Keeping an eye on your credit reports is a good idea, but how should you do it?
In 2021 there are more than seventeen 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. 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.
Statutory Credit Reports – why simple is often best!
I have changed my mind on these. I used to recommend the “top three” reports listed below.
But in 2020 and 2021 I have seen people increasingly struggle with these reports and now I think that the statutory credit reports are very often better.
- real-time – you always see the latest information;
- clear – many of the other reports look fancy with colours and charts, but if you want to see what the default date is, or see all your accounts, closed as well as open, the statutory reports are simple and straightforward;
- easy to download – so they are easy to keep and easy to send on to someone else, eg the ombudsman if you have a complaint.
The downside they do not have your credit score on them.
The top 3 credit reports if you want your credit score – all free!
Tens of thousands of people are paying for expensive subscription services when they could get all the information they need for free.
If you want your credit score, use one of the following top three credit record checkers or, even better, all three to get the full picture:
- MSE’s Credit Club for Experian details,
- Clear Score for Equifax details and
- Credit Karma for TransUnion details.
They are all free, no sneaky first month free then a high charge if you forget to cancel. They are paid for by lenders paying to be included in the “you are eligible for” or “you could be eligible for” recommendations. This is just advertising, it’s not the cheapest credit you can get.
What do all the different reports give you?
|Simple clear reports ( no score)|
|Experian statutory report||no||EX||no||no||daily||free|
|Equifax statutory report||no||EQ||no||no||daily||free|
|TransUnion 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|
|MSE's Credit Club||EX||EX||yes||yes||monthly||free|
|Equifax Credit Report||EQ||EQ||yes||no||daily||£7.95/month|
|My Credit Monitor||TU||TU||?||?||?||not on website!|
|Credit Reports Matter||TU||TU||?||no||monthly||£19.95/month|
|UK Credit Ratings||TU||TU||yes||no||daily||£35.95/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 – rather vague suggestions about how you may be able to 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!
Never pay for a report!
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. So don’t waste your money.
Real-time information may sound nice but it isn’t worth paying for:
- the statutory credit reports are all real-time and all free;
- 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.
- if you have just got a credit builder card and you are hoping your credit score will improve, come back in 4-6 months!
A lot of the fee-charging services make a big thing about helping you with disputes about your credit record.
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, who then tells the CRA it’s accurate and nothing happens. So you have wasted a month or two by going this route.
If you have a problem with your credit record, you need to complain to the creditor directly. Then you can go to the Financial Ombudsman if the creditor refuses to correct the record.
Information through your banking app
In addition to these stand alone reports, some banking apps are providing credit record information.
These are obviously free and don’t need you to sign up for anything – good!
The main thing to be careful of is that they only report on one credit reference agency. For example Halifax and NatWest use TransUnion. That’s OK for a quick look each month, but if you are planning on getting a mortgage, then you need to check all three credit reference agencies.
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 the 3 statutory credit reports. These are free, clear and always up to date. 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.
But remember that the loans or cards you are offered may not be the cheapest you can get.
These are the lenders that are paying to be included in your report… this isn’t a review of all lenders to see which is cheapest for you, it’s just advertising!
Going to apply for a mortgage
Use the 3 statutory 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.
Pay no attention to the mortgage eligibility recommendations on these reports. Talk to a mortgage broker, you may be able to get a much better 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 the 3 statutory credit reports. If they don’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 April 2021