A guide to free credit checks

Understand everything you need to know about checking your credit score. Read our guide on what to look out for on your credit report...

Understand everything you need to know about checking your credit score. Read our guide on what to look out for on your credit report...

Anelda Knoesen
From the Money team
minute read
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Posted 8 JANUARY 2020

Why should I check my credit score?

There are many reasons why you should keep an eye on your credit score. Your credit score will be checked when you're applying for a mortgage, renting a new house or applying for a credit card. So, you need to make sure that it's in good shape.

What should I be looking for in my credit report?

There are several things that you should be looking for in your credit report that you may be unaware of.

These include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • missed/defaulted payments, monthly payments,
    forgotten accounts
  • old joint accounts that need to be separated
  • inaccurate addresses on accounts
  • signs of identity theft
  • credit card utilisation percentage (the ratio of credit you’ve got outstanding compared to your overall credit limit
  • enquiry history

Always check your banking statements to ensure they’re correct. The simple oversight of missing a credit card payment while on holiday can be all it takes to get you turned down for a loan.

If you find a mistake, contact your credit provider immediately to resolve the problem. It can be very simple to get your credit report updated and any issues fixed.

Why is my credit history recorded?

Your credit history is recorded so that lenders can make an educated decision about whether to lend you money, as it indicates whether you're likely to make payments on time. They also want to make sure that by giving you additional credit, they’re not putting you at risk of taking on debt that you can’t afford to pay back.

What can have a negative impact on my credit score?

Issues that can affect your credit rating (and can stay on your file for up to six years) include:

  • Missed payments
  • County Court Judgements (CCJs)
  • Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs)
  • Bankruptcies

Who is in control of my credit report?

There are three major credit reference agencies (CRAs) that contain information regarding your credit history. The credit agencies within the United Kingdom are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (formerly known as Callcredit). When applying for credit with your bank or for a contract with a mobile provider for example, a provider will source your credit information (rated as a score) from one, two or perhaps all three agencies.

These agencies hold information on your credit cards and other loans, as well as all regular payments you make from your mobile phone contract to your utility bills. They show whether you have made your payments on time and if you keep your finances in order. 

How can I check my credit rating for free?

There are several ways to check your credit rating and get a credit report for free. These include:

  • Using services providing free access to credit reports, for example ClearScore. Equifax and and Experian also offer free credit checks
  • Some banks provide free access to credit reports, such as Tesco Bank and Barclays, as part of their customer service
  • A 'soft' credit check (eg a pre-application eligibility check for a credit card such as Barclaycard) – this is visible to yourself but not to lenders.

What is credit monitoring?

Credit monitoring allows you to keep track of your credit report on a regular basis by alerting you whenever a change is made to your report. A credit monitoring service could be beneficial if you think you might be the victim of identity theft or you’re trying to rebuild your credit score.

How can I monitor my credit report?

Some services allow you to monitor your credit report for free, while others require a monthly fee.

  • Credit Karma offers a free-for-life access to your credit report and score
  • Equifax offers 30 days free access, after which there's a monthly charge of £7.95 to continue
  • CreditExpert, offered by Experian, gives free access for 30 days free, then charges £14.99 a month.

All prices correct as of January 2020.

Does credit monitoring hurt your score?

Monitoring your credit report won’t impact your credit score as you’re not applying for credit. If you view your score through a credit monitoring service, the company may try to sell you credit but you are under no obligation to do anything other than view your report to get an understanding of your score.

Can I apply for a credit report if I don’t own a credit card?

Yes, you don't need a credit card to go through a credit check or apply for a copy of your report. If you apply for a phone contract, a flat rental contract or anything else involving credit then you will have to go through a credit check.

Can I see if shopping around for a loan has affected my credit rating?

If you have made multiple applications in one go, providers may think you're in financial trouble or over-extending yourself and potentially reject you, which may impact your credit score. So it's wise not to apply for more than one loan at a time.

If a company carries out a credit check on you and you're rejected based on a low credit score, this can actually count against you in the future with some providers who prefer borrowers with a good credit risk. However, there are some lenders who specialise in loans and cards for people with poor credit who want to rebuild their credit score.

How often should I get a free credit check?

It's wise to monitor your credit at least once a year. If you are planning to make a big credit application, such as for a mortgage, get a free credit check in plenty of time beforehand so you have time to fix any issues you might discover (for example six months and again at three months in advance of when you are planning to make the application).

What is a 'good' credit rating?

A good credit rating is considered to be any number above 700 according to Experian, with a rating of 800 considered 'excellent'. But be aware that each of the three agencies has a different maximum score and different scales, so your credit rating on each could be a slightly different number.

Don't worry if the first time you check your credit score it's less than the ideal amount – in February 2018, Clearscore reported that the average UK credit score was just 380 (up from 346 the previous year). You can find more information in our dedicated guide to improving your credit rating.

What's next?

Checking your credit score will reveal simple problems that may stop you getting approval for credit. Many matters are simple to fix, but you must know about them first.

Running a free credit check before you apply for credit could increase your chances of your application being accepted, because you'll have sorted out any issues with your credit rating first.

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