Thereís not much call for a credit card when youíre soldiering in Afghanistan and a car loan is low on the list of priorities if youíre peacekeeping in Iraq or Sudan.
But when our armed forces return home or leave the services, they can often face a problem when they need to borrow, as their itinerant lifestyle and lack of credit history in the UK can ruin their chances.
ìYour credit status is based on a host of factors, from a track record of repaying what you owe to being on the electoral register,î explains Peter Turner, managing director of Experian Interactive.
ìIf you donít meet the normal criteria because of a military career, you could find it difficult to get credit or have to pay higher interest because lenders donít know whether youíll be reliable. Many of the same problems could affect any expat upon returning to the UK.î
Those who find themselves in this situation ñ from army personnel to long-time English teachers abroad – need to build a British credit profile. Here are some ideas that can help.
Take a (credit) history lesson
When you apply for a card, loan or mortgage, lenders look for evidence that youíre a responsible borrower by checking your credit report ñ the history of your credit accounts and your repayment record. Lenders look at it when they decide whether to make you an offer and, in some instances, how much interest to charge, so itís important that itís accurate and up to date. Itís free to see your Experian credit report with a 30-day trial of CreditExpert.
Go through your credit report and ask the relevant lender to correct any errors or inconsistencies. For example, make sure that your address is reported consistently, old accounts have been formally closed and any disputes are recorded as resolved.
Call in the big guns
Lenders like stability, so if youíve moved a lot for work, explain the circumstances when you make an application. Ask your commanding officer or boss for a supporting letter. In the case of military bases, they often have non-standard postcodes, which can also cause problems, so explain this too.
Register to vote
If youíve been away, you may not be on the electoral roll, which lenders use to check that you live where you say you do. Register at once if you can and you could add valuable points to your credit score.
Pay on the nail
Finances can be strained when youíre establishing a new life but never skip a repayment ñ it will stay on your credit report for at least three years, warning lenders that you may let them down, too. If special circumstances, such as an injury or a sudden posting abroad, account for late or missed payments in the past, you should add a note of explanation to your credit report.
Donít fire off applications
Lenders are increasingly cautious about extending credit ñ one survey suggests that 4.5 million people were turned down for a card or loan in 2010 ñ but lots of tempting deals are advertised. Select one that suits your circumstances instead of firing off lots of applications. Each application triggers a search of your credit report that will be seen by other lenders, who may be concerned or even suspect a fraud.
Know the score
Your credit score is the key to getting the deals you want. Lenders take items from your credit report and application, allocate each one a value and arrive at a figure that indicates the risk you wonít pay what you owe. Order your free Experian Credit Score before you make any application to get an idea of how likely you are to succeed ñ you can do this as often as you like during a 30-day trial of CreditExpert.
The government is promising special support for military personnel who struggle to get a mortgage and a number of charities offer free, expert advice if youíre having problems getting credit or meeting repayments.