Ask Sindie: 'I've never been in debt but now I can't get a credit card'

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My applications for a 0 per cent deal from Halifax, Virgin Money and Capital One were all turned down.

Fearful that I might have been a victim of fraud, I ordered my credit reference from two credit-ratings agencies (Experian and Equifax), but found nothing wrong.

I'm in my early 30s, I don't have a mortgage and I have no debts. So what am I doing wrong? I thought I'd be the perfect customer.

EP, Swansea

A: Although a poor record with the ratings agencies - which collect the financial details of every individual and share them with lenders - usually prompts an application to be turned down, a non-existent record can also hold you back.

"With no credit history, banks will know nothing about you," says Peter Brooker of Experian.

In other words, without proof of what you're like as a borrower, the lenders will see you as just as much of a risk as somebody with a history of defaulting and making late payments.

It can be all the harder for individuals to know where they stand as each ratings agency and lender uses its own methods for assessing and, in most cases, "scoring" you.

For example, Equifax gives you a higher score if you demonstrate what it views as good credit behaviour: not shifting debt between different cards, keeping low balances on credit and paying bills on time.

But a lender might also look at other factors such as your job security, salary and how long you've lived at a particular address.

The final score is the key in determining whether or not you get a card: the greater the points tally, the greater your chance of credit.

However, not having a credit history leaves you still in the starting blocks. As Equifax's own guidelines point out: "Someone with no cards tends to be a higher risk than someone who has managed credit cards responsibly in the past."

But there is a way to break out of the loop. In your case, you aren't on the electoral roll and this may well be a factor in your repeated rejections.

A quick check has established that, where once you were listed at your parents' address, you've now slipped off the roll. This happens to many young people who - when they go to university, for example - are registered by their parents as having left home but do not re-register themselves.

Lenders like evidence of borrowers being on the roll since it indicates stability, particularly if you've been at one address for a long time.

Contact your local council and ask to be put on its "rolling register" of voters - not the annual register - says Neil Munroe of Equifax. This means you'll appear on the roll next month rather than having to wait until next year.

Your lack of credit history can be remedied too, adds Mr Munroe. "You should be able to get credit on a store card. It's usually easier to obtain and the credit limit is small [usually no more than £250 allowed] - but make sure you pay it off at the end of the month."

This should give you your first credit footprint, he adds, provided you use it sensibly.

Alternatively, says Mr Brooker at Experian, try asking your current account provider for a card - assuming you haven't done so already. "Hopefully, you'll have banked with them for some years, so they can see your behaviour as a customer; they should be sympathetic to your situation."

Your bank may not offer 0 per cent but at least you'll have a card.

Also, beware of making too many credit applications in a short time, for this could make lenders suspicious that you're either in financial difficulty or embarking on fraudulent activity.

Q: My gas and electricity bills have for a long time been extortionate, and I'm keen to switch.

Is it possible to get a good deal without going online? My wife and I really don't want to be involved with computers.

MB, Berks

A: It is possible, and it is worth trying either uSwitch or SimplySwitch, two online services that also let you change supplier by freephone.

Both offer the same number of deals regardless of whether you switch by phone or via the internet. You can call uSwitch on 0800 093 0607 between 8am and 8pm from Monday to Thursday, from 8am to 6pm on Friday, and 9am to 5pm on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday.

SimplySwitch, on 0800 781 1212, is open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and from 9am to 5pm on both Saturday and Sunday.

If you need help from our consumer champion, write to Sindie at The Independent on Sunday, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or email sindie@independent.co.uk. We cannot return documents, give personal replies or guarantee to answer correspondence. We accept no legal responsibility for advice given.

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