Most people are unaware of credit files and credit reference agencies, yet they have increasing importance in today's consumer credit world. When you apply for a loan, credit card, mortgage the lender will carry out a credit reference check by using a credit reference agency to look at your credit file.
There are three main credit reference agencies in the UK, Experian, Equifax and Callcredit. They hold information on most adults in the UK which lenders use to determine the risk of lending to particular people. The information stored in individual credit files falls into three main categories:
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Public record information - A credit reference check will reveal whether you're listed on the UK electoral roll, whether there are any county court judgements (CCJs) and Scottish decrees awarded against you, whether you have been declared bankrupt, had an individual voluntary arrangement, or been served with a repossession order.
Credit account information - lenders share information about their borrowers credit history by registering details with credit reference agencies. An individuals credit file will show whether they have kept their payments up-to-date in the past, whether they have loans outstanding with other lenders and, if so, whether they have kept the payments up to date.
Search information - the credit file also records credits searches carried out by lenders. A large number of credit file searches made over a short period of time could be seen as an indication of over-commitment, or possibly fraud.
Companies are not only interested in whether you might be a credit risk, they also want to make sure they will benefit from you. So, for example, credit card providers often reject applicants with good credit records because they have always paid their credit card bills in full in the past - and if you pay off your bill in full each month, the card provider can't charge you interest and therefore makes no money from you.
If you have a clean credit file because you have not borrowed in the past, that is you have no credit history, you're just as likely to experience problems getting credit as there is no data in your file to judge your creditworthiness. Some lenders require evidence that you have a good track record of repaying credit. These lenders may refuse to lend to you on account of (and despite of) your clean slate.
If you are having problems getting credit or being accepted for a mortgage, it is worth getting a copy of your credit file to check that the information held about you is correct and up to date.
The Data Protection Act 1998 gives you the right to correct information held about you which is inaccurate. The credit reference agency will be able to advise you on how to remove or amend information you believe to be incorrect.