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Want to know what your chances are of getting that loan approved or a new credit card at a great rate? Credit scores are a big part of that, since lenders use your credit score when determining your credit worthiness.
The credit reference agencies hold information on you and your borrowing and payment habits, and this is part of the equation that lenders use when deciding whether to approve your application for credit. Lenders also use this information to help determine what APR to charge.
Many people have no clue what their credit score is or how to find out. By following this guide, you’ll not only be able to see your score, but you’ll be able to find out whether there are any details on file that you need to correct. Knowing what your score is and how to improve it could make the difference between getting the representative APR for a loan… and not getting approved at all.
What does my credit score say about me?
Lenders use your credit score to help assess your level of creditworthiness. When you access your score, you will see a rating and a classification that ranges from “very poor” to “excellent”. A lower credit score may indicate a higher risk to the lender, while a higher score can indicate that you are more likely to make the repayments. (Not all credit agencies use the same scoring system. For example, Experian has a score from 0 to 999, and Equifax has a score from 0 to 700.)
Having a poor credit score is not the end of the world, it just means that you may not be offered some credit products or may have to pay a higher APR. The good news is that you can work on improving your credit score to gain access to other products at lower rates.
Who are the credit reference agencies?
There are three main credit reference agencies in the UK. Experian is the largest, and it’s joined by Equifax and TransUnion (formally Callcredit).
Should you check all three agency credit reports?
It’s not a bad idea for sure. Though if you know which credit reference agency the lender you are applying through uses, you could always start with that one.
Also, it is probably best to check at least once a year with all three agencies, in case something is amiss. Make sure you check every detail and do it regularly, especially if you have a major purchase on the horizon. If you are worried that checking frequently will impact your credit score, don’t be. It has no effect on your score.
Beyond the above, if you’re not sure which agency to check with first, Experian is the largest so it makes sense to start there. Experian allows you to check your score for free once a month.
How do I check my credit score?
Now that you are ready to find out your score, the process is quite simple. You can check online in a matter of minutes. I checked my Experian score on my phone recently and had my score within 10 minutes. You’ll need a few personal details, including:
- date of birth,
- phone number,
- driving licence/passport number and
- addresses for the past three years.
You can go to the websites of the three credit reference agencies mentioned above and sign up for a free account. There are also sites that check multiple agencies at once (such as checkmyfile and clearscore). Be mindful that some sites require you to put your credit card number in to sign up for the free 30-day trial, and if you forget to deactivate the account before the time is up, you will be paying a monthly fee.
Of note to international users: Some sites require three years of UK address history, otherwise you cannot progress with the enquiry.
What details should I check to improve my credit score?
If there are details in your credit history that are outdated or simply incorrect, they can affect your credit score, so it’s a very good idea to check carefully through your report, and pay special attention to the following.
- Check for old addresses on accounts – If you have an open account listed at an old address, this can cause confusion with ID checks and drag down your score. It’s usually a good idea to close these accounts ASAP.
- Correct any errors – If you believe there is an error on your credit check file, challenge it! For example, this could be an old payment that you have paid off, but the company wrongly informed the agency that you hadn’t. To correct an error, there are a few options. You can write to the lender that put the details on your file, make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service or add a notice of correction to your credit file. Each agency varies slightly in how you should add the notice of correction. If you are subscribed to the service, you can add a note to your file online or send the correction to the agency via the post. You can contact the agency for specific details.
- Make sure you don’t have any joint accounts from the past – If you were in a house share or a relationship that has run its course, it’s important to close those joint bank and utility accounts. Otherwise you could be disadvantaged by the behaviour of someone else.
- Always check your credit report after an application is rejected – Find out from the lender why you were rejected and which agency it used. Was it because you need more time to build up a better credit score? Or was there something specific that caused your application to be rejected?
- See whether you have any open but unused credit or store cards on file – It can be a good idea to close these, as they are included in your tally of available credit. Lenders may think that you have access to too much credit and refuse you on these grounds.
Now you have all the information to go and check your credit score for free. That means it’s time to take action and actually check your score. What’s the worst that can happen? Even if you find out that you have a bad score, the good news is that you can now do something about it.
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