What is a credit score?

Your credit score provides an indication of how reliable you are at repaying the money you have borrowed. The higher your credit score, the more competitive credit options you will have access to.  

5 min read
woman reading online

What is a credit score?  

Your credit score is a number that represents the risk you pose to lenders when you borrow money. The higher your score, the better. 

Your credit score will impact whether you can get a mortgage, loan, credit card, or car finance, and the interest rate you’ll be charged.  

What is my credit score?  

Perhaps confusingly, you don’t have a universal credit score.  

Your score will vary between different credit reference agencies (CRAs) and will be updated regularly. A CRA is an independent organisation that gathers and securely stores details about your credit history from lenders and public bodies. 

There are three main CRAs in the UK: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. 

This guide is about your UK credit score. Other countries have different credit scoring systems. If you have just arrived in the UK, your home country’s credit score won’t apply. You’ll need to build your credit score from scratch in the UK.  

How is a credit score calculated? 

Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion all use slightly different information and different systems to calculate your credit score, meaning your score will vary. 

Experian scores are from zero to 999, Equifax zero to 1000, and TransUnion zero to 710 (plus a rating system using numbers one to five). Your three-digit score will put you in one of five categories, as shown in the table below.  

 

Experian 

Equifax 

TransUnion

Excellent 

961-999 

811-1000 

628-710 

(rating 5) 

Good 

881-960 

671-810 

604-627 

(rating 4) 

Fair 

721-880 

531-670 

566-603 

(rating 3) 

Poor 

561-720 

439-530 

551-565 

(rating 2) 

Very poor 

0-560 

0-438 

0-550 

(rating 1) 

When you apply for credit, the lender will use its own system to calculate your credit score. These systems incorporate information held by CRAs and other data the lender has about you, such as information on your application form or your existing accounts. 

Credit scores explained 

This might all sound confusing, but there are some general rules of thumb that simplify understanding your credit score: 

  • The higher your score, the better 

  • Paying debts and bills on time will have a positive impact on your credit score 

  • Missing payments will have a negative effect on your score 

  • How much money you have in savings and investments does not affect your score 

What does my credit score mean? 

The higher your credit score, the more options you’ll have when it comes to applying for credit. 

With a high score, you will be more likely to be accepted for a mortgage, credit card, overdraft, or loan, and probably at more competitive interest rates too. 

You will also find it easier to take out utility contracts such as a monthly mobile phone contract or an energy deal where you pay by Direct Debit. 

If you have a poor credit score, you’ll find it more difficult to be accepted for the most competitive credit products. But it won’t be impossible – lenders also look at other factors when assessing your application. These include your income and whether you can afford the repayments. 

There are also products specifically designed for people with a low credit score or a thin credit file.  

What factors affect your credit score? 

  • Your ‘available credit’  

Your score is impacted by how much credit you already have available and the proportion of it you are currently using. This is known as your ‘credit utilisation ratio’. 

  • Debt repayments 

A consistent and up-to-date payment history for mortgages, loans, and credit cards will boost your credit score; missed or late payments will have a negative effect. 

  • Bill payments 

Paying bills for energy, water, broadband, or your mobile phone on time will boost your score. This is because utility and telecom firms supply account information to CRAs. Missed payments and arrears will cause your score to go down. 

  • Credit searches 

When you make a credit application, the lender will search your file. A ‘hard’ search will leave a record of this. Too many hard searches can make it look like you are in financial trouble, potentially causing your score to fall. You can use an eligibility checker before applying for credit to avoid too many hard searches appearing on your file. 

  • Showing stability 

Staying at the same address for a long period of time and joining the electoral roll will improve your score. Frequent house moves within 3 years may negatively impact your score. 

  • Legal actions 

Bankruptcy, individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs), and county court judgments (CCJs) will have a detrimental effect on your score. 

How can you check your credit score? 

You can sign up to see your credit score with either TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian. 

It’s useful to check all three CRAs because your report can differ from one agency to the next.  

You can see your Equifax credit report for free (for life) through our member-only platform, CredAbility. Plus, you can check it as many times as you like, without leaving a footprint on your credit report. 

Under the Consumer Credit Act (1974) and the General Data Protection Regulation (2018), you also have the right to access a copy of your ‘statutory credit report’ from any of the CRAs for free.  

Your statutory credit report holds all the credit information lenders may use to assess your creditworthiness. However, it won’t show your credit score calculated by the CRA. 

How do you get a credit score? 

People can start building a credit history when they turn 18 – the minimum age to borrow money in the UK.  

You don’t need to do anything to start your credit history, there’s no set starting score, and you won’t start from zero. Once you open a bank account or register to vote, this will be recorded by the CRAs, and your credit history will begin. 

How can you improve your credit score? 

Your credit score isn’t static – there are things you can do to improve your score. You can read about these in detail in our article ‘Quick ways of improving your credit score’, but here are some tips to get you started.  

  • Pay debt payments and household bills on time 

  • Pay at least the minimum payment on your credit card each month  

  • Don’t exceed your credit limit – in fact, it’s best to stay under 30% of your limit 

  • Close unused credit accounts 

  • Be on the electoral roll at your current address 

  • Check your credit report for mistakes 

  • Try to avoid taking out joint financial agreements with anyone with a poor credit score 

  • Try to avoid applying for a lot of credit in a short amount of time 

Ocean Credit Card

See if it's a YES before you apply

  • Up to £1,500 credit limit
  • Checking won't affect your credit score
  • Get a response in 60 seconds
Check now

39.9% APR
Representative (variable)

Intelligent Lending Ltd (credit broker). Capital One is the exclusive lender.

Credit Card Image

Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.

Emma Lunn, Personal Finance Writer

Emma Lunn

Personal Finance Writer

Emma has been writing about personal finance for 20 years. She's passionate about helping people make better money decisions so they have the time and money to focus on the things they love. For her, that's racket sports, hiking, and travel.