Your credit score is an important measure of your financial health.
This three-digit number gives lenders a glance at your financial history, and can be the key to unlocking competitive financing for things like home loans and credit cards, said MoneySuperMarket.
But a YouGov survey commissioned by credit report provider Equifax found that more than half of all Britons have never checked their credit score.
Here is why your score matters, how you can find it out for free, and how to improve it.
What is a credit score?
Your credit score is a measure of how well you have managed debt and other financial accounts such as loans and credit cards, MoneySuperMarket explained. Things like missing payments, maxing out credit cards, and applying for credit too often “can negatively affect your score”, Experian said.
When you apply for a loan or a credit card, the prospective lender will want to know how well you have managed your finances in the past, and “how reliable you are when it comes to repaying money”, the consumer credit reporting company explained. The higher your credit score, “the better your chances of being accepted for credit, and at the best rates”.
Bad credit and a low score “can affect more than just your finances”, MoneySuperMarket said. They can increase insurance premiums and cause problems when you try to rent a property, or set up a new phone or utility contract. Some employers even require credit checks during job applications.
So people who have not checked their score “are not putting themselves in the best position when it comes to applying for credit”, said Lisa Hardstaff, credit information expert at Equifax.
It is “sensible” to check your credit score occasionally for any mistakes, said The Times. You should check the information held with all of these agencies, added National Debtline, as the details held by each may differ.
How do I check my credit score?
Experian, TransUnion and Equifax are the three main credit reference agencies.
They “can see into our financial souls”, said the Financial Times. They hold records of your finances on a credit report, which details information including your current and former bank accounts, car finance, mobile phone contracts, credit cards and loans, any late payments, county court judgments (CCJ) and bankruptcies.
Bad marks such as a default, CCJ, or bankruptcy will stay on your record for six years.
Everyone has a legal right to request a statutory report on data that credit reference agencies hold on them, but this won’t include your score.
Equifax will let users check their credit score and report for free for 30 days before a monthly £7.95 charge kicks in, unless you cancel.
Experian has a free online service to check your score but you will need to take a 30-day trial to view your actual report and there is a £14.99 monthly charge afterwards.
TransUnion has its own free Credit Karma service that lets you access your report and score for free by registering with your email. It will also update you when your score changes so you can check for any errors.
Alternatively, ClearScore uses Equifax’s data to provide your score and report for free and MoneySavingExpert’s Credit Club uses Experian to do the same.
You can check all three reports and scores in one place by using Checkmyfile.com. It has a 30-day free trial followed by a monthly charge of £14.99. You have to enter a number of personal details including name, age, address and debit card details to confirm your identity, but the site won’t take any money if you cancel before the first 30 days are over.
You also need to answer a few questions about any credit cards, loans and mortgages you have held. The service should then give you an overall score out of 1,000, as well as details of your payment history.
If any information on your credit reference file is incorrect, the National Debtline charity said, “you have a right to ask the agency to remove or correct the information”.
How can I improve my score?
It is important to pay bills and loans on time, every time, to maintain a high score. Setting up direct debits is one of the easiest ways to ensure payments are not missed.
But the FT also warns that “even the wealthiest Britons are at risk of ‘credit invisibility’”. Good savings and income do not register as they do not predict repayment behaviour.
“Not having products like credit cards is also something that will limit future lending decisions – which could come as a shock to those who are careful with money,” the newspaper adds.
Other tips include having a bank account registered to your address and bills in your name.
Make sure you are on the electoral register as it is used by lenders to verify your identity, said CompareTheMarket, otherwise they “might refuse your application for credit”.
Avoid making lots of requests in a short period of time, said The Sun, as “this can be seen as a sign of financial distress – and each application will be recorded on your file”.
Use a “soft-search” eligibility calculator on a comparison website or if offered by a provider, which doesn’t show on your credit report, to show how likely you are to be accepted.
Financial associations, such as a joint bank account, with someone who is bad with money could also harm your own score and borrowing prospects. “Breaking these financial links with someone who has a poor score can be difficult,” said Money Helper, “but could boost your credit score within a month.”