In September 2016 Experian’s Credit Matcher service and MoneySavingExpert’s Credit Club became the latest ways to check your credit score in Britain. There are now a bewildering eleven alternatives to choose from:
- most only look at one Credit Reference Agency (CRA). There are three main CRAs – Experian, Equifax and Call Credit – and they do not all have the same information;
- one looks at more than one CRA, but doesn’t give the same level of detail for each;
- most give a credit score, some give the detailed credit records;
- some give you helpful tips and suggest credit cards and loans you may be eligible for;
- can you look at the latest information or is it just updated every 30 days? and
- the prices vary from free to expensive!
Which you should choose depends on why you want to check your credit rating. But first the facts:
An overview of the credit checking alternatives
|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||yes||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. If you sign up planning to cancel, make sure you don’t forget…
– MSE’s Credit Club initially didn’t include detailed Experian credit records but it now does!
– 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 coves Crediva, a fourth CRA. I think this is a curiosity and unimportant.
If I have missed one out or got something wrong, please leave a comment below this article.
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. Each CRA calculates its own score for you. These may not be the same as not all debts show up on all agencies (see Is Experian or Equifax better? for more about this). Experian is the CRA that is used by the most lenders.
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 some of them are rather general, not directed at your exact situation.
If you have used one, do you think its suggestions were helpful?
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 as with any credit application, you may be accepted 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.
Were you told you had a high probability of being accepted but you were then rejected?
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.
So which should you use?
I’ve tried to look at some common cases and give a suggestion as to what to use. In some cases several alternatives may work equally well, but I’ve gone with the one that feels the best to me.
You just want a quick look at your credit score. I would sign up to Experian’s Credit Matcher. It’s a simple sign up process and it’s free. (Of course if you think the result is lower than you expect, you need to look in more detail, and also check the other CRAs.)
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. It shows your Experian credit record details, but if you find a problem you may want to check what the Equifax and Call Credit are showing as well.
You are going to apply for a mortgage. 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.
I suggest you use MSE’s Credit Club for Experian details, Clear Score for Equifax details and Noddle for the Call Credit records. 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 first get MSE’s Credit Club for Experian details, Clear Score for Equifax details and Noddle for the Call Credit records. The only problem with these free services is that they are onl;y updated once a month, so if you want to check mid month if something has happened, you could pay £2 for a statutory record. You need your detailed records from all three CRAs to get the full picture.
Updated in February 2017 now that MSE’s Credit Club shows details records.