What is a credit score?
Checking your credit report is an important part of maintaining your financial health. It'll allow you to pick up on any mistakes - or even fraudulent applications - that could hinder your chances of getting credit.
Credit reports are compiled by credit reference agencies - the three main agencies in the UK are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
There's no such thing as a universal credit score. Each lender has its own system in place to decide whether or not to accept you as a customer, meaning you could be turned down by one, but successful with another.
To give you a better idea of how your application might be viewed by lenders, credit reference agencies produce their own version of your credit score.
The higher this number, the higher your chances of getting access to market-leading credit deals - but a good credit score from a credit reference agency is no guarantee that your application will be successful.
And confusingly, each credit reference agency uses a slightly different scale. For example, a score of less than 560 is 'very poor' with Experian, but 'excellent' with Equifax.
What affects my credit score?
Your score will ultimately be based on how responsibly you use your credit facilities.
For example, you lose 130 points with Experian if you fail to pay a bill on time but will gain 90 points if you use 30% or less of your credit card limit.
Like lenders, each credit reference agency has its own system for assessing your creditworthiness and will take into account different factors when calculating a score.
However, certain things will have a negative impact on your score regardless of the agency - for example, not being on the electoral roll, or making a late payment.
Bear in mind that the timing of entries in your report is more important than the type of activity.
Lenders are most interested in your current financial circumstances, so a missed payment from a few years ago is unlikely to scupper your chances of getting credit.
How do I check my credit score for free?
You now have a legal right to access your credit report for free from any credit reference agency. These statutory reports offer a snapshot of your credit history and don’t include a credit score.
But the three main credit reference agencies all offer more comprehensive services for a monthly fee.
These provide unlimited access to your credit report, plus extra features, such as a score and alerts when major changes are made to your report.
However, it's now possible to access both your credit report and score without having to pay for a subscription.
How to get your Experian credit score for free
The largest credit reference agency offers new customers a free 30-day trial of its CreditExpert service, which gives you access to your credit report, score, and email alerts about any changes on your file.
After the trial ends, it will cost you £14.99 a month.
You can access your Experian credit score through a free Experian account. This is designed to help people shop around to see how they can save money by comparing credit deals based on their financial profile.
Once you've signed up, your score will remain free to access, but unlike the paid-for CreditExpert service, you won't be able to see your credit report.
To be able to access both your Experian credit report and score for free, you can sign up to the Money Saving Expert Credit Club.
You can also see how likely you are to be accepted for the market-leading cards and loans and work out how much you can afford to borrow.
Unlike CreditExpert, you won't receive alerts about any changes to your report.
Experian's credit score scale
How to get your Equifax credit score for free
Like Experian, Equifax offers a free 30-day trial of its full credit monitoring service. It costs £7.95 a month after the free trial.
Alternatively, you can get your Equifax report and score free through ClearScore.
The company makes it money from commission on products you take out via its website.
Equifax's credit score scale
How to get your TransUnion credit score for free
You can access your TransUnion report and score for free via its Credit Karma (formerly called Noddle) service. This also advertises loans and cards you are likely to be accepted for.
Signing up to a free trial with CheckMyFile will give you access to all the information held on you by TransUnion, Experian and Equifax for 30 days.
After this, you’ll have to pay £14.99 a month to keep the service.
TransUnion's credit score scale
What is a good credit score?
Each credit reference agency uses its own scoring system. The table below shows the scale each one uses and what a particular score means in terms of your creditworthiness.
|What your score means||Very poor||0 - 560||Poor||0 - 438||Very poor||0 - 550|
|Poor||561 - 720||Fair||439 - 530||Poor||551 - 565|
|Fair||721 - 880||Good||531 - 670||Fair||566 -603|
|Good||881 - 960||Very good||671 - 810||Good||604 - 627|
|Excellent||961 - 999||Excellent||811 - 1,000||Excellent||628 - 710|
Coronavirus: will payment holidays affect my credit score?
Payment holidays were introduced in March 2020 to help borrowers struggling with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Applications for formal payment holidays were set to close on 31 October 2020, with banks agreeing to offer ‘tailored support’ to borrowers who needed it thereafter.
But on 2 November 2020, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced proposals to extend mortgage payment holidays. The following day, it announced plans to also give other borrowers affected by the coronavirus crisis further support.
In its proposals, 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 record.
However, those who have already had two payment holidays – and high-cost, short-term credit customers who have already had one – would not be eligible for any additional payment deferrals and must instead talk to their lender about getting ‘tailored support’.
This tailored support may be reported on a customer’s 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?