How to obtain, read, and improve your credit report
Your credit report is held by three main Credit Reference Agencies in the UK.
All financial institutions have an agreement whereby they feed information back to these three Credit Reference Agencies about your history of applying for credit, and paying for credit. From this information other lenders can decide what level of risk you present when you apply for credit with them.
What does my credit report contain?
Your credit report contains a number of items, the main ones being:
- Electoral roll information
- Aliases – other names you may have used
- Associations – people you have a financial link with
- Court Judgements
- Voluntary arrangements
- Credit account information
- Repossession information
- Searches on your credit report
- Financial associates
- Linked addresses
- GAIN information
- CIFAS information
- Notices of correction
Lenders often use credit scoring to decide whether to consider you for credit. It is important to note that lender’s credit score is not the same as the credit score that you may see on your credit report. Each lender has their own way of scoring an applicant. To help your case, ensure your credit report is clean, accurate, and presented in the best way possible.
There is no such thing as a credit blacklist. All Credit Reference Agencies do is hold information about individuals taken from public records, lenders, or the individual themselves. If you are declined for credit by a financial institution that is a matter for them only and does not mean you are on a ‘blacklist’.
Credit searches and multiple applications for credit
Making several applications for credit over a short period of time may have an adverse effect on the response you get from lenders as these build up and shown on your credit report. When looking at alternate offerings you should ask for quotations rather than making applications. An application or assessment for credit will be entered on your credit file and this is known as a ‘footprint’. Some lenders offer credit scoring with what is known as a ‘soft footprint’. A soft footprint is visible only to the lender that places it on your credit file.
It is important to remember that your credit report can only be searched with your permission. You provide this permission when you apply for credit.
Credit Reference Agencies are regulated under the OFT Consumer Credit Act 1974 and 2006. They have a legal right to hold information about you. If you have a complaint about any Credit Reference Agency look on their website for information on their complaint handling procedures.
The electoral roll
Being on the electoral roll enables you to be registered to vote in elections. This is the easiest way for a lender to check your address history and confirm your name and address. Therefore being on the electoral roll assists your credit rating.
In order to register on the electoral roll you need to be a British, Commonwealth, or European Citizen over 18. The Electoral Roll is updated by your local authority every autumn although you can contact them at any time and ask for your record to be added or updated.
An association is a link you have with someone of a financial nature. Associations are not registered between business partners but are concerned with joint accounts and joint applications. If you are no longer linked to an associate you may contact the Credit Reference Agencies and have your credit report updated.
If you have a court judgment on your credit record, it indicates you have been taken to court as you have not made payment on money that you owe. Credit Reference Agencies obtain information on all people that have been taken to court for debt. If you believe a judgement has been wrongly recorded on your credit record you need to contact the court. Your credit record will show the case number of the relevant case.
If you pay any court judgement you can obtain a letter of satisfaction to prove it has been paid. A court judgement will remain on your credit record for six years even if you have paid it.
Bankruptcy information (known as Sequestrations in Scotland) is provided by the Insolvency Service to Credit Reference Agencies. At the end of your Bankruptcy order, or when you are discharged, Credit Reference Agencies are notified. If this does not happen you can obtain a copy of your discharge order from the Official Receiver and provide it to the reference agency. A Bankruptcy appears on your credit record for six years unless it is cancelled or annulled.
If you are the subject of a Bankruptcy Restriction Order, your Bankruptcy can stay on your file throughout that restriction order.
If you are the subject of a formal voluntary arrangement from the court to pay off your debts, this information will be notified to the Credit Reference Agencies who will keep it on your credit record for up to six years.
Main information on your credit account
All Lenders in the UK share information via Credit Reference Agencies. Your credit record shows details of every credit account you hold or have held in the past six years with information as to how much is outstanding, what the payment rate is set at, and your history of payments.
Credit Report Status Codes
Your Credit Reference Agency will typically use a status code to indicate what has happened with each account. If, for example, you have a credit card, your credit file will show payments over the last 36 months with a focus on the past 12 months payments. Payments monthly will be shown with a status code which shows if the payment has been made on time. A status code of ‘0’ under each month shows all payments have been made on time.
A status code of ‘1’ shows that a payment was one month late. If payment is not made the following month the status code is shown as 2.
