Frequently asked questions on credit reports and ratings

Get the answers to FAQs on credit reports and ratings, then choose from services offered by UK credit bureaus and agencies.

What’s a credit report?

A credit report – also known as a credit file – is a record of your financial behaviour compiled by one of the three credit reference bureaus - Equifax, Experian and Callcredit - and used by various third-party agencies.

Lenders generally check a credit file with one or more of these bureaus and agencies every time you apply for a credit card, loan, mortgage or other financial product, to help them decide whether to offer you a contract that involves credit.

You can also check a credit report yourself by paying a one-off or monthly fee to an agency or bureau. Read more in our beginners’ guide to credit reports.

What’s the difference between a credit report and credit score?

A credit report simply contains factual information about your financial history – it isn’t rated or scored, although some report providers will also give you a score.Credit reports

There’s actually no such thing as a universal credit 'score' – every time you apply for credit a lender will score you according to its own criteria, so you might be turned down for credit with one lender but be successful with another.

Why should I check a credit report?

Checking a credit report can help to track down any problem related to your financial history, giving you a realistic idea of products you may be accepted for. It might also help explain any failed applications and show you things you can correct and/or improve.

Are all credit report agencies the same?

No, all offer different services, prices and standards of customer support. It's generally felt that the three self-powered bureaus are likely to offer more reliable and up-to-date information than third-party agencies.

Your credit report only shows what credit you’ve applied for – it doesn’t say whether or not your application was successful.

What’s included on a credit report?

Every time you make an application for credit, information will be recorded on your credit file. This builds up a profile of your financial activity which will include:

  • Your name and address
  • What you currently owe to lenders
  • Any late/missed payments on credit cards and loans
  • Whether you’re on the electoral roll at your current address
  • Joint financial products and linked accounts, for instance a mortgage between partners
  • County court judgements (CCJs), repossessions, bankruptcy and individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs)

What isn’t included on a credit report?

There are many rumours about what’s included in your credit report. None of the following will be on your file:Credit cards and calculator

  • Savings accounts
  • Balance of your current account
  • Council tax arrears
  • Student loans
  • Parking and driving fines
  • Criminal record
  • Medical history
  • Race
  • Number of children

However, when making a decision on whether to lend, a lender might ask questions about some of the above on their application form.

Does a credit report show I’ve been turned down for credit?

Your credit report will only show what credit products you’ve applied for – it doesn’t say whether or not your application was successful.

However, it does then show what credit products you’re currently using, so if you have a string of applications which are not followed by a live credit account, lenders will probably assume you've been rejected for credit.

How long does information stay on a credit report?

Different types of information stays on your credit report for different lengths of time. For instance, credit application searches will stay on your file for a year. As a guideline, the maximum length of time any negative information should stay on your account is six years.

Did you know...?

  • There's no such thing as a credit blacklist and there are things you can do to improve your credit score

Can I correct errors on my credit file?

Yes. Credit report agencies are legally required to review any issues you raise.

How can I build a credit history?

Anything that shows you can handle a credit account can help you to build a credit history.

This could be a credit card or loan, or even something as simple as a mobile phone contract.

Has my address been blacklisted for credit?

No. Credit records are attached to people, not addresses, and there’s no such thing as a credit blacklist. Update the electoral register with your new address as soon as possible to keep your credit file up to date.

What damages a credit score?

Typical things to consider include:

  • Late payments on any credit deal
  • Not being on the electoral roll (you can register online)
  • Frequent changes of address
  • Too many credit applications in a short period of timeHow to improve a credit score

How can I improve a credit score?

Ways to improve a credit score include:

  • Contacting credit report agencies to correct and/or explain problems listed on your file
  • Having a good credit history that shows you can meet repayments
  • Being on the electoral roll
  • Long periods at the same address
  • Not maxing out credit facilities such as credit cards
  • Closing old accounts that you no longer use
  • Closing joint accounts with bad credit records in them

What's a soft search?

A soft search - also known as a 'smart search' - lets you check what credit deals you’re most eligible for without affecting your credit score.

Does my existing borrowing affect a credit score?

There are no hard and fast rules as each lender has its own criteria, but you can learn more about things like balance-to-limit ratios and debt-to-income ratios in our guide to how existing borrowing affects your credit score.

Is ID theft protection worth it?

There's a lot of misunderstanding regarding what this service does and doesn't cover and it may not be as important as you think, so before placing any value on it read our guide to ID theft protection.

Can I see my credit history for free?

There are certain free credit report services and free trials available.

There have also been calls for free access to credit reports, something that is available in other countries such as the USA and Germany.

Read more in our article 'Should it be free to access your credit history?'

Any more questions?

See if you can find the answers in our credit report and rating guides.

By Derri Dunn