Keeping an eye on your credit record is a good idea, but how should you do it?
There are more than 18 different ways to check your credit record! Which is confusing.
And in late 2023, things have become more difficult as MSE’s Credit Club is switching from reporting Experian data to using TransUnion data.
So what are your options now – and importantly what are the best free ways?
IMPORTANT – you do not have a single credit score
The three Credit Reference Agencies
It is a myth that everyone has a single credit score or that there is a central database with all your credit records on it.
You have three different ones. This is because there are three main Credit Reference Agencies (CRAs) in Britain:
- Equifax; and
Each CRA has a record of your data which has been sent to them by the lender. The biggest lenders like the banks report to all three, but many small lenders and utilities only report to one or two CRAs. And there may be errors on some data that only show on one CRA.
So your score can vary widely across the three CRAs as they have different data. So a report on your Experian file can look very different from a report on your Equifax file.
“I just want to check the best”
None of them are “better” or “more accurate”. They are just reporting on information from different lenders and have different errors. Ignore marketing hyp from CRAs or credit reports saying they are “the most trusted”.
If you want the full picture, you have to check all three CRAs.
If you don’t want to check all three every month – fine. Just use any of the free reports that you fancy. If you cant see some of your debts on there try another one – you want a report that shows all the debts you know about.
But do remember to check them all if you plan on applying for a mortgage in the next year. Or if you have been rejected for credit and you are surprised as you thought your credit score is good.
Checking your credit score and details for free
Tens of thousands of people are paying for expensive subscription reports when they can get the information they need without a monthly subscription.
Here are my suggested ways to get good, free credit score reporting “for free”.
These reports are paid for by lenders who pay to be included in the “exclusive offers”, “you are eligible for” or “you could be eligible for” recommendations. This is just advertising, it’s not a recommendation of the cheapest credit you can get.
Use Clear Score
(other alternatives if you prefer the report are CredAbility and Finder.)
This is less straightforward (unless you are happy to pay a monthly subscription).
Here there are several options.
You can sign up for a free trial of Check My File or Experian’s Credit Expert and cancel it within 30 days. You can’t keep using this option.
You can get a copy of Experian’s Statutory Credit Report, see below. This is free and has all your data but no credit score. If you want to check a detail – has that default dropped off your record? – this works fine. But it’s an unfriendly report to check each month because with no headline credit score you can’t see at a glance if nothing has changed.
You can subscribe to Experian’s free account which gives your score monthly but no details of the debts. You may find this enough almost all of the time if the score is roughly what you expect. And if there is a drop that is worrying and unexpected (not just 10 or 20 points) you could then look into the details by getting Experian’s Statutory Credit Report or a free trial.
Use Credit Karma
(other alternatives if you prefer the report are MSE’s Credit Club and Totally Money.)
And each CRA offers a Statutory Credit Report
In the last few years I have seen people struggle with credit reports which look nice but which are often complicated and hard to find out details from.
Every CRA has to provide a statutory credit report that they are not allowed to charge for. These aren’t pretty but they are simple and clear. That’s very often better.
They are also real-time – you see the latest info the CRA has with no delay. And they are easy to download which many free reports aren’t. This makes them perfect if you want to keep a record or if you want to send a report to the Financial Ombudsman if you are making an affordability complaint.
The downside is the statutory credit reports do not have your credit score on them. This makes them a pain if all you want to do is see in one month if anything much has changed since the previous month.
The long list of credit reports and what they cover
|Statutory reports – no score|
|Equifax statutory report||free||Equifax|
|Experian statutory report||free||Experian|
|TransUnion statutory report||free||TransUnion|
|Only score – no details|
|Free Experian account||free||Experian|
|Free score & records|
|MSE's Credit Club||free||TransUnion*|
|Reports you have to pay for|
|Check My File||£14.99||All 3 CRAs|
|Experian Credit Expert||£14.99||Experian|
|Equifax Credit Report||£7.95||Equifax|
|Credit Reports Matter||£19.95||TransUnion|
|UK Credit Ratings||£24.95||TransUnion|
|Student Credit Checker||£24.95||TransUnion|
|Credit Score Pro||£24.95||TransUnion|
Cost – the monthly charge after any free period which varies between 10 and 30 days. Many of these sites make a lot of money from people forgetting to cancel
* in November 2023 MSE Credit Club is still reporting on Experian data. This will soon change to TransUnion data.
I haven’t included some reports that aren’t being marketed anymore.
If you know a report that’s not on this list, please mention it in a comment below!
What about the extras?
Are real-time information or alerts 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.
If you have just got a credit builder card or your bankruptcy has just ended and you are hoping your credit score will improve, come back in a few months!
Real-time information may sound nice but I don’t think it’s worth paying for. If you want to check something mid-month, you can always look at the free statutory credit report.
“We give you tips to improve your credit score”
Most of these are much the same on all reports. Pay your bills and debts on time. Use less of your credit card limit so your utilisation improves. Take out this horribly expensive credit card and if you are lucky your score will go up (they don’t quite use those words). Get yourself on the electoral roll.
If any of the reports are much better than the others, I haven’t noticed it.
“We help you resolve problems”
A lot of the reports make a big thing about helping you with disputes about your credit record. This is just marketing puff.
All they do is send your complaint to the CRA. Then the CRA sends your complaint to the creditor, who then usually tells the CRA it’s accurate and nothing happens.
So you have wasted time by going this route and got nowhere.
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.
(There is one exception. If the creditor has gone bust and will no longer reply to your complaint, read Suppress a credit record that tells you what to do. But don’t try this with creditors who are still going! And the credit reports won’t help you with this.)
Smaller Credit Reference Agencies
I don’t think any of these are big enough to matter.
Updated in November 2023