A guide to free credit checks

A guide to free credit checks

Kelly Whybrow From the Money team
9
minute read
posted

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
  • direct debits that should have been cancelled
  • old contract payments (e.g. phone contract payments that should have terminated)
  • forgotten accounts
  • old joint accounts that need to be separated
  • inaccurate addresses on accounts
  • signs of identity theft

Always check your banking statements to ensure that they are 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 the credit rating agency and your credit provider immediately to resolve the problem. It can be very simple to get your credit report updated and any issues fixed. This could save you a lot of time and energy in the future when you want to apply for credit.

When checking your report, look out for any other inaccurate details that could be addressed. For example, there have been cases where people believed a phone contract had been cancelled, when in fact it was still being charged but not paid. If a missed payment goes against an old bank account repeatedly, it can do serious damage to your credit report.

Again, this is easy to fix and, in most cases, you just have to contact the company involved and they'll ask the credit agencies to remove the black mark against your name.

Why is my credit behaviour recorded?

Your credit behaviour 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 if they give you credit. They want to know that you're reliable and haven't missed other payments before they commit to giving you a mortgage, the newest iPhone or car loan.

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

It's also worth knowing that some companies also take late payments into account when calculating your score. This is because it indicates how reliable you are and can also be a sign that you're struggling to meet your payments and manage your finances. Don't forget, a few late payments could result in points being deducted from your score and taking you under the lender's cut off point for approvals. So, try to make sure your bills are paid on time, for example by setting up a Direct Debit.

Mistakes do happen, so it's important to keep an eye on your credit report with regular free credit checks to make sure everything is in order.

Can checking my credit rating help prevent identity theft?

While you can't always prevent identity theft simply by checking your credit rating, your credit report could help identify the existence of a problem at the earliest stage as you could see credit applications/contracts being made in your name that you're not aware of.

Being aware of what's happening with your credit rating alerts you to problems more quickly and helps you avoid the scenario where fixable issues become bigger problems.

Identity theft happens more often than you might think, and it can impact your credit score. According to the UK's leading fraud prevention service – Cifas' National Fraud Database – there were 175,000 cases of identity theft recorded in 2017. And in almost 4 out of 5 cases the victim's genuine address had been used.

With modern technology at their fingertips, identity thieves no longer need to go rifling through your post. Cifas found that 84% of identity frauds occurred through online applications. In many cases, victims of identity theft may not necessarily be aware of the crime until they're charged by the credit provider or they investigate a bad credit report.

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 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 bank accounts, 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. The information held might differ between CRAs.

Do I have to pay to get a credit check?

The main three agencies will now provide you with a statutory credit score for free. You just need to answer a few questions, but shouldn't need to enter any payment details. If you'd like to see more detailed information about your credit report, you can get free full access for a limited time:

  • Equifax offers 30 days free access, after which there's a monthly charge of £7.95 to continue.
  • Experian will show you your credit score for free, but you won't have access to the full report. Or you can use their CreditExpert product for 30 days free and then £14.99 a month
  • TransUnion (formerly known as Callcredit) offers a free statutory credit check or a monthly credit score free for life service from Noddle

All prices correct as of 15 August 2018, but may no longer apply.

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 who will try to sell you credit, but you are under no obligation to do anything other than view your report – for example ClearScore and TransUnion's Noddle service
  • Some Banks provide free access to credit reports – such as Tesco Bank and Barclays – which offer it as part of their customer service
  • 'soft' credit checks (e.g. pre-application eligibility check for a credit card) like Barclaycard – where there is no lingering trace on your credit file. This will let you know if your credit report is looking good, but it's not a real substitute for a full credit check

If you're willing to pay, you could choose to have constant access to your full credit report. This kind of comprehensive service may be beneficial if you think that you might be the victim of identity theft, or if you're rebuilding your credit. For most of us though, the free credit score services are more than adequate.

*Information regarding the free credit check services you can access to view your credit rating are based on prices in August 2018 and may no longer apply.

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.

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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 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.

So, it's important to check your credit report and rating yourself to know that your credit score looks good, before you make any applications. You can check again later and then see what impact, if any, your application has had on your rating.

Can anyone check their credit report?

You have a legal right to be able to check your credit report and know the information that companies hold about you. Since the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) came into effect on 25 May 2018, there's a statutory minimum of information that has to be provided for free by companies who hold information on your credit.

How often should I get a free credit check?

It's wise to get a regular free credit check 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).

A few simple ways to improve you credit rating:

  • check your free credit report and resolve any issues straight away
  • make sure that you are properly registered on the electoral roll
  • cancel unused credit and store cards
  • separate old joint accounts and close unused accounts
  • pay bills on time
  • pay more than the minimum payment on your credit card

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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