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Credit reports: all you need to know

Your credit report plays a key role in determining which financial products you can access. Find out how they work and how to correct mistakes.

In this article
What is my credit report? Why should I check my credit report? Can I check my credit report for free? Credit reports: what information is included? What impact do credit report errors have?
How do I correct credit report mistakes? How long will it take to fix credit report errors? Does BNPL borrowing go on your credit report? Coronavirus: will payment holidays go on my credit report?

What is my credit report?

Think of your credit report as your financial CV. It contains information that helps lenders confirm your identity and decide whether you’re a reliable borrower. 

This includes details of credit accounts you’ve held (and whether or not you’ve kept up with repayments), your current and previous addresses, and any financial connections – for example, the name of the person you share a joint account with.

Credit reports are compiled by commercial organisations called credit reference agencies.

There are likely to be three slightly different versions of your credit report, because lenders don’t always share the same information with all three major credit reference agencies - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

Our survey of 14,000 Which? Members in August 2021 found six in 10 hadn’t checked their credit report in the past three years.

Find out more: is a credit report error wrecking your score?

Why should I check my credit report?

If you’re 18 or older and have ever taken out a credit agreement – whether that’s a mortgage, overdraft or mobile phone contract – you’ll have a credit report. 

You should aim to check your credit report regularly,  at least once a year, and before applying for credit.

Not only will this allow you to pick up on any mistakes that could reduce your chances of getting the best credit deals, but you'll also be able to spot if any fraudulent credit applications have been made in your name. 

Because the information held on you can differ between the credit reference agencies, it's best to check all three.

You'll never be penalised for checking your report, so you're free to do so as often as you like. 

 

Can I check my credit report for free?

You no longer have to pay a £2 fee to access your information. However,  there are a number of services that can help you understand the information in your report.

There are around 25 different companies approved by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to offer credit reference services, but by far the most commonly used by lenders are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

Just over half of the people we surveyed in 2019 wrongly thought that every CRA holds identical information on you. That’s not the case, because not every lender shares information with every CRA. For this reason, it’s worth checking your report with each of the three main CRAs.

Experian

You can get free access to your Experian credit report via the Money Saving Expert Credit Club.

Alternatively, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Experian's CreditExpert service - it will cost you £14.99 a month after that if you don't cancel.

Equifax

Signing up to Clearscore will give you your Equifax report free every month. 

Like Experian, Equifax also offers a free 30-day trial of its full credit monitoring service. It costs £7.95 a month after the free trial. 

TransUnion 

TransUnion offers free access to its credit reports through a service called Credit Karma.

For more information on the different services offered by credit reference agencies, see our guide on how to check your credit score for free.

Credit reports: what information is included?

Some of the information held in your credit report will come from banks, building societies and credit card companies you have borrowed from in the past, or to whom you currently owe money.

Other facts on your credit file may come from publicly available sources (such as the electoral register) or be supplied by utility companies.

What's included

  • your name, address and date of birth
  • whether you are on the electoral roll at your current address
  • how much you currently owe lenders
  • any late payments on existing or past credit card or loan accounts
  • any missed payments on existing or past accounts
  • any County Court Judgments (CCJs) made against you
  • whether your home has been repossessed or you have moved away owing money
  • whether you have been declared bankrupt or entered into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA).

What's not included

  • the amount of money in your current account
  • your salary
  • savings accounts
  • student loans
  • criminal record
  • medical history
  • parking or driving fines
  • council tax arrears

Millions of people in the UK have what's known as a 'thin credit file' which means there isn't much information about them. This can make it hard for companies to verify their identity and assess whether they will be able to handle a credit agreement.

Find out more: open banking: sharing your financial data

What impact do credit report errors have?

Even a small error could have huge consequences and stop you from getting the best rates when borrowing.  

Mistakes can range from basic errors relating to your address details to incorrect information supplied by your bank or energy supplier, which could deter another company from lending to you. 

Missed payments stay on your report for up to six years and are the most common entry people dispute, according to Experian, accounting for just under a quarter of the queries it receives.

If a lender keeps chasing you for a missed payment – even if you’re not responsible for it – you could end up with a default being recorded on your report, or even a County Court Judgement.

Find out more: is a credit report error wrecking your score?

How do I correct credit report mistakes?

If you spot a mistake on any of your credit files, it's important to get this rectified – otherwise, it could harm your ability to get credit later.

You can contact the company that provided the information or the credit reference agency itself to get it corrected. 

If you go down the CRA route the CRA contacts the lender on your behalf. TransUnion and Equifax will do this as standard procedure; Experian will do this if you ask it to. It says it’s sometimes quicker if you contact the lender directly. 

The agency has 28 days from your request to tell you if it has removed the entry, amended it, or taken no action. The entry will be marked as 'disputed' in the meantime. This is so any lender searching your file will know not to rely on that piece of information.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee an error will be removed unless the lender grants the CRA permission. If it doesn’t, and your records aren’t updated, your next option is to add what’s known as a ‘notice of correction’ to your file, allowing you to explain in 200 words why the error is there

This can be used to explain why you think a particular piece of information is wrong or to highlight any mitigating circumstances – for example, a sudden bereavement that may have caused you to miss a credit card or loan repayment.

Find out more: how to improve your credit score.

How long will it take to fix credit report errors?

According to UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) principles, companies are supposed to correct inaccuracies held in your personal data ‘without undue delay’, but some Which? members have told us it took months before their report was updated. 

While CRAs must get back to you within a month, they can’t rectify your credit information until the lender has issued the update. If the company won’t engage with you then the error could stay for months on end, leaving you in limbo.


Listen: the Which? Money Podcast hears from people whose scores were ruined by credit report errors and their battle to get them corrected.


Does BNPL borrowing go on your credit report?

In the past there's been an inconsistent approach to how short-term 'buy now, pay later' (BNPL) credit deals (known as ‘deferred-payment credit’ accounts) have been reported to credit reference agencies.

Most interest-free BNPL schemes are currently unregulated so the firms don't have to report information about your borrowing on your credit report.

If you've taken out credit with a regulated BNPL scheme - such as Zilch or Monzo Flex - your credit and repayment history should already be visible on your credit report.

However, this is changing as more credit reference agencies look to include this data. 

Klarna said it will start reporting to CRAs Experian and TransUnion, for all purchases made with its Pay in 30 or Pay in 3 schemes (including via a Klarna Card or in-app shopping) placed on or after 1 June 2022.

Separately, Experian says CRAs will soon start to include details of any short-term BNPL deals you take out in your credit report - though it's not clear how this will impact your credit score yet.

Experian says BNPL lenders are expected to start sharing this information with CRAs quite soon so this information should start appearing on your credit report 'before the end of the year'.

Once the information is added to credit reports, it’s likely to take 12-18 months for credit reference agencies and lenders to update their credit scoring systems.

Find out more: 'buy now, pay later' schemes explained 

Coronavirus: will payment holidays go on my credit report?

Payment holidays were introduced in March 2020 to help borrowers struggling with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The FCA says firms shouldn’t report those in receipt of a payment holiday up until 31 January 2021 as having a missed payment on their credit report.

Borrowers who have had their maximum limit of payment deferrals should be offered 'tailored support' and this may be reported on your credit file, but lenders should always inform you as and when this is the case.

Find out more: will a coronavirus payment holiday impact your credit score?

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