Late payment status codes run up to 6 when they then revert to status 8.
Status 8 on an account shows it to be in default.
A default means you did not keep to your credit agreement and you have not responded to requests to bring your account up to date. A status 8 against one of your accounts on your credit report will make it difficult for you to arrange a mortgage with mainstream lenders.
Status ‘D’ indicates that an account is dormant and nothing is owed.
Status U means the lender cannot provide information on the account as it is newly set up or subject to dispute.
Status ‘?’ means the lender cannot provide information at this time.
A default will stay on your credit report for six years after it has been registered.
We often have clients who believe that paying off a defaulted account removes the default from the report. This is not the case and those with a default on their credit report need to make their mortgage broker aware of this at outset when applying for a mortgage as it will cause problems.
Notes on your account
You may see a variety of notes added to your account. Here are some of the common ones and what they mean.
- Gone away – the lender has record you no longer live at the address provided and there is no record of a new address
- Deceased – the lender has record that the account holder as died
- Voluntary termination – lender reports that an account has been closed – this relates to hire purchase, typically cars
- Debt assigned – your debt has been sold by the lender to another organisation
- Recourse – the account has been returned to the retailer that introduced you to the credit agreement
- Arrangement – you have an agreement with your lender to vary your payments for a time
- Account query – you are questioning the accuracy of information on the account
- Joint account – the account is held jointly with another borrower
- Debt management programme – you are in a debt management programme with an organisation such as The National Debtline or Consumer Credit Counselling Service
- Credit protection insurance claim – you have made a claim against your credit protection insurance
- Partial settlement – the debt was included in a voluntary arrangement or bankruptcy order, or the lender has accepted a smaller amount in settlement
- Debt sold to CAIS member – the lender has sold the debt to another lender and a new active account will show in the name of the new lender
We often find clients concerned that their credit file has been damaged by them sharing an address with someone who has a poor credit record. This should not be the situation unless there is a case of mistaken identity. Another person is listed as a financial associate only if you have applied for credit together. A financial associate is typically a former partner or spouse.
One of the most common problems we see if where a relationship has broken down and one partner leaves credit in the hands of another partner to be repaid but this has not happened. Where a credit agreement has your name on it, any failure to pay will reflect on your credit file regardless of any private agreement you may have with the other party.
A linked address is an address on which you have had a financial connection in the past, perhaps using it to apply for credit. When you apply for a mortgage, a lender may query a linked address if it comes up on a credit report.
CIFAS is the UK’s fraud prevention service, CIFAS was set up to prevent people having their names, addresses, or other details used by criminals to obtains goods, services, credit, or insurance. If there is a CIFAS note on your report this does not mean you are being accused of anything but it is a matter of concern for a lender as there may have been suspicious activity on your record.
Notice of correction
A notice of correction is a note of up to 200 words on your credit file to clarify information. Credit reference agencies will only add notices of correction on your credit file if you can evidence there is good reason to do so.
Our main tips for improving your credit file
- Get on the electoral roll
- Make all payments on time and in full – it helps if all payments are set to be taken at the beginning of the month, this gives you time to remedy matters in the calendar month if a payment is missed
- Make sure repayments are registered – If you have paid off any credit and this is not shown on your report, contact the lender and ask them to update the report. If you have paid a court judgement make sure it is shown as settled on your account.Make sure any settlement or amendment of a bankruptcy order is shown on your account
- Close accounts – Close down any accounts that you do not use
- Watch out- Keep an eye on your credit report – you can obtain a copy from any of the main agencies for a small fee
- Avoid credit repair companies – do not work with credit repair companies. Any information on your file that needs altering can be done for free and credit repair companies do little to assist
Step out the back Jack
Clients often ask if their ex-partner’s poor credit file can damage their own.
When you apply for credit in your own name only, the poor credit file of an ex partner can affect your result if you are still ‘associated’. You are ‘associated’ if you have applied for credit together in the past.
If you are no longer associated with an ex partner who has a poor credit file you should request ‘disassociation’ from that individual with the credit reference agencies. It is quite easy to do, as a example Experian have a financial disassociation questionniare online that you can use to do this.
Your credit report and it’s condition greatly affects your ability to obtain credit and the rate you pay for it. Take some time and ensure it is in the best state possible.