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A guide to free credit checks

Having a good credit score usually means you’ll have a greater chance of borrowing money at a lower rate of interest. You can check your credit score for free, making it easier to take control of your finances – here’s what to look out for on your credit report.

Having a good credit score usually means you’ll have a greater chance of borrowing money at a lower rate of interest. You can check your credit score for free, making it easier to take control of your finances – here’s what to look out for on your credit report.

Written by
Alex Hasty
Insurance comparison and finance expert
Last Updated
3 OCTOBER 2021
6 min read
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Why should I check my credit report?

There are many reasons why you should keep an eye on your credit report, or credit score. It can make all the difference as to whether a potential lender will agree to let you borrow money or not, and on what terms.

Lenders will check your credit report when you apply for finance. This could include getting a mortgage, renting a new house, buying a car on finance or applying for a credit card. They’re looking to see how responsible you are with money if you’ve borrowed before. So, you need to make sure your credit file is in good shape. 

Lenders will check your credit report when you’re applying for a mortgage, renting a new house, buying a car on finance or applying for a credit card

What information is held on my credit report? 

The information comes from a variety of public sources, as well as your bank and any loan or credit providers you’ve borrowed from. Here’s what’s included in your credit report: 

  • Personal details, including your name, date of birth and home address 
  • Credit accounts in your name, with current outstanding debts 
  • If you’re registered on the electoral roll  
  • Missed or late repayments on past and present debts 
  • Any assets repossessed to repay debts owed 
  • Any County Court Judgments for debts owed 
  • Information about any declaration of bankruptcy or entering into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) 
  • Any financial links with other people, for example a joint bank account or mortgage. 

How can I check my credit score for free?

You can check your credit score, and potentially find ways to improve it, by using a credit reference agency (CRA). The three main ones used in the UK are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Perhaps confusingly, they each provide their own version of your credit score, with a different scale of what’s good and bad.

You have a legal right to access your credit report for free from any CRA. These ‘statutory’ reports offer a snapshot of your credit history but won’t necessarily give you all the information available, including your credit score.  

If you’d like a more detailed report, each agency offers access for free for a limited period. Once that offer ends, you can pay a monthly subscription. This will give you unlimited access to your credit report, with extra features like your credit score and alerts when major changes are made to your report.  

What should I be looking for in my credit report?

There are several things you should be looking for in your credit report. These include: 

  • 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’re currently using compared to your overall credit limit) 
  • Enquiry history. 

Always check your bank statements to make sure they’re correct. The simple oversight of missing a credit card payment while on holiday can be all it takes to get a black mark against you. 

If you find a mistake, contact your credit provider immediately to resolve the problem. It can be fairly 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 informed 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.

When you apply for credit, a provider will source your credit information from one or two CRAs, or sometimes all three.

Who looks at my credit report? 

Only companies or organisations with a legitimate interest can look at your credit report – for example, when you’re applying for a credit card. These can include: 

  • Banks  
  • Mortgage providers  
  • Creditors and lenders 
  • Utility and service companies 
  • Mobile phone companies 
  • Debt collection agencies 
  • Insurance providers.  

Others that may also want to look at your records include: 

  • Government agencies – for example, to work out child support payments or to process an application for certain licences. 
  • Letting agents and landlords – to confirm your identity and see how likely you are to pay your rent on time.
  • Potential employers – some might request information from your credit report as part of their screening process. 

How often should I check my credit score?

It’s wise to check your score at least once a year. If you’re planning to apply for a large amount of credit, such as a mortgage, get a free credit check from all three CRAs in plenty of time beforehand (for example, six months and again at three months in advance of when you’re planning to make the application). That will give you time to fix any issues you might discover.

Your checks aren’t recorded on your credit report, so won’t count against you.

What is a 'good' credit rating?

A good credit rating is considered to be any number above 881 according to Experian, with a rating of 961 and above 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.  

If you check your score and find it’s less than ideal, there are steps you can take to improve it. Find more information in our dedicated guide to improving your credit rating.

Frequently asked question

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 Judgments (CCJs)
  • Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs)
  • Bankruptcies.

 

How is my credit score calculated?

Credit agencies calculate scores in slightly different ways. Because of this, each may give you a different score. They may also weight things slightly differently, so some things may be seen as a bigger blemish or more of a positive, depending on the CRA.

Although scoring methods between CRAs may differ, you typically lose points for late payments and defaults. You’ll gain points for consistently making payments on time and being on the electoral roll.

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. 

Monitoring your credit report won’t affect your credit score as you’re not applying for credit. 

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’ll have to go through a credit check.  

How often is my credit report updated?

Your credit report is updated every 30-45 days – sometimes more regularly – as new information comes in at different times during the month. However, it could take four to eight weeks for new information to appear on your report, depending on how long it takes lenders to send an update and for the CRA to update its files.  

How do I remove items from my credit report?

If you think something’s not right on your credit report, you can get in touch with the CRA, who will contact the relevant company to investigate. If the information is found to be incorrect, the company will correct this and your credit report will be updated. If the company doesn’t agree, you’ll have to contact them directly to resolve the issue. 

Can I be refused credit if my score is excellent?

Yes, even with the highest credit score possible, lenders can still say no. It’s up to them who they lend their money to – just like how a shop or restaurant can refuse to serve you, even if you have the money to pay for what you want. 
 
While lenders will look at your whole record, they’ll be more interested in how you pay back your debts. If you’ve missed payments in the past, it could put them off.

Does shopping around for a credit card affect my credit rating?

If you’ve made multiple applications in one go, providers may think you’re in financial trouble 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. Instead, use our eligibility checker to see which credit cards you’re most likely to be accepted for. It uses a soft search, which won’t affect or show up on your credit score. 

The content written in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as financial advice. If you require support on the products discussed here, please speak to your bank/lender or seek the advice of an independent professional financial advisor. We also have more information on our Customer Support Hub.

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