Your credit score is a number created by credit reference agencies. Each agency has a different scoring system, which they apply to information held on your credit file. Providers use this information to create an assessment of your credit worthiness, to help predict the likelihood of you paying credit back.
The type of information your credit score is based on includes:
- Electoral roll: this contains details of your address. It’s considered a sign of stability if you’re on the electoral roll and it could improve your credit rating.
- Borrowing history: a list of all of your credit agreements, both active and settled, will be supplied to credit reference agencies from banks, utility companies and some insurance companies. This records your historical financial behaviour and includes important details, like whether you’ve made payments on time.
- Searches: if you’ve applied for credit in the past, there may be a record of the credit check (or search) made. The outcome of searches isn’t recorded, or whether you took out the financial product, but too many searches in a short period of time can be a red flag for providers.
- Linked data: this type of data highlights other people you’re financially connected to, like a partner you have a joint account or mortgage with.
- Public court records: if you have a history of bad debt, this type of information may display any County Court Judgements (CCJs), bankruptcies or other court-imposed debt orders. These will seriously hamper your ability to obtain credit.
It’s worth noting every provider has its own credit scoring policy and measures different things in different ways. This means you don’t have one universal credit score all providers use. But one thing they do have in common is a need to predict your future behaviour. Providers want to give credit to those who’ve demonstrated they’re good at managing their money.
Why should I check my credit rating?
Knowing your credit score before you make an application for credit is crucial. By taking control and knowing where you stand financially, you could reduce your risk of rejection, increase your chances of getting access to credit, and improve the way you manage your money.
Checking your credit score can also highlight any errors on your file. Fixing any inaccuracies is critical, as they could stand in the way of your credit application being approved.
A few simple steps you can take are:
- Ensure your address held by your credit providers is up to date.
- Making sure your details are correct.
- Disputing any late payments that shouldn’t be there.
Keeping on top of your credit rating can also help protect you from identity fraud and theft. Look for any suspicious transactions and activity - if you spot anything out of the ordinary or there are any errors, you’ll need to contact the provider straightaway to look into it for you.
How do I check my credit rating?
In the UK there are three main credit reference agencies used by credit providers. You should check your credit score with all three as lenders rely on these agencies to supply them with accurate insights into your credit history. This information helps them decide whether or not to approve your application for credit.
These agencies are:
- Experian: You can sign up to the agency’s CreditMatcher service to get your Experian credit score for free and see your eligibility rating. CreditExpert is Experian’s paid for service, giving you access to your credit report and score. It’s free for the first 30 days, followed by a monthly fee.
- Equifax: Signing up to this credit reference agency also allows you to access your credit report and score online. Similar to Experian, you can enjoy a free 30-day trial, then you pay for the service after that.
Callcredit: There are two ways to get your hands on your Callcredit report and score. Noddle is the agency’s free for life service, the first of its kind in the UK. Or you can sign up to Credit Compass, their paid for service which is updated daily.
Under the Consumer Credit Act of 1974, everyone has the right to view their credit reports held by these agencies. They have to provide you with a ‘statutory report’ for a small fee (currently £2). You can also access your credit report online or order a paper copy, using a downloadable postal form or by writing to the credit agencies:
Customer Support Centre
PO Box 9000
Customer Service Centre
PO Box 10036
Consumer Services Team
PO Box 491
Tel: 0330 024 7574
There are many other online products and services available where you can check and analyse your credit report. However, they might come with a price tag.
Good to know: you can check your own credit rating as often as you like without impacting your credit score – it simply creates a search footprint that’s not counted during credit score calculations. As your credit reports are updated regularly, it’s a good idea to check your credit files at least once a year.
Understanding and improving your credit score
To get an idea of what a good credit rating looks like, the table below is based on Experian’s scoring system. Once you’ve looked at your own credit rating, you’ll have a better idea of the likelihood of your application being approved.
If you find your credit score isn’t as healthy as you expected, there’s no real quick fix. However, there are plenty of ways you can bolster it over the longer term. These include:
- Creating a history of healthy borrowing.
- Registering to vote.
- Closing inactive accounts.
- Paying off debts.
- Making sure you don’t miss any payments.
For more details and ways to improve your credit score, check out our handy guide.
Checking your credit score can give you a valuable snapshot into the status of your finances. Take advantage of the free services out there and get to know your credit rating – it could make a big difference when it comes to applying for credit.