How to get your credit report, score

By Emma Lunn

When you apply for a loan, the bank or lender will use your credit reports to make its decision. So it's best to know what's in your reports before the lender checks -- and correct any mistakes before they cost you a car loan or mortgage.

With multiple credit reference agencies, and various credit rating products and reports, getting the information you need may seem daunting. Here's a guide.

Get your statutory credit report
The best place to start is your statutory credit report, which provides a summary of your credit history.

By law, all three credit agencies -- Experian, Equifax and Callcredit -- are obligated to give you a copy of your statutory credit report. You can request your report from each agency as often as you want, and the maximum an agency can charge you is £2 per request.

You can apply for your statutory credit report either online or by post. Here are the specific instructions for each of the agencies:

Experian

Equifax

Callcredit

When completing your application form, you will need to supply all your previous addresses from the past six years as well as information about anyone with whom you share credit -- a spouse, for example. credit-report-score

What's on your credit report? According to the Money Advice Service, your statutory reports will typically contain:

  • Your name and date of birth.
  • Current and previous addresses.
  • A list of your credit accounts (cards and loans), when they were opened and their credit limits.
  • Late payments and when you made them.
  • Those with whom you share joint credit.
  • Information that's in the public record, such as County Court Judgments, repossessions and bankruptcies.
  • Old accounts that you already closed. These will remain on your report for up to six years.
  • Any alerts placed on your account to show lenders that you've been a victim of identity fraud.

Your statutory reports are important because they can alert you to any errors, such as accounts you never opened. If you see any, you can immediately begin the process of correcting those errors.

Since each of the three credit bureaus' versions of your credit report may differ (as different lenders report to different bureaus), it's important to pull all three. That's because you don't know which agency future lenders will use to check up on you.

Credit monitoring extras
Getting a copy of your statutory reports is a good place to start, and should be enough for most consumers to keep track of their credit. However, if you'd like more extensive tools, the credit agencies offer them in exchange for a fee:

Credit scores: All credit reference agencies offer a credit score. It's important not to get this confused with a credit report. A credit score is a numerical assessment of your credit risk by a credit reference company, based on its own criteria. Using its particular algorithm, it will assign you a number (your score) to provide lenders with a snapshot of your credit health.

Experian's credit scores range from 0 to 999. Equifax's scores range from 0 to 900. Callcredit scores, meanwhile, range from 0 to 1,500. In all three cases, the higher your numerical score, the better.

As some lenders may require you to have a certain score to qualify for their best interest rate or rewards credit card, having a low score could automatically disqualify you from the best terms. By paying to check your score, you can keep tabs on your credit so that you know exactly when to apply for a credit product.

Credit monitoring: Credit monitoring services inform you of any changes to your credit report in real time. If a new credit card account is opened in your name and registered to your address, you'll receive an alert. You can then check the details immediately and, if you've been a victim of identity theft or the report is incorrect in some other way, you can take action.

Even if the changes to your report are legitimate, credit monitoring can help you be more aware of how your actions will affect your credit.

"While a one-off report will furnish you with all of your credit report data, a credit-monitoring service will help you understand how lenders are likely to assess this information, which can be very useful if you're planning to apply for new credit," says Experian spokesman James Jones. "If your score is less than perfect you'll also receive tips on how you might be able to improve it. Additionally, for people concerned about identity fraud, the monitoring and alerts element of the service may provide some valuable peace of mind."

Here's a sampling of what you can expect to pay for credit monitoring from the credit agencies:

Experian:

Experian's CreditExpert service is free for 30 days. After that, it's £14.99 per month. The service includes unlimited, free access to your credit report and unlimited views of your credit score. It also includes identity theft monitoring and expert tips for improving your score.

Equifax:

Equifax offers a similar service called Credit Watch, which is also free for the first 30 days. It gives members unlimited access to their credit file and sends automatic alerts within 24 hours of key changes for £8.99 a month, says Neil Munroe, director of external affairs and communications at Equifax. Your credit score, meanwhile costs £14.99 per viewing.

Callcredit:

Callcredit's Noddle service doesn't charge consumers for accessing their credit reports and scores. It makes money from the service by selling consumers loans, credit cards and other products for which their credit ratings make them potentially eligible. Members get unlimited access online, and reports are updated each month.

See related: Half of consumers risk being swallowed by the credit gap, What you need to know about the new FICO-Equifax credit score

Published: 15 March 2013