Keeping an eye on your credit reports is a good idea, but how should you do it?
In 2019 there are more than sixteen different ways to check your credit record!
The myth of a single credit score
You don’t have “one credit score” or “one credit record”. You have three different ones.
This is because there are three main Credit Reference Agencies (CRAs) in Britain:
- Equifax; and
- TransUnion (used to be called Callcredit).
Each CRA has a record of your data which has been sent to them by the lender. Some lenders report to all three, but most lenders only report to one or two CRAs. In 2016, about 50% of lenders only report to one CRA, for example, many payday lenders only report to TransUnion.
So a report on your Experian file can look very different from a report on your Equifax file. None of them are “better”, they are just reporting on information from different lenders.
Top Three credit reports – all free!
Tens of thousands of people are paying for expensive subscription services when they could get all the information they need for free.
Everyone should use one of the following top three credit record checkers or, even better, all three:
- MSE’s Credit Club for Experian details,
- Clear Score for Equifax details and
- Credit Karma for TransUnion (Callcredit) records – this replaces the old Noddle report
They are all free, no sneaky free first month then a high charge if you forget to cancel.
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 do all the different reports give you?
|my three TOP PICKS|
|MSE's Credit Club||EX||EX||yes||yes||monthly||free|
|records but no score|
|Experian statutory report||no||EX||no||no||daily||free|
|Equifax statutory report||no||EQ||no||no||daily||free|
|TransUnion(Call Credit) statutory report||no||TU||no||no||daily||free|
|score but no records|
|Free Experian account||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||£7.95/month|
|My Credit Monitor||TU||TU||?||?||?||£14.99/month|
|Credit Reports Matter||TU||TU||?||no||monthly||£19.95/month|
|UK Credit Ratings||TU||TU||no||no||daily||£19.95/month|
|Check My File||EX,EQ,TU||EX,EQ,TU||yes||yes||monthly||£14.99/month|
In that table:
EX = Experian; EQ = Equifax; TU = TransUnion/Callcredit.
Tips – often rather vague suggestions about how you could improve your credit score
Match – suggests what other loans or credit cards you may be approved for
Freq – is how often you can see a new report. Some services let you see the up to date situation each time you use them (“daily”). Others take a snapshot every 30 days (“monthly”).
? means that the company was unable or unwilling to answer my questions!
Don’t choose a report you have to pay for!
There is no good reason to sign up for the services that charge you anymore – you can get all the info you want, for free, every month from the other options.
Pay for real-time information?
This may sound nice but it isn’t worth paying for.
Credit ratings usually change fairly slowly. If you have closed an account, or started making payments to a new one, it takes a few weeks for the lender to update the records.
And if you have just got a new credit card and you are hoping your credit score will improve, come back in 4-6 months!
Help with disputes?
A lot of the fee-charging services make a big thing about their customer service helping you with disputes about your credit record.
So far as I can tell, this is just marketing guff – all they do is send your complaint to the CRA, But the CRAs don’t investigate anything, they just forward the complaint to the lender. And then typically the lender tells the CRA it’s accurate and nothing happens.
If you have a problem with your credit record, cut out the middlemen and send the creditor a complaint directly. Then you can go to the Financial Ombudsman if the creditor refuses to correct the record.
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.
See the details of your credit records
If you want to know the details of when defaults will disappear or clean up your credit record after bankruptcy or other forms of debt management, use all the TOP THREE credit reports. If you only use one you may miss something important.
Apply for a loan or credit card
Go for MSE’s Credit Club. You have to give extra information about your income and dependents, but the extra “affordability” checks and being based on Experian data, which is used by more lenders, should make their recommendations more accurate.
Going to apply for a mortgage
Use all the TOP THREE credit reports. 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 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 little or no debt, you should be talking to a mortgage broker, not take a punt on a suggestion from one of these services.
Surprised to be declined for credit?
Checking your credit records should be the first thing you do – use all of the TOP THREE credit reports. If that doesn’t show what the problem is, you need to see if your name is in a fraud database.
Send report to the Ombudsman for an affordability complaint
If you are asking for a refund for a payday loan or making some other sort of affordability complaint you need to send the Financial Ombudsman a copy of a credit record.
It’s best to send a TransUnion Statutory report. Most payday lenders only report to TransUnion. So this is the report that is most likely to show most of your credit history, better than sending FOS an Experian or ClearScore report. And the free Credit Karma report is difficult to download.
Why I haven’t included some reports…
I haven’t included various reports including Credit Hub, Credit Perfect, Credit Angel, Social Credit, Social-score, Scope People or Your Social Presence. There are reports that people are signed up automatically to free trials from some of these when they try to get a payday loan. The trial then expires and people find the money debited from their bank account. If this happens to you, try to get the money back from your bank, complain to the firm and if you can’t contact the firm, complain to the payday lender or broker.
Apart from the dodgy sign-up methods, they all charge a lot and I think you would be better to ditch them and use the very good free options.
If you know a report that’s not on my list, please mention it in a comment below!
Updated in July 2019