Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the .. credit cards? Would you be surprised to hear that we lead the world the number of credit cards in circulation? There are around 74 million credit cards out there and outstanding balances add up to around 56bn.

Not everyone pays the same rate of interest. Rates charged by lenders vary and you can be charged a higher APR (annual percentage rate) than those advertised. Some people may find it difficult to find credit from any source and risk being turned down if they apply for a mortgage.

If youve been caught in this situation it would look as though youve been judged to be in the high risk category of would-be borrowers. When you apply for any form of credit, lenders check your borrowing (and repaying) record through one of the credit-reference agencies. A poor credit rating means youll struggle to arrange any form of finance.

The reason for this poor rating could be as simple as having had no credit in the past. Lenders would have no information to base their judgement on. It could also be down to a reluctance to settle debts or as a result of a criminal record. Its also possible that a lender has made some sort of error on your record, for which youre suffering.

Its possible to check your own credit file via a credit agency. It only costs around 2. An increasing number of people use this service on a regular basis. Recent reports of criminals stealing the identities of innocent people and running up debts are worrying and this self-check helps to confirm that alls well.

There isnt one single rating used by all lenders. The information contained in an individuals file is taken by each lender and they make their own assessment of how safe it would be to offer credit. They use a system in which they award points depending on your previous credit record and your current circumstances. Lenders place importance on different aspects some might take the stance that if you hold three credit cards, all up to date and with a minimal number of missed repayments, then you have built up sufficient debt to rate a negative mark. Others would consider that you have shown that you can handle the cards sensibly and reward you with a positive rating.

Credit agencies dont hold black lists of individuals. They simply give information to lenders for their own consideration.

Each application for credit leaves what they call a footprint on your file. This stays on for a year. Too many footprints wont be looked on favourably by lenders. To get round this problem it is possible that if you are making a tentative enquiry regarding a quotation, make certain that his is classed as a quotation search and not a credit application one. A quotation search will not be recorded on your file.

If, having checked out your records, you find a mistake has been made, it is important to contact the agency and inform them of the problem. They will make investigations and in the meantime will add a note to your file to show a dispute has been registered. You can also add a notice of correction of your own if you feel something has occurred which has created a misleading impression of your credit worthiness. A notice of disassociation can be placed on your file if a joint finance agreement has been made between yourself and a partner and you have subsequently split up.

By keeping a check on your records and taking fast action if a mistake appears, youll leave clear and sharp footprints behind.

Check it out.