First time buyer guide
How to Check Your Credit Report
What’s a Credit Report?
Your credit report is like a biography of your finances. Banks and lenders rely on the information it gives them – known as your credit history – to decide whether you’re an attractive borrower or not.
Most of the information in your report comes from lenders and it is compiled by Credit Reference Agencies (CRAs). The 3 main CRAs in the UK are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
Each lender looks for different things when they lend money. They will make an assessment of how risky it is to let you borrow money based on their own criteria and the information found in your credit report. They’ll look at details such as the credit accounts you hold or have held (to see if you’ve met repayments on time), information on your public record, and your name and address to help confirm your identity.
What’s the Difference Between a Credit Score and a Credit Report?
Credit scores and reports are both based on how you’ve handled credit in the past, but they are not the same thing. Think of the term credit score as a numerical value resulting from all the information contained in your credit report. In other words:
- A credit report is a file that contains detailed information about your credit history, such as if you’ve borrowed money and how much, and if you pay your bills on time.
- A credit score is a three-digit number which sums up all the information contained in your credit report. This number will give you an indication of how likely you are to be offered credit and how favourable the terms you’ll be offered may be.
To learn more about credit scores and how to improve yours read our Understanding Credit Scores article.
What Information Is in My Credit Report?
The information held in your credit report can come from several sources such as the electoral register, utility companies, banks and credit card companies.
Your credit report includes information on:
- Who you are: date of birth, name and surname.
- Where you live: previous and current addresses.
- Whether you’re on the electoral roll at your present address.
- People who are financially linked to you: joint accounts or credits.
- Whether you’ve ever been bankrupt.
- Whether your house has ever been repossessed.
- A list of your bank accounts and lines of credit: including any loans, utility debts, missed or delayed payments in both, past or current credit cards and accounts.
- Whether any county court judgements (CCJs) have been made against you.
- Whether your identity has ever been stolen and used to commit fraud, or whether you’ve committed fraud.
- Information on what you currently owe lenders.
Factors like your wages, how much cash you have in your current account, whether you have a criminal record or any driving/parking fines, your medical history or whether you have any tax debts or student loans are NOT included in your credit report.
Why Should I Check My Credit Report?
Checking your credit report regularly is important, especially when you’re saving to buy a home and before you apply for credit. If you check it from time to time you’re more likely to pick out any mistakes (such as signs of fraud – if someone has applied for credit on your behalf – or missed payments) before they become an issue.
It’s worth getting a copy of your credit report from all three CRAs if you haven’t applied before or checked it for a long time. This is because, although the information they hold tends to overlap quite a bit, each report might contain different information from different credit providers.
You will not be penalised for checking your report, nor will it affect your credit score so you can take a look at it as many times as you like.
How Can I Check My Credit Report?
Credit Reference Agencies in the UK have a statutory obligation to provide you with a FREE copy of your credit report. You can request for this to be done in writing or you can access your report online from the 3 main CRAs: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
In addition to these statutory reports, CRAs offer a number of more comprehensive services that can help you interpret the information in your report:
- Experian: their CreditExpert service is free to trial (for 30 days). After the trial period is over you pay £14.99 per month.
- TransUnion: you can get their free-for-life credit report service via Noddle.
- Equifax: you can access their free monthly credit report service via Clearscore. In addition to this, Equifax also provides a full monitoring service, like Experian, which is free to trial (for 30 days) and then costs £7.95 per month once the trial period finishes.
What Should I Check on My Credit Report?
Now that you understand the importance of checking your credit report it’s key for you to know what to look out for so you can make the appropriate corrections if need be:
- Full name and date of birth: sometimes credit reports can contain information from people with your same name, so make sure you are who the report says you are.
- The electoral roll: being on the electoral register helps organisations verify your name and current address. It enables them to check that you live at the address you give on your application form.
Financial links to others (associations)
If you are financially connected to another person this information will appear in your report. It includes people who you have a joint account with or you’ve applied jointly for credit with.
Credit and current account information
This information includes your current and past credit accounts, and is provided by your lenders and companies you owe money to. You can find details on the type of account (student loan, credit card, mortgage, etc), the date when you opened it, the account balance, credit limit or amount you’ve been loaned and your payment history.
Previous credit searches
When you apply for credit, lenders carry out credit searches to determine whether you’re an eligible candidate. A record of the organisations that have looked at information on your file in the last 12 months will appear in your report. Lenders must always get your permission to look at your credit report so if you spot any searches you don’t recognise get in touch with the organisation that carried out the search.
Signs of fraud (CIFAS information)
When checking your report, if you come across any accounts you didn’t actually open yourself you should contact your bank or lender to let them know you’ve been a victim of fraud. It’s also wise to remind them to contact the CRAs to get this information put right in your credit report.
The national fraud prevention service (CIFAS) can place warnings on your credit report. This is to warn lenders that you have been a victim of fraud in the past or might be vulnerable to fraud in the future.
Having a CIFAS marker on your report doesn’t mean you won’t be able to borrow money, it just means that when you apply for credit your application could be delayed due to extra checks being made to prove your identity.
Public record information
Public record information, such as county court judgments (CCJs), bankruptcies and individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs), stays on your credit report for at least 6 years.
If you believe a court judgment recorded on your credit report is incorrect you will need to contact the court. To amend information about bankruptcies speak to the Insolvency Service. And if you have any questions about a voluntary arrangement found on your credit report, you should contact the insolvency practitioner who dealt with that arrangement.
These are all the addresses that you (or anyone financially connected to you) have lived at where you have applied for credit. They become linked when you tell a lender that you’ve moved or you provide an organisation with your addresses and they do a credit search against them.
All your active accounts should be listed under your current address. If that’s not the case you should get this information updated as it can cause unnecessary delays when you apply for credit due to ID checks.
How Do I Correct Any Errors on My Credit Report?
If you find incorrect data on your credit report you should request for it to be amended as it could impact your ability to borrow money in the future. You can get in touch with the credit reference agency or the company that gave the information to have any errors corrected.
If you raise a dispute through a CRA they will liaise with the organisation that provided the data on your behalf. The CRA then has 28 days, from the date you raise the dispute, to let you know whether they have removed the entry, changed it or taken no action.
If the credit reference agency doesn’t amend a specific entry on your credit file you can add what’s known as a notice of correction to it. This is basically a note (of up to 200 words) which explains the circumstances relating to the entry, e.g. a missed payment due to illness.
As you can clearly see, it’s in your best interest to keep an eye on your credit report to make sure it’s in good shape, especially if you’re looking to get a mortgage. Not only will it help you pick out any mistakes that could reduce your creditworthiness, but you will also be able to spot if you’ve been a victim of fraud. And since the information in your credit report is key in determining your credit score it’s important to do everything you can to keep both in your radar.