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Build your business credit score

What is it, and why is it important?

We think of our credit score when planning to buy a house or take out a loan for a car, but it has a role to play in the running of your business, too. In this article, we’ll learn what your credit score means for your business, and how important it can be.

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a tool used by lenders to work out whether you qualify for credit. The score represents the credit history of your business, and helps to show how you’ll manage repayments. The score usually ranges from 0 to 100, and you should aim to have as high a value as possible. This tells lenders that the risk is lower when offering you credit. 

Different factors affect how your credit score is calculated, including

  • Whether your business is registered with Companies House or not
  • Your credit providers 
  • Information the Registry Trust holds on you, for example any County Court Judgements (CCJs)
  • Your credit history

It’s important to note that the factors affecting your credit score vary depending on which credit reporting agency (CRA) or lender you use. This means that their calculations will vary too, so you might get a different credit score from each CRA. 

Why is it important?

A credit score helps lenders decide whether to offer you credit, how much and at what rate. This information means they’re able to make an informed decision when lending, so they can reduce the risk to themselves. 

Your credit score serves other important functions, too, because it can be used by your creditors and suppliers when your business is competing for tenders or when negotiating contracts. You’ll also undergo a credit check if you open a new account with a bank or other lender. 

What affects it?

To build an accurate picture of your company finances, lenders take a detailed look at your business credit file. One of the first things they’ll want to know is whether you have any CCJs against you. If you’ve applied for credit in the past, they’ll look at whether you followed the terms and conditions of your lending agreement. 

Lenders will also look at

  • The ownership details for the business 
  • The company accounts
  • Any trade credit secured  
  • How many applications for finance you’ve made in the past
  • Your existing credit  

Where there is little or no history of borrowing, your company might find it difficult to get credit. That’s because commercial lenders use these records to see how your business will perform, and whether you’ll meet the terms of lending set out in the contract. 

Seven tips to help improve your business credit score

We know that a healthy credit score benefits your business, but how can you achieve it? Here are some tips for you to consider. 

  1. Pay promptly
    Try to pay your invoices on time wherever possible. Payment terms are a form of credit, so your credit rating will be negatively affected if you don’t do this.

  2. File on time
    It’s important to submit your accounts and returns by the deadline. If you’re late in filing these, it can be a sign to lenders that you’re facing financial problems.

  3. Avoid County Court Judgments
    No one wants to have a CCJ made against them, but if they do, it will be recorded on their credit report. If you get one, it’s in your best interest to pay it on time.

  4. Limit credit applications
    Try not to make too many credit applications against your business in a short period of time, as this suggests to lenders that you’re struggling to secure funding.

  5. Ask for a quote
    If you need to apply for business finance, ask for a ‘quotation’ instead. This is a simple solution that helps to limit the number of credit applications you make.

  6. Stay up to date
    Keep your customers, suppliers, Companies House and business directories updated with any changes to your location or business status. Outdated or inconsistent information makes your business seem unreliable.

  7. Don’t forget partners
    Keep track of the credit position of your customers and suppliers, as this can also affect you. Using this information, you’ll be able to limit the damage to your business if one of them goes into administration. 

Is a business credit score different to a personal credit score?

Yes, the two scores are separate and they measure different things. Your personal credit score measures your ability to pay back a debt, and a business credit score looks at the ability of your company to do so. 

In the UK, you’ll have two separate credit files – one for you as a consumer, and another for your company. However, if you’re a start-up or a small business with less than three directors, lenders might use tools that combine both your personal and business credit score. They’ll do this where a company has little or no financial history to check against, so personal data is used to build an accurate picture. With this in mind, it’s important for business owners to take care of both their personal and business credit scores.  

Will a business loan or credit card affect my personal credit score?

In some instances, lenders will check your personal credit file when you apply for a business loan or credit card. They’ll do this if they haven’t been able to get enough information from your business credit score to make a lending decision. They’ll either carry out a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ credit search. A soft search is the better alternative, as it shouldn’t affect your credit score. If a hard search is carried out, and your application for a business loan or credit card is refused, this can affect your personal credit score. The impact is temporary, but it’ll reduce your personal credit score by between one and five credit points. 

If you’re worried about a poor personal credit score affecting your ability to get business credit, have a chat with your lender before you apply.

How can you check your business credit score?

Commercial Credit Data Sharing (CCDS) is a government initiative that requires nine major banking institutions to share financial information about their SME customers with selected CRAs. These SMEs must have a turnover of less than £25m. This includes data on business current accounts, loans (including mortgages) and credit cards. 

You can view or request your company credit file from various CRAs including Experian, Equifax, Credit safe and Dunn & Bradstreet. Not all of these CRAs offer an online service – and there may be a charge.

Government-backed schemes

In response to the coronavirus situation, the government introduced a series of schemes to support businesses. If you’ve applied for one of these schemes, it’s important to remember that while they’re backed by the government, you’re responsible for making the repayments. If you’re thinking about applying for one, please consider whether you really need to do so. If you do apply, make sure that you prioritise the repayments within your cashflow, just as you would with any other loan. These schemes are reported to the CRAs, and will follow the usual performance reporting for businesses.