How to read a credit report

Your credit report, also known as a credit file, is a record of your credit history.

Each of the three main credit reference agencies (CRAs) – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – will compile their own credit report on you. They’ll use public information and credit information provided by lenders to develop an overview of your credit commitments.

It’s free to request your credit report, and it’s recommended you check it at least annually to make sure all the information is correct and up to date. But what should you expect and how can you interpret your credit report once you receive it?

What information is on your credit report?

Your credit report includes a variety of personal and financial information. While the exact information, and the order of that information, can change depending on which CRA report you’re reading, all variations should provide a comprehensive overview of how you manage debt.

Personal information

The ‘personal information’ section of your credit report helps lenders verify your identity, which ultimately ensures they’re analysing the correct credit file.

This part of your credit report contains your name (including variations of your name that have been used in the past, such as your maiden name), date of birth, address history for the last six years, phone number, employment history and whether you’re registered on the electoral roll at your current address.

What to look out for

While personal details don’t have an impact on your credit score, lenders will use this section to verify your identity so it’s important all the information is correct.

If there are any errors or inaccuracies, ask the relevant credit reference agency for rectification as soon as possible. You may also wish to notify the lender responsible for providing the incorrect information to the credit reference agency.

The odd typo or misspelling is usually nothing to worry about and can be easily corrected. However, if you spot anything suspicious in this section of your credit report, such as an unfamiliar name or address you don’t recognise, this could indicate you have been a victim of fraud. You should contact the credit reference agency and the relevant lender directly to investigate this as a priority.

Financial associations

If you are financially associated with someone, this will also be detailed on your credit report. You will only be financially linked with someone if you share a joint account or have applied for credit together. Living with someone, or even being married to them, does not automatically associate you on your credit report unless you have shared financial accounts.

What to look out for

If your credit report still suggests there’s a link between you and someone you are no longer financially connected to, submit a notice of dissociation to the three main CRAs (this can usually be done online). Submitting a notice of dissociation will help to ensure your credit history (and therefore your credit score) is not impacted by the other person’s financial behaviours.

List of financial accounts and current credit commitments

Your credit report will show information about present and past credit accounts from the last six years. This includes credit cards, loans, mortgages, and current accounts with an overdraft.

This section will detail how much you currently owe lenders across all your different accounts. It will list the type of account, account number, the name of the lender or creditor, when each of the accounts was opened (and closed if applicable), your credit limit or loan amount, term, and outstanding balances.

What to look out for

Analyse the information carefully and always investigate any accounts you don’t recognise. Unfortunately, fraudsters are becoming increasingly savvy and it’s not unheard of for an account to be opened in your name without you being aware of it. This could have a long-lasting impact on your credit score if it isn’t investigated and rectified as soon as possible.

You can usually work out your credit utilisation rate (what percentage of your maximum credit limit is used) by analysing this section too. It’s a red flag to many lenders if you regularly spend a large proportion of your total credit limit. So, if you notice you have high credit utilisation, it’s worth investigating ways to bring this down. For example, you may wish to spend less on your credit cards until you are able to pay off existing debt.

Payment history

Your payment history will be recorded on your credit report to show whether you regularly repay what you owe on time.

Payment status, monthly payment amount, and any late or missed payments will all be displayed on your credit file.

What to look out for

If you are currently in arrears, you should prioritise paying off any missed or late payments as soon as possible. While defaults will still be visible on your credit report, it will also show that your accounts are up to date which will demonstrate recent evidence of strong money management.

If a lender has incorrectly reported a late or missed payment, report this to them and ask for a correction as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to get supporting documentation together (such as a bank statement) before disputing any errors, as you’ll need to be able to prove how and why the lender has made an error. You can also submit a dispute directly to the credit reference agency though, again, you’ll need to provide supporting documentation.

Do keep in mind that most lenders report the latest information to CRAs on a monthly basis so it can take up to six weeks for your credit report to showcase the most recent account information. So don’t panic just yet if your credit report doesn’t display your most recent payments!

