While you may be considering checking your credit report before you apply for credit, knowing the best way to view both your credit score and report can be difficult. In this article, we show you how to check your credit score for free and highlight the credit reference agencies that create credit reports and come up with individual credit scores.
What is a credit score?
Everyone in the UK has credit reports that contain information about their credit history and past financial behaviour. These reports are put together by credit reference agencies, which collate information from lenders and official sources, such as the electoral roll, to build a picture of individuals’ creditworthiness. They then use a calculation based on this data to come up with an overall credit score, which is represented as a number.
The three main credit reference agencies are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Each of them is likely to hold slightly different information about you and has their own metrics for coming up with a credit score. You don’t, therefore, have just one credit score or report, but rather three separate versions. This is made more complicated by the fact that they each have a different scale for their credit scoring, with Experian giving a score from 0-999, Equifax from 0-1000 and TransUnion from 0-710. This makes it difficult to draw comparisons across all three. In addition, when you apply for credit a lender will use the information on your credit reports to perform their own credit scoring before deciding whether to lend to you.
How do credit scores work?
How is my credit score calculated?
Each of the credit reference agencies will collate information on your financial history from the past 6 years. They take this information, which generally comes from lenders you have previously had credit agreements with and official sources, such as court records or the electoral roll, and use their own calculations to come up with a credit score. Positive actions, such as making payments on time and staying within your credit limit, will be awarded with points being added, while negative infringements will lead to points being deducted. This means your credit score with each agency will be different and, importantly, isn't static. New entries on your credit report - for example, applying for a new credit card - will impact your credit score.
What does a credit score affect?
Your credit scores across all three credit reference agencies are vitally important as they will impact how likely you are to be accepted for all kinds of financial products, from credit cards and bank accounts to mobile phone contracts. Having a good credit score opens up more favourable terms and conditions, including lower interest rates and more flexible credit limits. A bad score, meanwhile, may mean you can only get credit from a specialist lender.
Who looks at your credit score?
Lenders view the score, the associated credit rating and the underlying credit report from one or more of the credit reference agencies when assessing your application. They use this information, along with other in-house checks, to assess how risky it would be to lend money to you or extend a line of credit. In effect, they perform their own credit scoring. If the information on the credit report is inaccurate or out of date, you may have an impaired credit rating and are more likely to be turned down. By regularly checking your reports with Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, you can avoid this happening.
How can I check my credit score and report for free?
It is a legal requirement that all of the credit reference agencies produce a statutory credit report that can be accessed for free. However, this tends to be a stripped back version of your full report, without a huge amount of detail included. A better option is to navigate the other available options to check your credit report for free with Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
How to check your Experian credit report for free
Experian is the most-used credit reference agency in the UK. There are a number of paid-for options for checking both your credit report and score, including a £14.99 monthly subscription, which gives you full access to all of Experian's services, as well as an option to take out a service that helps protect you from fraud - Identity Plus - for £6.99 per month. Both of these are available to access for free during a 30-day trial, after which point payment is taken by direct debit, although you can cancel at any time and before any money is taken once you've checked your credit report.
If you just want to check your Experian credit score, this is always available for free. Additionally, Experian Boost, which serves to potentially improve users' Experian credit score by taking into account payment of subscription services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, as well as council tax, is also a free service.
If you're looking to view your full Experian report for free, you can access it through the MSE Credit Club. This is a good way of keeping on top of your Experian report without having to commit to the relatively high monthly charge that is levied for going direct to Experian itself.
How to check your Equifax credit report for free
Equifax charges £7.95 per month to view the Equifax credit score and rating, as well as access to its Equifax WebDetect identity theft and fraud protection service. As with Experian, this payment is taken on a monthly basis by direct debit. Customers are able to cancel the subscription at any time once they've checked their credit report.
It is possible, however, to check your Equifax credit score and report for free through ClearScore*, which has committed to never charging a fee. It gives users unlimited access to their Equifax report, as well as ClearScore Protect, which works to protect users from identity theft. Instead of charging a fee, ClearScore is remunerated by marketing credit cards and loans that match customers' credit rating from a panel of lenders, earning commission on sales.
How to check your TransUnion credit report for free
TransUnion, previously known as Callcredit, produces credit scores and reports, which can be viewed for free through credit brokers Credit Karma* and TotallyMoney. Both companies make money through marketing credit products rather than charging an upfront fee. Unlike Experian and Equifax, there isn't a paid-for subscription service direct from TransUnion.
Should I check all three credit reports?
The other way to check your TransUnion score is through checkmyfile, which gives you access to your credit score and report with all three of the main credit reference agencies, as well as Crediva. However, while it is handy having everything in one place, this service does cost £14.99 per month, although there is a 30-day free trial.
How to improve your credit score
Once you have checked your credit score with one or more of the agencies, you may be looking for ways to improve it to increase your chances of being approved for a loan or other credit product. There are simple steps you can take, including making sure you are on the electoral roll and ensuring that all of the information on your credit reports is correct and not out of date. More suggestions can be found in our article "How to improve your credit score quickly".
In addition to this, you may wish to consider using Experian Boost, which uses open banking to look at your spending habits on things like subscription services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, as well as paying council tax and putting money into savings or investments, to potentially give an instant lift to your Experian credit score. Meanwhile, if your credit score is very low, you may wish to use LOQBOX *, which works to improve your credit score across all of the agencies over a period of time by demonstrating your ability to pay back money on time.
If a link has an * beside it this means that it is an affiliated link. If you go via the link Money to the Masses may receive a small fee which helps keep Money to the Masses free to use. But as you can clearly see this has in no way influenced this independent and balanced review of the product. The following link can be used if you do not wish to help Money to the Masses or take advantage of any exclusive offers - ClearScore, LOQBOX, Credit Karma