How to check your credit score

What is a credit score?

When you apply to borrow money, your lender will do a credit check to help assess whether you’re able to pay the money back. Your credit score – or credit rating – gives them an idea of how well you’ve managed your finances in the past. A high credit score means they’ll be more confident in letting you borrow.

Your credit score will be given as a number, and typically falls into one of five categories: Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor and Very Poor. Different credit rating agencies (CRAs) use slightly different rating systems, for example Experian, the UK’s largest CRA, scores out of 999, while Equifax gives out scores up to 700. So, your actual score may vary depending on who you do a credit check with, but a higher score is always better.

Why is my credit score important?

Your credit score helps determine whether you’ll be able to take out financial products such as mortgages, loans and credit cards, and what rate of interest you’ll be able to borrow at.

It’s also factored in when it comes to deciding what mobile phone plan you’re eligible for and how much your insurance premiums will be, among other things.

A good credit score can help you access better products and deals while a poor score can mean you miss out or end up paying more.

What affects my credit score? 

When it comes to calculating your credit score, CRAs look at a number of factors including;

  • How much you already owe – are you stretched financially?
  • Your payment history – whether you’ve missed or been late with payments.
  • How much credit you’ve applied for - a flurry of recent applications can set off alarm bells.
  • Length of credit history – showing you can manage credit responsibly over a long period can lead to a higher score.

Things that can have a negative effect on your credit score include regular late or missed payments, using all your available credit every month and not closing unused credit accounts.

Your credit score can also be low if you’ve never borrowed before, as lenders have no evidence you can be trusted to make regular repayments.

If you’re worried about your rating, there are steps you can take to improve your credit score.

How do I check my credit score?

It’s a good idea to do a regular credit check – at least once a year. And you should get into the habit of doing it before you apply for any form of credit. Luckily, it’s relatively quick and easy.

There are three main CRAs; Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. All offer the option for a free credit check, although you’ll have to pay for a more detailed credit report or ongoing services such as credit monitoring.

To check your credit score, you’ll need to fill in your personal details and you’ll usually be asked some questions about your financial history, such as when you opened your bank account, to help verify your identity.

Some people are concerned that regularly checking their credit score can have a negative effect. But don’t worry, this isn’t the case. Checking your own credit score is known as a ‘soft inquiry’ and won’t lower your rating in any way.

Worried about your credit rating? Head to our financial support pages for further guidance on borrowing and managing your money.