DECISIONS we make on a daily basis can have a major bearing on our financial prospects.
Such seemingly innocuous episodes such as failing to pay a bill on time or the number of store cards we hold are recorded on a consumer's personal credit report.
What is contained in that document could ultimately have a big say in whether people are successful in applying for credit cards, mobile phone contracts or car financing.
Loading article content
Yet, in spite of the weight it carries, it appears that many consumers are in the dark about their credit report – and have little interest in finding out.
A report commissioned by SAV Credit, the company behind the Aqua credit card, suggests that more than half of UK adults (57%) are at risk of being declined credit, and among those who are refused an overwhelming majority (85%) don't bother to find out why.
Furthermore, more than three-quarters (79%) had no idea what their credit score is, and more than half (53%) said they don't know how to improve it.
Aqua has launched a free service for new customers: a credit card checker that allows them to monitor their credit report, along with tips on how to get it into better shape.
James Corcoran, chief executive of SAV Credit, said: "Most people wrongly assume that a credit score is used simply to access financial products, but this is far from the case. Credit is a pillar of 21st-century life and everyday products become more difficult to obtain without a strong credit score."
Aqua is not the only credit card company that appears concerned about consumers' credit reports.
Fluid checks every customer's personal finance history before the application process begins, informing them whether they are likely to be accepted.
The check does not leave a credit footprint, removing the potential impact an unsuccessful application can have on an individual's report – a service also offered by Nationwide.
Fluid, backed by MBNA, is one of many credit cards clamouring to entice consumers with long-term, 0% interest rates deals on balance transfers.
Savvy consumers can take advantage of offers such as these as a strategy to pay off debt, although it should be noted that many come with chunky handling fees for setting up accounts.
The new card from Fluid offers up to two years borrowing on balance transfers made within the first 60 days of account opening, and 0% interest on the first three months of purchasing. It comes with a handling fee of 2.89%.
Other getting in on the balance transfer action include Barclaycard, which has launched a 0% interest, 26-month balance transfer card with a 3.5% fee, and Tesco, whose 0% interest, 25-month offer comes with a 2.9% fee.
MBNA is offering 0% interest on balance transfers for 24 months and a handling fee of 3.2% with a special deal on its website.
The flurry of offers has led uSwitch.com, the service that helps consumers compare services and switch providers, to conclude that the "battle in the credit card market is heating up".
Its personal finance expert, Michael Ossei, said he expects Barclaycard to "remain the frontrunner in the balance transfer space for some time to come".
However, he expects competition from supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury's, which can use information gleaned by loyalty cards to tailor financial products to consumers' needs.
Ossei said: "Market-leading rates and products could soon become the norm for these new players as they start using data and customer insights to develop more appealing financial products for their customers."
Meanwhile, research from Nationwide suggests more people looking for balance transfer deals would prefer shorter 0% interest offers than long-term deals with higher fees built in.
However, 32% said their choice of credit card would be influenced by factors beyond balance transfer terms.
Nationwide's head of cards, Paul Carvell, said: "Other factors that card-holders may consider when looking to transfer credit card balances include cashback offers, rewards such as commission-free foreign transactions or shopping benefits, loyalty points, discounts and excellent customer service."
MBNA believes are the single most important factor for consumers deciding which card to plump for. Its research found that 29% of consumers highlighted rewards as the key element when looking for a new card, followed by a low annual percentage rate at 13%.
Meanwhile, research from Saga suggests that the six million-plus consumers over the age of 50 who hold a credit card may not be getting the best deal.
It found that one-third of people in this age bracket do not switch credit cards at the end of the 0% interest period, either because they forget to or do not want the hassle, leaving them liable to incur interest.
It also found that one-third of over-50s take out a credit card with their bank, with more than one-quarter making their selection for the freebies on offer.
Roger Ramsden, chief executive of Saga Services, said: "Freebies can be enticing but people should look beyond air miles, vouchers and reward points.
"They should choose an all-round good card with a low standard interest rate that won't turn round and bite them if they don't pay their monthly bill in full."
Almost half of Britons rely on credit cards to bridge the gap between paydays, according to research by Quidco, but John Murphy, 41, of Midlothian does not use his Tesco Clubcard credit card to tide him over.
Murphy, a father-of-two, is a resource co-ordinator for the NHS. He says: "At one point I had two cards, but have reduced that to just my Tesco card because it has obvious benefits.
"Over the past few years we have reduced our usage so we only use it for big purchases, such as at Christmas and holidays."
The family enjoyed a four-day break in Blackpool paid for with Clubcard points, including tickets to the Pleasure Beach and Blackpool Tower.
Photograph: Gordon Terris