Credit Reports

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Finding the best credit report for you

By Laura Rettie, Personal Finance Journalist.

Laura Rettie

Credit reports detail how you've used your credit in the past. With our guide, you'll learn how they work, why they're important, and what makes your credit report.

What is a credit score?

Your credit score helps lenders decide if and how much they should allow you to borrow from them based on how well you’ve managed your finances in the past.

There are three main credit reference agencies in the UK - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Each agency collects information about you from lenders, service providers and public records to create a credit score.

Your score indicates how likely you are to pay back what you’ve borrowed, based on your history of using financial products like credit cards, loans, mobile phone contracts, mortgages and overdrafts.

The higher your score is, the more likely you’ll be accepted when you apply for a form of credit. You’re also more likely to be offered better deals and cheaper borrowing options if you have a good credit score.

You don’t have just one credit score. Each credit reference agency holds slightly different information about you and has its unique way of scoring you. As your circumstances change, your score will go up or down, depending on what you’re doing. As an example, moving house could mean your score dips temporarily.

Lenders and service providers like your mobile phone provider tend to do their own additional checks when you apply for credit with them. They’ll consider things like your income, affordability and if you’ve ever defaulted on a payment with them directly in the past.

How do credit scores work?

Credit reference agencies collect information from lots of different sources, including;

  • The electoral register
  • Court records
  • Lenders
  • Service providers

Being on the electoral roll (otherwise known as registering to vote) is one way credit reference agencies can check your name against your home address.

If you’ve defaulted on any of your borrowing in the past and have a County Court Judgement (CCJ), an Individual Voluntary Agreement (IVA) or have been declared bankrupt; you’re credit score will be impacted for up to six years.

If you often go close to your credit limits on your credit cards, you could find your credit score will be impacted. Keeping your balances low could help you to improve your score.

Keeping the same bank account, mobile phone provider or credit card for an extended period of time can also help your credit score because it suggests you’re good at managing them.

If you miss a repayment, are late paying or default on your payments, your credit score will be negatively affected.

Having a mixture of different credit products can reassure credit reference agencies that you’re good at managing your finances.

Is it important to check your credit report?

Yes. It is important to check your credit report regularly. Checking your report will help you understand who might lend to you in the future, spot any mistakes that have been made, and help you stay on top of any fraudulent activity.

Even if you have no intentions of borrowing any money soon, it’s always a good idea to check your credit report at least every six months so you can make any changes necessary to improve your score. The better your score, the more likely you’ll get good deals on borrowing money in the future.

It’s crucial to check your credit report just after you’ve moved to make sure your information is updated and accurate. Just after you move house, you may find your score drops for a while because lenders prefer to see stability in your behaviour. Moving a lot could suggest you’re struggling to keep up with rent payments.

You’ll want to make sure the list of credit accounts on your credit report is up to date, and there are no unfamiliar accounts listed on your report. Contact the agency you’re using to look up your credit reports if you spot anything unfamiliar. There are more than one, and they all hold different information about you. If, for example, there is an unfamiliar address on your report, your score could be harmed by someone unknown to you, so your address must be accurate.

If you’re planning on making a large purchase like buying a house, it’s crucial you do a credit rating check to prepare in advance before you apply for the loan. If there are discrepancies, it can take weeks, sometimes months, to put right, so you’ll want to do this in advance to ensure accurate information is on your report before you apply for a mortgage.

What is my credit score if I've never had credit?

If you’ve never borrowed any money from a bank or lender, you’ll have little or no credit history. Lenders use your credit score to measure how risky it is to lend to you. If you’ve never borrowed before, you’ll need to slowly build up your credit score to prove to lenders that they can trust you.

If you’ve taken out a mobile phone contract or paid household bills including water and energy, your credit history will have started to take shape, but you might have what’s known as a ‘thin file’ until you take out a financial product like a credit card, loan, overdraft or mortgage.

How can I improve my credit score?

  1. Register to voteRegistering on the electoral roll at your current address will improve your credit score. Even if you have no intention to vote, putting yourself on the electoral roll will help, and you should get used to making it your priority every time you move. It’s important to do it even if you live with your parents or are in shared or student accommodation.
  2. Build your credit historyIf you’ve never borrowed money, taken out a mobile phone contract, or paid household bills, you may have little or no credit history. There are steps you can take to build your credit history to access credit and good deals in the future.
  3. Be a responsible borrowerPaying your bills on time and in full each month will help build your credit score.
  4. Don’t view your credit limit as a targetIt’s important to try and keep your credit usage low. If you’re given a credit limit on a credit card of £1,000, you want to try and borrow no more than £250. Keeping your credit utilisation low demonstrates you’re not desperate for money and can be disciplined enough not to spend the entire amount.
  5. Correct mistakes on your reportIf you notice mistakes like an incorrect address or a credit account you don’t recognise, it’s crucial you contact the credit reference agency so they can investigate. A rogue account could hold you back, and mistakes regularly happen.
  6. Avoid frequent movesLenders like to see stability, so if you move house a lot, some credit lenders might assume you’re having a problem paying rent. This one is more difficult to avoid in your early life when you’re moving around because of university and your early career choices, but indeed a point to bear in mind, especially before applying for a large credit product like a mortgage.
  7. Keep old accounts openLenders like to see that you can manage multiple credit accounts over a long period of time, so even if you no longer use a credit card, it might be a good idea to keep it open rather than close it. Credit reference agencies reward you for mature credit accounts where you only use a small percentage of your credit limit.

