Your credit score is used by banks, building societies and other lenders to decide whether they will give you a loan, credit card, overdraft, mortgage or other type of credit. Your credit score comes from your credit report and is a three-digit number – this is a review of how good you are at paying your debts and your history of borrowing.
There are a variety of companies that can help you to check your credit score and to view your credit file. All of these offer a free service either on an ongoing basis or for a trial period. These all work with the main credit reference agencies to share with you what lenders see when they do a credit check on you. You can also request a statutory credit report for free from any of the credit reference agencies.
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Before you apply for credit, it is useful to know your own credit score. This means you will have a greater understanding of the types of lenders that may consider you for credit. If you are looking for a loan, then you can use our pre-approved loan check that will show which lenders are most likely to accept you without impacting your credit score.
Checking your credit file will also show any credit applications made in your name. This is useful to see if any fraudulent applications have been made in your name and to flag these with the lender and the credit reference agency. The credit reference agency will mark your credit file in the event of fraud to protect you and your credit score. This is visible on your credit file.
The higher your credit score is, the more likely you will be accepted for credit. However, not all the credit reference agencies use the same methods to come up with their scores and they also use different ranges of numbers to determine what is a good, fair or poor score. Experian’s credit score ranges from 0 – 999, while TransUnion has a range from 0 to 710. Equifax uses a range of between 0 and 1000. A good credit score according to Experian is between 881 and 960, with fair between 721 and 880. Meanwhile, TransUnion defines a good credit score is from 604-627. An Equifax score of between 531 and 810 is a good credit score, with anything over this being considered excellent.
If your credit score is below 300 then it is unlikely you will get credit from any lender – in fact, a score below 500 will see you less likely to obtain credit. An Experian score of under 720 is a low score with under 566 with Transunion being the same. For Experian, a score under 439 is low. The lower your credit score, the less chance you have of being accepted for credit agreements or you may find that instead you are offered terms that are worse than the headline rate. These figures are only an indication and you are always best to check your own credit score.
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The terms credit rating and credit score are wrongly assumed to be the same thing. In fact, even though they both serve as a measure of creditworthiness, they are used for different purposes.
A credit rating is a measure of how creditworthy a business or even a Government is. It is normally a grade combing two or three letters. The highest credit rating a business of Government can be awarded is the triple-A or “AAA”. This denotes an organisation with the strongest financial position. This then decreases to “AA” then “A”, “BBB” then “BB” and so, on down to the lowest rating which is D for default.
Credit scores are used for individuals and are often a number value. However, what constitutes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ credit score is measured differently by the three major UK credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These are outlined in the section above ‘What is a good credit score?’
For more information on how to improve your credit score, see our guide How to improve your credit score.
There are three main credit reference agencies that create credit reports that can be used by lenders to find out more about your credit history. Lenders may use one or more than one of these to help make their lending decisions. The credit reference agencies are:
These organisations hold information about consumers and their borrowing behaviours. Each time you apply for credit or take out a new credit product this will be logged on your credit file held by these organisations. Whenever you complete an application form for credit, you will also agree to the lender accessing your credit file held with at least one of these.
These credit reference agencies provide their services to a range of credit check companies that you can use to find out your credit score.
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Lenders use credit reports to assess whether potential borrowers are reliable, stable and do not already owe more than they can comfortably repay. To calculate the chances that you'll make your repayments, they take the information in your application form and credit report and allocate each item a value. They then use a unique formula to calculate a credit score. Generally, the higher your score, the easier you'll find it to borrow.
Your credit score also changes over time as your circumstances change. For example, paying off a loan could improve your score, while missing a couple of repayments could cause it to fall.
Read our helpful guide on how to improve your credit score
We’ve listed the information credit reference agencies usually hold about consumers:
You can get a free copy of your credit file – known as your statutory credit file – from any of the credit reference agencies. You must request this from them.
Anyone who is offering you credit is likely to check your credit score, which includes a mobile phone contract or paying an insurance in monthly instalments. You may even find that prospective landlords will want to check your credit history to make sure you will be a good tenant.
Yes, if you notice a mistake on your credit file you can request that the credit reference agency changes this. However, you cannot ask them to remove something purely because you don’t want lenders to see it. You can make a ‘notice of correction’ to add extra information about a previous debt, such as this being paid.
If someone uses your details to fraudulently apply for credit or has forged your signature, this may result in a warning being placed on your credit file. If you have committed fraud, then this too may show on your credit file.
For lenders to be able to see these fraud flags they need to be a member of Cifas. Cifas is a not-for-profit organisation focussing on preventing fraud. They work with lenders and other organisations to collaborate on fraud prevention using fraud risk databases and networking opportunities with their members and law enforcement agencies.
If a lender sees a fraud flag on your credit record, they will need to conduct further checks on your application. They cannot refuse your application or remove an existing credit arrangement because of this flag alone. They must ask you for further information to help them make a final decision. This could include providing additional evidence to prove your identity.
If you are an innocent victim of fraud, Cifas must write and tell you that there is a warning on your credit file.
If you’ve had problems with debt repayment in the past you might have used something called a Debt Management Plan (DMP). This is a formal agreement between you and the people you owed money to that allows you to make smaller repayments but over a longer period than normal.
Debts will affect your credit score for 6 years after they have been paid off, so if you take 4 years to pay off a debt under a DMP making your final payment in May 2017. This will remain on your credit record for a further 6 years, meaning it will finally be spent at the end of April 2023.
Are you credit invisible or have you hit a road bump with your credit? Credit builder cards can help you to rebuild your profile, all you need to do is keep making repayments on time
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A guide to help you improve your changes of getting a mortgage.