Whenever you use a service and pay later, take out a personal loan, or borrow money via a credit card pay it back later, you're leaving a digital footprint of your spending habits.
That footprint is stored by credit reference agencies, along with other personal details such as your address, whether you are on the electoral roll, and any outstanding debts. They use this to create a financial profile that lenders can then access to check before they approve any future applications for credit.
Credit checks are also used by companies to see that you are financially sound and that you're likely to continue with your payments. This could be a mortgage company, broadband or mobile phone provider, or any organisation that provides a service involving credit or payments.
If you have a good credit report you will have access to more financial products, be able to borrow larger sums and have better - cheaper - borrowing rates.
If you're looking to borrow money from a bank or financial provider then during the application process the lender will want to check your credit file. Experian is one of the three main credit rating companies that a lender might consult.
The bank or financial provider is likely to ask to see what details of your past and current borrowing is on file in your Experian credit report.
If your Experian credit score is lower than you expected, or you want to make sure all the details on your credit report are correct, then you can sign up for Credit Expert. By looking at the information on your file you can take steps to improve your credit rating, if necessary, and also check whether there are any signs of identity theft, or errors on your file.
Getting the information right means that you have a better chance of being approved for credit in the future. The better your credit score, the lower the interest rate is likely to be on the money that you borrow and the higher the amount you may be able to borrow.
Credit agencies must show you your statutory report for free. Experian makes this a slow process. It sends a confirmation email, a second a day or two later saying a letter has been posted containing your passcode to download your report. This may take a week or more. The other two credit rating agencies provide your free credit report instantly.
You can get an Experian instant credit report quickly, but, to do so, Experian requires you to sign up to a monthly fee that you must then cancel within the first month. Experian knows that many people will forget to cancel it and end up paying nearly £15 a month. If you choose this option, cancel as soon as you have your statutory report.
With Experian, there is a lower option too: you can sign up for a free Experian credit score that shows how high your score is out of a possible total of 999. Experian says the average score is 789. However, this credit score is not the same as a detailed credit report.
If you want to see your full credit report immediately, you have to sign up for an Experian account, known as Credit Expert. This includes a free 30-day trial and then is charged at £14.99 per month. You can do this online or using Experian’s own mobile phone app. If you cancel before the end of the trial you will not be charged the monthly subscription.
Experian's Credit Expert service offers advice on improving your credit score as well as promoting products to you based on your credit score. These are loans and credit cards deals at rates, or with limits, Experian thinks lenders would offer to you based on your existing borrowing records. Unless you want that service, make sure you cancel as soon as you have your free report.
If you clear your credit card debt each month, or always pay your mortgage on time for instance, that shows future lenders that there is a good chance that you will be able to keep up with repayments.
If you always pay your mortgage, but don't always clear your credit card balance in full, it tells them they can lend to you and make money by charging interest. If you miss your minimum payment some months, or have County Court Judgments (CCJs) against your name, it suggests you cannot handle credit very well and are a risk.
Therefore, before any lender will offer you a line of credit, even for something as simple as a mobile phone contract, they will request your credit score from one or more of the three credit reference agencies.
Experian is the largest of the three credit reference agencies. The other two are Equifax and TransUnion. When you apply for credit some providers will look at all three, some will look at one or two, but many will look at Experian.
It's important to check your Experian credit report before applying for credit. Especially, if you think you might need to improve your credit score, or you think that there might be mistakes on your file that are hampering your applications for credit.
Your Experian credit score provides your financial history to potential lenders, so it is vital to check the information found on it is correct. Any mistakes on your Experian credit report can be corrected, potentially saving you a lot of trouble in future.
Mistakes include incorrect addresses and contact details, accounts that haven’t been closed, a former spouse’s details appearing on your report as a linked person or perhaps through an old joint account, and mistaken information as a result of fraud.
You should make sure you get your credit report from all three agencies.
If you find a mistake on your Experian credit report you can let the agency know - for example that your address has changed. If there's a mistake relating to a financial matter, or you want to explain why you missed a payment, you can write and ask for a ‘notice of correction’ to be added to your file.
While this does not amend the information on your file, it will show lenders looking at your report in future that you are disputing some reporting, which they may take into consideration when assessing your credit application.
Find out more about disputing your credit report.
Your Experian credit score will show your financial accounts, including a history of any bank accounts you have, any credit or store cards you own, and any outstanding debts on those cards, as well as your payment history.
It will also show certain contracts you have, including mobile phone contracts. Energy bills do not normally appear but if you get into arrears and the debts are passed on for collection then that bad mark will be added to your credit report.
Your report will also show your electoral roll information, any court records including county court judgements and bankruptcy information, and any fraud information.
Your report will also show your search history, so which lenders have looked at your file when you’ve applied for credit elsewhere.
Whether you're looking for a credit card, loan, or a mobile phone deal, your credit score is important - find out how to improve your credit rating.Learn more