What is your credit record?
It is a record of your financial history, including details of when you have borrowed money and the repayments you have made.
Companies must get your permission to run a credit check. It is usually covered when you agree to their terms and conditions.
It is compiled by credit reference agencies, and lenders can contact one of these companies to see your credit history. This is called a credit check, which providers usually run when you apply for:
Mobile phone contracts
Insurance policies that you pay for monthly
Checking your credit record helps the lender decide whether to accept your application. Every time a company runs a credit search, it shows up on your credit history for about two years.
What does it show?
Your credit record includes:
What you currently owe (including mortgages, credit cards and loans)
The repayments you have made or missed
Any other applications you have made to borrow money (it will not show if you were accepted)
Your current and previous addresses
Any time a company has checked your credit record in the last two years
Anyone you share an account with (including mortgages, current accounts and loans) - this is called a financial association
What is a credit score?
You may think you have a credit score out of 1,000 or a credit rating of A to F that lenders will see when they apply for credit.
However, you do not have a universal credit score. Lenders base their decision on:
The information in your credit history
The information in your application form (like your income, age and how many dependents you have)
If you have been their customer before
Every lender has a different idea of the perfect customer based on how likely they think you are to pay them back and on how much money they think they will make from you.
They will give you a score or rating based on what they are looking for from a customer.
They will then decide whether to accept or reject your application. No other lenders will see the score they have given you.
When you check your credit score with Experian, Callcredit or Equifax, they will show you a credit rating out of five or a credit score out of 700 or 1,000.
However, these are just to give you an idea of how your credit looks - lenders will not use this. Instead they generate a unique score for you themselves based on what they look for in a customer.
There is no such thing as a credit blacklist that would stop anyone from ever lending to you again.
Although bankruptcy and missed repayments will put off many lenders, others may still be willing to accept you.
How do you check your credit report?
You can check your credit report through the following companies:
You can get a one off statutory credit report from any of these agencies for £2.
They also offer a service that gives you regular access to your credit report, which is updated every month. Experian and Equifax both offer free trials, but if you do not cancel their service within 30 days you will have to pay a monthly fee.
You can open an account online by providing details including your name, email address, date of birth, address history and credit or debit card details.
Once they have verified who you are, you can see all of the information in your credit report and ask them to change any incorrect details.
How to improve your credit record
You should be able to repair damage to your credit record over a period of six months or more. The following should improve how attractive your credit history will look to lenders:
Always repay on time
If you miss repayments on your loan, mortgage or credit card, this will show on your credit record. Missed payments will put off many lenders and could mean you cannot get the best deals and interest rates.
Set up a direct debit and make sure there is enough in your bank account to cover it each month so you do not miss a repayment.
Stay in your card's credit limit
If you have a credit card it will come with a maximum amount you can owe on your card at once; here is how credit limits work. You will be charged a fee of about £12 for exceeding your credit limit.
Do not exceed your overdraft limit
If you have an overdraft on your current account, it will also have a limit. If you spend too much and go beyond this, you will be charged a fee. This also applies if your account does not have an overdraft but you spend more than you have in your account.
Spending more than your overdraft or credit limit will show up on your credit record and could put off other lenders.
Keep your details up to date
Keeping your credit record up to date makes it stronger because the details will match what you put on your application form. Check that:
Your address is up to date
Any accounts you have closed show as closed
You are not still financially linked to anyone you used to live with
If anything is incorrect, here is how to dispute information on your credit report.
Avoid too many applications
Each time you apply, it shows up on your credit record. Too many times can make you look desperate to borrow, which puts off most lenders.
Space out your applications and only apply for mortgages, loans and credit cards once you have found the deal you want, instead of applying for several at once.
Some lenders can give you an idea of which of their products are available to you by running a "soft search". This is also known as a "credit quotation search", and allows them to look at your credit history without it leaving any trace on your credit record.
You can also use our eligibility checker to find out which credit cards are most likely to accept you.
Register to vote
Making sure your name and address details are up to date on the electoral register helps lenders check your identity. You can register or update your details on the GOV.UK website, and you do not have to vote.
Look at how much credit you have
If you have several loans and credit cards, new providers may worry that you would not be able to pay them back if they gave you more credit.
Here is how to work out if you have too much credit already, how it affects your credit record and what you can do about it.
Lenders look at how long your accounts have been open when they give you a credit score. They are likely to see you as a stable customer if you have bank accounts or credit cards that have been open for a long time, so it can sometimes be worth keeping your older accounts open.
Build up your history
If you have never borrowed before, there will be little information on your credit record. Lenders might decide not to offer you credit because they will find it hard to work out what kind of borrower you will be.
If you have been rejected by lenders, you could take out a credit building card that is more likely to accept you. If you then meet the repayments every month, you could boost your chances of getting accepted for credit in future.