Singapore sales manager Kiki Lim*, 33, regularly used her credit cards to pay for shopping sprees, expensive holidays, and the medical bills and school fees of her two children.

When one credit card reached its limit, she applied for new ones. By the time she obtained her fourth card, Kiki had a $25,000 credit limit. “I thought I was fine as long as I paid the minimum sum every month,” she said. “But the bills kept adding up. Before I knew it, I owed $30,000 to credit card companies.”

 Money: Help me repair my credit reputation
Having problems paying your bills on time? Read a Singapore woman’s
story and find out how you can keep a good credit reputation. Image: Corbis

KIKI’S CREDIT PROBLEMS
Kiki was afraid to tell her husband about her debt so she obtained quick cash loans from other banks to offset her credit card bills but they continued to balloon. When Kiki and her husband jointly applied for a bank loan to purchase a new home, the bank rejected their application. Kiki then confessed about her credit card debt.

“I was breaking down mentally,” said Kiki. ”Collection agencies were calling me to repay the money owed, and my husband was threatening to divorce me and take the children with him.”

The bank told Kiki that she could get a copy of her credit report from Credit Bureau (Singapore) which was used to assess the loan application.

As a snapshot of your credit activities, the data in your credit report helps the organisations make an informed and objective decision on whether to give you a loan. Credit providers are also able to provide more competitive services to benefit responsible consumers.

Kiki decided to meet with one of CBS’s privacy officers to discuss her credit report. When she saw her report, she was shocked to note how much it revealed of her financial information. It included details like her credit facilities, outstanding amounts due, and whether she paid her credit card bills on time or in full.

Cheryl Yeo, customer service manager of CBS, highlighted the areas that lenders looked at when evaluating Kiki’s credit worthiness:

  • Overdue balance: Kiki’s debt totalled to approximately $30,000. As she only paid the minimum payment due on her bill each month, the amount she owed continued to accumulate.
  • Payment pattern over the last 12 months: Because of her payment pattern, Kiki’s status deteriorated from “A” (paying her credit card bills – even just the minimum payment, but on time) to “D” (payment made, but more than 90 days overdue).
  • Two of the banks cancelled her credit cards because she still owed money. Some banks flagged her with a “W” status (the worst score possible), because of her failure to pay.
  • Previous enquiries: Five banks had asked to see Kiki’s report. Some were considering her new application for credit cards while others were reviewing her recent credit activities.
  • Default records: Two banks indicated that Kiki had difficulties repaying her outstanding loans. 

As banks and credit providers have varying criteria, the organisation you apply for a loan with makes the decision on whether to lend you the money. CBS does not interfere with the lending decision and will not know why your loan was denied.

REPAIRING KIKI’S CREDIT REPUTATION
Although it might take years to improve her credit score, Cheryl offered Kiki the following advice:  

  1. DO NOT APPLY FOR BANKRUPTCY: Kiki assumed this was the only solution to her financial woes, but bankruptcy could worsen her credit reputation and curtail her personal freedom – by requiring her to apply for permission before travelling, for instance.
  2. SEEK HELP: Cheryl put Kiki in touch with Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS), which assists individuals repaying their debts. Kiki’s progress was accelerated by her determination to climb out of debt. She attended a compulsory talk on how to better manage her financial problems: “At the talk, I was relieved to find I wasn’t the only person with outstanding debt.” Kiki also learnt that as she owed money to at least three creditors and the amount was over $10,000, CCS could negotiate with them on her behalf.
  3. PAYING IT BACK IN INSTALLMENTS: After taking into account Kiki’s living expenses, CCS worked out a repayment plan (known as a Debt Management Programme) and proposed that Kiki settle her debt with her creditors via a monthly instalment plan of $500 over five years. Her credit report would reflect if she pays this on time.

KIKI’S RESPONSE
Kiki’s now more careful with her spending and has only two credit cards; and these are meant to be used only in emergencies. She says that “limiting the number of cards I have has helped me better manage my finances, and I’ve become more careful about what I buy.”

KEEP YOUR CREDIT REP SPOTLESS
Your credit report shows lenders your credit history and how well you manage your finances. Someone with a poor credit reputation will find it harder to get a loan compared to someone who has a perfect score.

Tips on keeping a good credit rep:

  • Pay your bills on time: Wherever possible, pay the full amount due.
  • Only charge to your cards what you can afford.
  • Limit the number of credit cards you own.
  • Cancel unused cards.
  • Don’t be afraid to attend credit counselling if your debt is in excess of $10,000.
  • Know the difference between a debit card (you use money from your bank account) and a credit card (you purchase with advance credit and repay later).

* Name has been changed. Kiki gave permission to CBS to release her report for this story.

Since 2002, the Banking Act has allowed CBS members to disclose credit-related information and also obtain similar information from the bureau, to check the credit worthiness of existing and prospective customers. Only you, the CBS and the CBS members approved by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) can have access to your credit report. Organisations are also prohibited from disclosing information to other parties without your consent.

You can obtain your credit report for $5 at the Credit Bureau (Singapore) office at 72 Anson Road, Anson House, #11-03, Singapore 079911, tel: 6565 6363. Visit www.creditbureau.com.sg for more information.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer January 2011.