When Which? asked 81 people to check their credit records, a third of them found inaccuracies. So keeping an eye on your credit score is a good idea! But how should you do it? In 2017 there are a bewildering eleven different ways to check your credit records.
Most people don’t need to pay anything to look at their records in detail, but tens of thousands of people are paying for expensive subscription services when they could get the information they need for free.
There are three main Credit Reference Agencies – Experian, Equifax and Call Credit – and they do not all have the same information. Which you should check and how depends on why you want to check your credit rating.
The top three credit checkers – all free and no need to cancel later :)
For 95% of people, there is a simple answer to the question. You should use one of the following top three credit checkers or, even better, get all three as they are all free!
- MSE’s Credit Club for Experian details,
- Clear Score for Equifax details and
- Noddle for the Call Credit records.
If you want to know exactly what you will get and what all the other more complicated or expensive alternatives provide, the details are in the following table:
What exactly do all the credit checking alternatives give you?
|records but no score|
|Experian statutory report||no||EX||no||no||daily||£2 a report|
|Equifax statutory report||no||EQ||no||no||daily||£2 a report|
|Call Credit statutory report||no||CC||no||no||daily||£2 a report|
|score but no records|
|Experian Credit Matcher||EX||no||yes||yes||monthly||free|
|score & records|
|Experian Credit Expert||EX||EX||yes||yes||daily||£14.99/month|
|Equifax Credit Report||EQ||EQ||yes||no||daily||£14.99/month|
|My Credit Monitor||CC||CC||no||no||daily||£14.99/month|
|MSE's Credit Club||EX||EX||yes||yes||monthly||free|
|Check My File||all 3||EQ,CC||yes||yes||monthly||£9.99/month|
– all the services with a monthly fee let you have a free first month. But there is no good reason to sign up to these services anymore – you can get all the info you want, for free, every month from the other option.
– Noddle Improve is an add-on service costing £30 a year – to get it first sign up to the standard Noddle
– Check My File also covers Crediva, a fourth CRA. I think this is a curiosity and unimportant.
The important things to look for
Some people will care about one column in the above table but may be able to ignore another:
Score – EX = Experian; EQ = Equifax; CC = Call Credit. Not all debts show up on all agencies (see Is Experian or Equifax better? for more about this). Experian is the largest CRA that is used by the most lenders, so if you only want to check one, go for that.
Records – which CRAs can you see detailed credit records from? If your credit score is as expected you may not care about the details. But if you have a mortgage application coming up, you have been turned down for credit unexpectedly, or you are trying to clean up your credit records, you really need to see the details with all three CRAs to get the full picture.
Tips – some of the services have suggestions on how to improve your situation. My impression is that many of them are rather general, not directed at your exact situation.
Match – If you want to borrow more, look for one of the alternatives which matches your credit record against lenders’ criteria, showing which credit cards and loans you are most likely to get. These eligibility estimates are “soft” – they don’t leave a search mark on your credit file.
If you want to borrow money it’s really important you are accepted by the lender you apply to, but there isn’t a way I can check how accurate the percentages quoted are. An 80% chance of being accepted sounds good – but 1 in 5 people may end up disappointed. Also, you may be accepted but on worse terms (higher interest rate, lower credit limit) than you had hoped for.
MSE’s Credit Club takes the “eligibility” assessment one stage further because it asks you for information about your income. This should let it get closer to the “affordability” checks that lenders do.
Freq – some services let you see the up to date situation each time you use them (“daily”). Others take a snapshot every 30 days (“monthly”). This may sound important, but for most people it doesn’t matter much as credit ratings usually change fairly slowly. If you have closed an account or started making payments to a new one, it will take a few weeks to show up anyway.
So which should you use?
That depends on why you want to look. Here are some typical reasons, together with my suggestion for each situation.
A quick look at your credit score. I would sign up to Experian’s Credit Matcher. It’s a very simple sign up process and it’s free. If you think the result is lower than you expect, go into more detail.
You want to see the details of your credit records. Use the TOP THREE CREDIT CHECKERS.
You want to apply for a loan or credit card. I would go for MSE’s Credit Club. You have to give extra information about your income and dependents, but the extra “affordability” checks they are doing should make their match recommendations more accurate.
You are going to apply for a mortgage. I suggest you use all of the TOP THREE CREDIT CHECKERS. It’s best to check your all your credit records in detail, looking at everything from the credit details to who you are associated with. It’s good to do this at least six, preferably twelve months before you want to apply for a mortgage so there is time to sort out any errors you find. See How stranger’s £40 parking ticket cost family their new home and don’t think this can’t happen to you!
I am sceptical about mortgage eligibility recommendations from any of these services. Unless you have an excellent credit rating with all three CRAs, a good income for the amount you want to borrow and very little unsecured debt, you should be talking to a mortgage broker, not taking a punt on a suggestion from one of these services.
You need to investigate something unexpected, look at the default dates or clean up your credit records after insolvency. I suggest you use all of the TOP THREE CREDIT CHECKERS. These free services are not updated in real time, so if you want to check mid month if something has changed, you could pay £2 for a statutory record.
You have been declined for credit and you can’t see why. Checking your credit records should be the first thing you do – use all of the TOP THREE CREDIT CHECKERS. If that doesn’t show you where the problem is, you may also want to see if your name is listed on a fraud database.
Updated in March 2017.