Before arriving in Canada, you might already have a substantial credit history in your home country. Many newcomers believe that this credit history from their home country will transfer over to Canada, and that they will not need to start afresh. However, this is not true.
Countries have different credit agencies and ways of calculating credit scores. As a result, your credit score and history from your home country are not transferable to Canada. Your Canadian credit history only starts after you arrive and get credit in the form of a credit card, loan, line of credit, or mortgage, from a Canadian financial institution.
If you’re moving to Canada from the United States, the same credit agencies, Equifax and TransUnion, might be responsible for tracking your credit history in both countries. However, these agencies don’t share information across international borders, so you’ll need to start building your credit history from scratch in Canada.
That being said, starting with no credit history is not the same as starting at the bottom of the credit scale. Once you start using and paying off your credit card bills, your credit score will likely start in the “fair” range.
Myth 2: Money in my savings account counts towards my credit score
As a newcomer, it is usually a good idea to set aside some money in a chequing or savings account for future expenses and emergencies. A high-interest savings account (HISA) can even help you grow your money. However, these funds have no impact on your credit score.
Savings and chequing accounts are not listed on credit reports because no borrowing or debt is involved in these accounts. Since your credit score and history reflects your ability to repay debt, only financial products that involve credit, such as credit cards, loans, lines of credit, or mortgages, are included in your credit report.
However, the money in your chequing and savings account can be used to pay off debt and maintain a regular payment schedule for your credit products, especially in times when your income isn’t enough to cover these payments. Ensuring you make regular debt payments will help improve your credit score.
Myth 3: Credit scores don’t matter – I won’t take credit unless I need it
Many newcomers come to Canada from countries that are credit-averse, where getting into any kind of debt is frowned upon. In such a case, you may either have limited experience with credit or your instinct may be to only take credit when you need it. In Canada, however, credit plays a crucial role in the economy and having a good credit history is essential for your financial success.
A credit score is an assessment of your creditworthiness, or the likelihood that you’ll pay off your debt based on your past financial history. While you may not need credit today, building your credit history early will help you qualify for loans and lower interest rates when you apply for a car loan, education loan or mortgage later. In fact, in some cases, you’ll also need a good credit score for your application to rent a home, obtain a cell phone plan, and even on an employment application.
As a newcomer, getting and using a credit card is the easiest way to build your credit history. Start paying for routine purchases like groceries and household essentials with your credit card instead of cash to get comfortable with the concept of credit. Then pay off the balance of your credit card each month from your chequing or savings account.
Myth 4: My credit score is based on my income
Many newcomers think that you need to be rich to have a good credit score. In truth, however, your earnings are not directly factored into the calculation of your credit score and are not included in your credit history.
Credit scores reflect your payment history, or how well you repay debt, rather than how much money you have available. A high income is no guarantee that you’ll use that money to pay off your bills. Regardless of your income, you should be careful about only taking credit that you can pay off in a regular, timely manner.
Credit utilization ratio, or the percentage of your overall available credit that is currently being used, is another factor that impacts your credit score. RBC advisors typically recommend using up to 35 per cent of your credit limit, in order to build your credit score. Increasing your credit limit will increase the amount of credit you can use without having a negative impact on your credit score. Your earnings can have an indirect influence when you’re applying for new credit products or for an increase in your credit limit, as financial institutions will usually take both your income and credit history into account.
Myth 5: Getting more credit cards is the best way to improve my credit score
As a newcomer, it can be tempting to believe that getting multiple credit cards will help you build your credit score faster. However, that’s not necessarily true. Having multiple credit cards can either help or hurt your credit scores, depending on how you use them.
While multiple credit cards will give you access to a larger total credit limit, your credit score will be determined by how you use that limit. If you’re using your credit cards wisely and paying off all the bills in full, on time, then having multiple credit cards can work to your advantage. Since your credit utilization ratio takes into account the limits of all your credit cards and other credit products, maintaining the same level of spending even after you get additional credit cards can lower your overall credit utilization and improve your credit score.
However, having several credit cards can also create a situation where you end up spending more than you can easily repay. This can result in delayed payments, which in turn, lead to high interest and penalties. It can also negatively impact your credit score. You should speak with a financial advisor to better understand which credit card options may be right for your unique situation and whether you need multiple cards.
Myth 6: Checking my own credit score will lower it
When you’ve just started building your credit history, it’s important to keep track of your credit score to make sure it’s heading in the right direction. This can also help you identify and report errors or instances of identity fraud in a timely manner. However, many newcomers mistakenly believe that checking their credit score will negatively impact it.
The fact is that when you check your own credit score or credit report, it counts as a “soft” inquiry and doesn’t hurt your score. However, a “hard” inquiry, such as by a financial institution or lender, can lower your score by a few points. Hard inquiries are usually initiated by banks, lenders, or mortgage providers to check your creditworthiness before they can issue a new loan, credit card, or other credit product to you. It’s important to note that when multiple inquiries for the same type of loan are made within a short period of time, such as when you’re shopping around for mortgage rates, they are typically counted as one inquiry.
Some banks like RBC allow customers to check their credit score for free, at any time, using their online banking portal. You can also get copies of your detailed credit report through Equifax or TransUnion.
Myth 7: I just need to pay the minimum balance on my credit card to keep my credit score up
One common misconception that newcomers have is that carrying balance on a credit card improves your credit score. This is inaccurate and, if regularly practiced, can negatively impact your credit score.
If you’re only paying off the minimum balance on your credit card for a particular month, it doesn’t count as a missed payment, so there may not be an immediate direct impact on your credit score. However, you’ll be charged interest for the remaining balance in the next payment cycle. Credit instruments like credit cards typically have very high rates of interest, and putting off paying balances in full can make it harder for you to pay off your debt later.
In addition, most financial institutions and creditors look at how much you owe compared to how much credit you have available. Therefore, carrying a balance from one month to the next can increase your overall credit utilization ratio. This can adversely impact your credit score.
That being said, if you’re in a situation where you’re struggling to cover expenses, prioritize debt payments based on the interest rates they carry. Wherever possible, make at least the minimum payment and pay off the remaining amount as soon as possible. Speak to a financial advisor to get advice that is specific to your financial situation.
Myth 8: My credit score will be the same with every agency
The two national credit reporting agencies, Equifax and TransUnion, have their own independent scoring criteria for calculation of credit scores. Although they take similar factors into account—your payment history, credit utilization ratio, duration of credit, etc., your score could vary slightly based on which agency’s report you’re looking at.
When a financial institution or lender runs an inquiry on your credit score, they might look at reports from any credit reporting agency. It’s a good practice to keep a close eye on your credit reports with both major credit agencies to stay up-to-date on your financial position.
A good credit score will be crucial as you navigate the financial system as a newcomer in Canada. The task of building a great credit score from scratch in a new country may seem daunting. But by knowing what can harm or improve your credit position and practicing healthy financial habits, you can uncover your path to financial success in Canada.