All you need to know about credit scores and reports

Before taking out a loan, opening a credit card or applying for another type of finance, it's always good to check your credit score.

Middle-aged couple looking at laptop and paperwork

Whenever you apply for credit, a potential lender will look at your history of borrowing and repaying to determine how much of a risk you are – in other words, how likely they are to get their money back. The better your credit history, the easier you will find it to obtain credit and the better the rates available to you. Having a good credit score can help you secure a mortgage, car loan and other lines of credit.

Your credit history is stored by credit reference agencies. The biggest ones in the UK are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (formerly Callcredit).

Whenever you make an application for credit (e.g. a mortgage, credit card or personal loan), the lender will turn to these agencies to look at your score and history, which will play a major role in the success or failure of your application.

By looking at your credit report in conjunction with its own assessment of your circumstances, the lender will decide the following:

  • Whether to lend to you
  • How much to lend to you
  • How much interest to charge you

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

Your credit report or history is a detailed record of your borrowing history, with information such as the loans you have held and applied for. It also includes personal information such as your name and address.

Your credit score is a number that is calculated using the information on your credit report. Your score determines your credit rating which could be “very poor”, “poor”, “fair”, “good” or “excellent”.

When deciding whether to take you on as a customer, lenders will usually look at your more recent financial history to determine their decision. However, your financial decisions, both good and bad, will remain on record for up to six years.

What does a credit score look like?

There is no single, definitive credit score for an individual. Each Credit Reference Agency (CRA) uses a different scale. Lenders will normally check with one or more of these agencies when assessing your application for credit. These are the scoring ranges employed by the main UK CRAs (the higher the number, the better the score).
  • Experian: 0-999
  • Equifax: 0-700
  • TransUnion (formerly Callcredit): 0-710

Depending on your score, you’re said to have excellent, good, fair, poor or very poor credit:

Agency Score Rating
Experian 0-560
561-720
721-880
881-960
961-999
Very poor
Poor
Fair
Good
Excellent
Equifax 0-279
280-379
380-419
420-465
466-700
Very poor
Poor
Fair
Good
Excellent
TransUnion (formerly Callcredit) 0-550
561-565
566-603
604-627
628-710
1: Very poor
2: Poor
3: Fair
4: Good
5: Excellent

Having a decent credit score will make it easier to get approved for credit cards and is also likely to affect the credit limit and interest rate that you’re offered by lenders.

Credit report score and laptop slim article image 895

What is and isn’t included in your credit file:

There are many details listed on your credit history, which help lenders determine how high or low risk you are. However, you’ll be happy to know not every detail of your life is there for show.

Find out what lenders can and can’t see when studying your credit file.

Included

  • Name, address and date of birth.
  • Past credit applications.
  • Credit repayment history, including late or missed payments.
  • Your existing debt.
  • Your electoral register presence.
  • Any joint credit cards or loans.
  • If you’ve been declared bankrupt or have an IVA.
  • Any county court judgements (CCJs).
  • Current account turnover.

Not included

  • Student loans.
  • Medical history.
  • Council tax arrears.
  • Criminal record.
  • Parking or driving fines.
The beginner’s guide to credit cards

My credit score is low. How can I improve it?

It will take time to improve your credit history and won’t change overnight. Start by looking at your credit report to see if there are any errors. If there are, you can contact the credit reference agency to set the record straight.

Make regular, on-time payments to your existing debt (e.g. loans and credit cards) and try not to make numerous applications for credit (successful or not) within a short space of time.

If you’re not on the electoral roll, visit your local authority’s website to get added.

If you have no credit history at all, or want to rebuild a poor one, consider getting a credit builder card.

Read about how different factors can affect your score

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