How does having a low credit score affect you?

Having a low credit score can affect your ability to get a mortgage, credit card or loan. It can also affect mobile phone contracts, car insurance, utility bills, home insurance and subscribing to a car.

Every credit provider uses your credit report to decide whether or not to lend money to you and how much interest they’ll charge you.

The better your credit score, the easier it will be to access cheap borrowing.

How often should I check my credit score?

At the very least, you should check your credit score every year, but nothing is stopping you from credit monitoring monthly or as often as you like. If you download one of the credit check apps like Experian, ClearScore or Credit Karma, you can monitor your score as many times a day/week/month as you like for free.

It’s important to do a credit score check at all three credit check companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) before applying for large amounts of credit. Different lenders use different agencies, and each agency's information about you won’t necessarily be identical.

What information is in my credit report?

  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your current and past home addresses
  • Whether or not you’re registered to vote at your current address
  • A list of your credit accounts, including those you’ve closed within the last six years
  • The credit limit and outstanding balances of your credit accounts
  • Any late payments you’ve made or missed
  • Details of any hard credit checks
  • Joint financial accounts with other people
  • CCJs, IVAs or bankruptcies in the last six years

What lenders don’t know unless you tell them;

  • Salary
  • Race, religion, ethnicity
  • Savings
  • Medical records
  • Criminal convictions
  • Council tax arrears - Councils won’t share your payment data
  • Parking or driving fines
  • Who you’re living with providing you don’t have joint financial products
  • PPI, CPP or other reclaims

Who can see my credit report?

  • BanksIf you apply for a bank account, the bank will check your credit report to confirm your identity and financial behaviour to assess the risk of having you as a customer.
  • LendersIf you apply for any type of credit, such as a loan or a credit card, the lender will look at your credit report to get a glimpse of how you’ve repaid your debts in the past. They’ll also use your credit report to decide how much they’ll lend you and how much interest to charge you.
  • Mortgage providersWhen you apply for a mortgage, a mortgage provider will check your credit report to help them decide if you’re reliable and likely to be able to keep up regular repayments. A mortgage provider will also use the application form you provide to draw a conclusion, as well as their own records if you’re an existing customer.
  • Letting agentsIf you want to rent a property, a letting agent or landlord may ask to check your credit report to help confirm your identity and to feel assured you’ll be able to keep up regular rent payments.
  • Utility companiesUtility companies like your energy and water providers will search your credit report to check how you’ve managed previous credit. If you have a history of late or missed payments, they may put you on a prepay account rather than allow you to pay in arrears.
  • InsurersSome insurers will check your credit report when deciding what premium and rate to charge you - especially if you’re choosing to pay monthly rather than annually.
  • Potential employersIf you apply for a job where you’ll be handling lots of money, or your company is in the finance industry, or you apply for a very senior position, some potential employers will ask you if they check your credit report as part of their screening process. You can refuse this request, but it may hinder your chances of getting the job if you do.
  • Mobile phone providersIf you pay for your mobile phone or SIM card contract monthly, most mobile phone providers will check your credit report to help them decide on whether or not they can offer you a pay monthly deal.
  • Debt collectorsWhen you take out a financial product like a loan or a credit card, you’ll agree for the providers to do a credit check on you. If you default on your repayments, your debt may be passed on to a debt collection agency. At this point, your consent to the credit check is passed on with the money you owe. The debt collectors will have a right to search your credit report and decide how to obtain the money from you.
  • GovernmentCertain government agencies will check your credit report for things like determining child support payments.

The information provided does not constitute financial advice, it’s always important to do your own research to ensure a financial product is right for your circumstances. If you’re unsure you should contact an independent financial advisor.

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Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between a credit report and a credit score?

Your credit report is a statement that contains your personal information, alongside credit account information and the status of those accounts. It’s a summary of your borrowing history, including information on how you’ve borrowed money and how you’ve paid it back. 

Your credit score is the actual number the credit reference agencies give you to indicate your borrowing behaviour. The higher your number, the more likely you’ll have access to the best deals on your borrowing. Your score changes over time, dipping and rising depending on what financial products you’ve taken out, how you’ve managed your repayments and whether or not you’ve moved house and registered to vote.

What’s a credit file?

Your credit file is another way to describe your credit report. It’s a summary of your borrowing history which contains information about how you’ve borrowed money and how you’ve paid it back.

What’s a credit rating?

Your credit rating is another way to describe your credit score. The actual number the credit reference agencies give you indicates your borrowing behaviour.

What is the figure of a good credit score?