Up until the last few years, it was the norm to have to pay to access your credit history. But things have since changed.
In the UK there are three main credit agencies that are used by the majority of banks. They are as follows:
All three have to provide you with a statutory credit report for free if you request it, which has been the law. This gives you a one-time snapshot of your credit score, and you can get this by contacting any of the credit agencies directly. It’s free if online but it can cost £2 if you want it posted.
There are more detailed ways to check your score though (both for free and for a fee), and we’ll go through each one below. Head here if you are wondering what’s classed as a good credit score in the UK.
Why you should check your credit history
Having unlimited, round-the-clock access to your credit history is useful to help you keep track of how lenders judge you. You’ll be able to see all the different lines of credit you have open, as well as how much you owe to each and in total. There should be information on your current and previous addresses and any past borrowing within the last six years.
If you’ve missed payments or received CCJs, you’ll be able to see them here too. It’s really important that you check your credit history – once a month is enough – so you can keep track of all these pieces of information and make sure they’re correct.
As this is what lenders see when you apply for a credit card, loan or mortgage, you want to make sure what they are seeing is what’s really going on. This way you can make the necessary improvements you need - plus, the credit reference agencies can provide advice on how you can improve your credit history.
Can I check my credit score without affecting it?
When checking your credit score it won’t have any impact on your score, as nobody can see you’ve checked the file. This is classed as a soft search.
Only hard searches from credit providers are recorded, and they have to secure your permission to do so. Hard searches do have a short term impact on your credit score, so it’s important to restrict them as much as possible.
Experian recommend you should only do one every three months, but each creditor has different criteria. Remember utility bills and insurance paid monthly will usually require a credit check.
As using price comparison websites or eligibility checkers only show up as soft checks, you can do as many of these as you like without any impact on your score. If you are looking to secure credit it’s always a good idea to use these facilities first so you only apply for credit you are likely to be accepted for.
Checking your Experian credit score for free
They run a free 30 day trial for their own credit checking service CreditExpert, after which it’s £14.99 per month to check your score and get real-time access to your report (which works out at almost £180 a year). You can also receive your score for free once a month via Credit Score, but this doesn’t offer any insight into your full report like CreditExpert does.
Money Saving Expert’s Credit Club allows you to view your score for free at any time, and as well as providing full details on your suitability for a variety of credit options such as loans and credit cards.
They also offer advice on how to improve various aspects of your credit score, but you will only get a monthly update rather than any real-time shifts (which CreditExpert delivers).
Checking your Equifax credit score for free
Equifax is the world’s oldest credit reference agency, starting back in the late nineteenth century as a “list of customers who were good payers”. Equifax scores run between 0 and 700, with anything upwards of 420 considered good.
They also have their own credit checking service with a free 30-day trial (subscription is £7.95 a month thereafter). As well as providing regular updates to your score, they also provide a service called Equifax WebDetect which helps keep your identity safe and prevent online fraud.
If you want to check it for free permanently, CredAbility provides a detailed analysis into your Equifax score. They also have a few other attractive features, such as allowing you to correct mistakes, alerting you to offers you are eligible for and setting action plans to work on increasing your score over time.
Checking your Transunion credit score for free
American company Transunion acquired CallCredit in 2018, which was the newest of the credit agencies in the UK (it only started in 2000). Their scores run from 0-710, and they also provide credit ratings of 1-5 (which tally up with their scores).
They don’t offer a subscription service directly, with a statutory request facility is the only way for you to get your score from them direct. To check for free you can use their offshoot Credit Karma’s service (which did used to be known as Noddle), which provides you with a regular free score.
It also gives you more detailed information about who has searched your credit file, details of financial associations and also a six-year payment history.
Is it worth using a paid for service?
Whilst checking for free is available, there are some benefits to paying for the service. Most offer more data and insight into how likely you are to secure credit, so it might be worth doing if you are working on building your credit score with a specific purpose in mind (such as applying for a mortgage).
Checkmyfile is a service that provides information on all three of the main credit reference agencies as well as a lesser-used service, Crediva. It also offers a free 30-day trial, with the price increasing to £14.99 a month after that.
As every paid-for service offers a free trial, it might be a good idea to check them all out and see if their interfaces and insight is useful to you before you commit.
Looking to improve your credit score in the new year? Check 7 things to do to get your credit score in shape for the new year ahead.
Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.
By Dan Griffiths
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