published ‘15 Minute Finance – What School Didn’t Teach You’.

Before I go on, it’s important to say that credit score in the UK isn’t a nationalised thing that is set in stone. Each bank uses their own methods and will do things in their own way. This is why you can get credit scores from different places (e.g. Experian and Clearscore) and get different answers.

And finally, as with every piece of generalised financial information you find on the internet, you should always do your own research and apply everything to your own personal situation.

Changing your credit score

Now, I have good and bad news for you. The bad news is that there is no way to change your credit score overnight. Even after doing everything in your power, you will only see small changes to your credit score every month because it works a bit like a rolling average.

But don’t dwell on that too much. The good news is that once you’ve made the right changes, you don’t have to do much to keep it topped up, and you’ve already done the most important thing - which is starting. To borrow the wisdom of a proverb: ‘the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now’.

Why is it important to have a good credit score?

Well, the number one reason in my opinion is choice. Your credit score will determine if you are eligible for different types of financial commitment like credit cards, mortgages, and current accounts.

In the UK, your credit score is a bit like a hurdle to jump over. For example, a bank might set out a required level of ‘trustworthiness’ to get their ‘gold’ credit card. If you are above that level, you can get the card. It doesn’t matter if you’re just past that level or if you have a perfect credit score, everyone’s ‘gold’ credit card will have the interest rate and benefits.

So, if you have a higher credit score you will likely have more options available to you when it comes to different credit cards and mortgages, but those products are set in stone and usually won’t bend based on your exact score.

How to improve your credit score

In a cruel twist of fate, one of the best ways to improve your credit score is by getting a credit card, which often requires you to have some level of credit score already. Fortunately, there are lots of different banks that offer ‘credit building’ cards which are designed for people with low credit scores.

When I was 18, I started looking on credit card comparison sites and checking my probability of being accepted for these cards. I had to wait until I had a good chance of being accepted, because when you apply the bank will do a credit search which will lower your credit score.

Thankfully I got accepted for a Tesco credit card, with a low credit limit and a high interest rate. I shouldn’t complain though because it did give me extra ‘Clubcard Points’ in comparison to a distinct lack of benefits that were available from any of the other options.

The interest rate wasn’t much of a worry, because as long as you pay it off in full at the end of the month, you will never pay interest. Thankfully, this credit card was only needed to bridge a gap until I was eligible for a better one, which gave me other bonuses such as cashback. I then put my groceries on that card every week to make sure I was using it regularly and I wasn’t going over the top in an effort to peacock to prospective mortgage providers to show them I was as consistent and boring as possible.

The importance of consistency

The other 90% of credit scoring comes down to consistency, which as a student or junior doctor is a bit hard to come by unfortunately. Thankfully when it comes to credit score, they give out medals for participation, so moving frequently isn’t the be all and end all of credit score.

This meant that every time I moved, I updated the electoral register and I made sure all bills were in my name and had the same address associated with them. This has the added benefit of allowing ‘somebody’ to leech cashback from those household bills with the right current account – I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to tell your housemates...

Finally, right up until I bought my flat I had a current account open from when I was in school, despite having another account which I used for almost all of my transactions. Once again peacocking to my future mortgage provider, showing them how loyal I am.

Starting early

Hopefully, right now you’re thinking to yourself “wow, this doesn’t seem like a lot of work at all”. The number one reason I was able to achieve a perfect credit score so young was because I started early. It wasn’t time consuming. In total, it probably all took around half an hour to action, and from there, I just needed to remember to update everything when I moved.

It’s never too late to start improving your credit score. And on that note, I’ll end as I started: “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now”.

You can learn about loads of other spicy and exciting personal finance principles from yours truly in my book ‘15 Minute Finance’, where I cover credit score in a bit more detail along with loads of other things like banking, investing. retirement and more.