Credit checks are an essential part of applying for a wide range of financial products, from credit cards to mortgages and even mobile phones. Before you allow a provider to check your credit score, it’s a good idea to know what it is yourself. That’s why we’ve listed the main credit check providers below, which can provide you with a free credit score check and give you the detailed information you need to improve your score.
Credit scores can influence not just the obvious – whether or not you get a credit card – but also applications with car insurance providers or for a new mobile contract, for instance. Even prospective landlords may use your credit history to determine whether you’d be a good tenant. And it’s not just a matter of providers deciding that anyone with a score under 300 is immediately rejected – generally speaking, the better your rating is, the better the deal you are offered.
So, for example, companies might offer their headline rates on a mortgage/loan/credit card to anyone with a score over 900 (provided everything else also checks out), and a less competitive deal (with a higher interest rate) to anyone who scores over 500. Anyone who scores less than 500 may be rejected altogether. With such a wide-ranging influence, you can see why it’s important to keep an eye on your own score, rather than risk getting turned down when it matters. And since all the agencies above offer a free credit report or trial, there’s no reason not to check your credit score.
Note that the three main credit reference agencies working in the UK all have their own scoring system, with some scoring you points out of 999 and others having 700 as their top score. The numbers used as an illustration in the previous paragraph should therefore not be used as an indicator for your own situation.
Credit ratings are a combination of what you personally disclose as part of the application, your credit file and any previous credit history you may have with whoever you are applying to. Anyone who’s ever taken out a credit/store card, utility bill account, catalogue account, mortgage or loan (other than a student loan) will have a credit report.
A credit reference agency is allowed to compile this information, along with other facts, and can send it on with your permission to prospective lenders or other companies. Experian is the UK's largest agency and conveniently offers a free credit check, but Equifax and CallCredit (which powers UKCreditRatings) are also used and offer free trials of their credit reports.
From these companies, you will already have three different scores, but the credit rating you will need to achieve will also vary across banks and building societies. That's because they all use different methods of calculating your score, based on their own analysis of your credit history. Unfortunately, they don’t tend to share their methods, which means a credit report remains your best bet for figuring out if you need to improve your score or not.
Improving your rating can make all the difference between getting the card, loan or mortgage you want and enduring a string of rejections. Given that your credit score is negatively impacted by a rejected application, which gets added to your credit history, you'll want to minimise the risk of getting an adverse, poor or bad credit label by only applying once you've done your homework.
Some companies offer you the option of a ‘soft search’. This gives you – and them – an idea of what kind of borrower you will be, without the search showing up on your credit file (as it would with a ‘hard search’). By its nature, a soft search will be a lot less thorough, but it’s a great way to compare deals without risking your credit score if you’re offered the option.
To really understand how credit checks are used, it may be useful to know what kind of customer lenders tend to look for. They may not really want someone with a flawless record who instantly pays off any debt they have and never misses a payment. That’s because missing a payment on a credit card, for example, means having to pay interest, which in turn means more money for your credit card provider.
On the other hand, they don’t want someone who has defaulted on credit or gone bankrupt in the past, as they would run the risk of never seeing their money back. So, it may not be so bad to have a few flaws in your credit history, as long as you check that the report is accurate and your score is not too severely impacted.
Here are three suggested organisations that can help you find out and track your credit score:
£19.95 per month with a 14 day free trial
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The three credit check agencies will hold slightly different information on you, which is how they can come to divergent scores, but they will certainly all hold the basics. This includes where you have lived within the UK, basic details about you, any court records, and of course your history with credit companies.
So, any bills you’ve paid (or failed to pay), mobile phone contracts, the people you’ve lived with, and, of course, your history of repayments on any credit/store cards or loans will be included. What won’t be included are any student loan repayments, as they’re deducted from your future income. These special loans therefore don’t affect your credit score either way. Other student-related debt, such as credit card debt, will have an impact.
Given the vast amount of information these agencies collect, it may sometimes be the case that something in the report is inaccurate. Asking the credit reference agency to change anything that’s incorrect could make all the difference to your credit score.
If you don’t want to sift through the whole report looking for errors, you should at least make sure you’re on the electoral roll. If the agency doesn’t hold an accurate record of where you live, it may be basing its scoring on old information, which could have a negative impact on your rating. Companies also use the electoral roll as a precaution against fraud, so you have every reason to make sure you’re on it.
Other ways to improve your score are mentioned in our guide on the subject. It’s worth noting here that not having any credit history at all is not actually a good thing. If you’ve never taken out a credit card or loan before, you may be surprised to find that your credit rating could be poor.
That’s because if you’ve never taken out credit, companies won’t know how you’ll handle it when you do. So, if you’re looking to get a mortgage, but have never taken out a credit card, checking your credit report is still an important step to take.
If you find your rating could use a boost and you know you’ll be able to pay off any debt every month without problem, you could consider a special credit card for poor credit. If you’re reluctant to take out a credit card, there are also certain prepaid cards that can help improve your rating, although these may end up being costlier than a credit card due to the fees associated with them.
Take advantage of credit check provider’s free trials – this will cost you nothing and gives you an excellent idea of your current credit rating.
Disclaimer: This information is intended solely to provide guidance and is not financial advice. Moneyfacts will not be liable for any loss arising from your use or reliance on this information. If you are in any doubt, Moneyfacts recommends you obtain independent financial advice.