Hard credit checks

A hard credit inquiry is performed on your credit report whenever you apply for credit, and these checks will be visible on your credit report for two years. It will detail who pulled your credit report and when your report was accessed.

Whilst soft inquiries (usually used to check your eligibility for a finance product) may appear on your credit report, these will only be visible to you and will not impact your credit score.

What to look out for

Keep an eye out for hard credit checks that come from a lender or creditor you don’t recognise. It may well be that the name listed on your credit report is a lender’s parent company or you’re used to seeing a trading name instead of a company’s legal name.

However, if you’re sure the hard credit check has not been instigated by you, ask the CRA to investigate further as this could indicate someone has been fraudulently applying for credit in your name.

Public records

Your credit report will show whether you have been declared bankrupt, have an Individual Voluntary Arrangement in place, have had any County Court Judgements made against you, have had your home repossessed or if you have ever moved home whilst owing money.

What to look out for

Unfortunately, negative information is likely to damage your credit score for a long while given the information will stay on your credit report for six years. However, it’s generally believed that negative information will have less of an impact as time goes by.

There’s not a lot you can do to correct negative information if it is accurate. The best thing to do is to ensure you continue to make any future debt repayments on time to try and demonstrate improved money management.

Comments or statements

Notes may be added to your account by your lender or CRA. For example, a Notice of Correction could allow you to explain unusual credit behaviour that is not a true representation of who you are as a customer (such as explaining if you have missed a payment due to illness or redundancy).

This provides additional information to anyone who views your credit file in the future. It could give lenders the option to take mitigating circumstances into account – though there are no guarantees it will change the outcome of any future application.

Do be aware that all credit reports with a note or statement must be manually reviewed by prospective lenders, so this could delay any finance applications.

Is income recorded on your credit report?

Your credit report does not show your salary, nor the amount of money in your current account or savings accounts. Its purpose is to provide an overview of how you handle debt, so it predominantly focuses on your credit commitments rather than providing a more general financial overview.

Why is information missing from your credit report?

You may sometimes spot that a credit account is ‘missing’ from either one or all three of your credit reports. While you can request that information on your credit report is correct, there’s no rule in place that suggests all credit reports must be fully complete.

Some credit accounts may show on some CRA reports but not others as lenders don’t have to report account information to all three CRAs. They may choose to report to just one or two (and, in rare cases, none at all).

When to check your credit report

Your credit report is updated on a regular basis, as most lenders provide the latest information to each credit reference agency monthly.

As your credit report will change over time, you should check it regularly to ensure the information is all accurate and up to date. It’s recommended to check your credit file once or twice a year, or before you apply for any kind of credit.

As each credit reference agency holds their own version of your credit report, you’ll need to check each of them to ensure the information held by each CRA is correct. It’s free to request and checking your report won’t impact your credit score.

How your credit report impacts your ability to borrow

Lenders such as Novuna Personal Finance will run a hard credit check to assess the information on your credit report. Ultimately, lenders want to know what kind of customer you’re likely to be and they’ll base their predictions on how you’ve handled debt in the past. Your credit file provides a great overview of your credit history and gives lenders some of the information they need to make a decision on your application.

Read our finance guides for more information

Our ultimate personal loans guide explains everything you need to know about unsecured loans. Whether you want to find out what a credit score is and how to improve it, or want to know how a lender assesses a loan application, you can find it all in our Hints and Tips section.


Written by

Sophie Venner

Sophie Venner is a Yorkshire-based content writer specialising in crafting content for the financial services industry. She’s written over 300 articles on finance, but she’s covered everything from insurance to digital marketing trends. Her content has been featured in the likes of Semrush, Digital Marketing Magazine and Insurance Business. In her spare time, you won’t find Sophie far from a notepad and pen as she squirrels away trying to write a novel.

Wednesday 19th June 2024