There are all sorts of reasons why you might want to get your hands on your credit report: you may be worried you have been the victim of fraud; you may have been turned down for credit; or you might just want to know where you stand. However, if you're going to get the most out of the report, you need to get to grips with what everything on it actually means.
Fortunately, if you take a few minutes getting to know your report, it'll all become clear very quickly.
It's worth pointing out at the outset that you won't have a specific credit score listed on the report. The score is something that each lender puts together themselves, using the information on your report and any details from the application form. You will be scored differently by each lender, depending on who they consider to be their ideal customer. However, scores will all start with the information on your report.
The electoral rollThe report will show your name and address according to the electoral roll - along with the date you registered - which won't necessary be the same as the date you moved in. If there's no listing on the report it means that you're not on the electoral roll - so it's important to contact your local authority and ask for a registration form, because lenders will use this to confirm your address.
Linked addresses: This may be former addresses or an address you are otherwise linked to. It's included in case there is information about these addresses which is relevant.
AliasesIf you have ever been known by any other name it will show what your former names were - and where the information about this name change came from. You'll need to check all the aliases you were expecting are on here - and none that you weren't expecting.
AssociationsThere will be a record of everyone you have a financial link with - which could be anything from a joint bank account to a joint loan. The details will show the association, the way the financial link was created, and the date.
The details of anyone you are associated with will appear on your report - and a lender can take this into consideration when considering you for a loan. These associations will remain on your report indefinitely, so if you are no longer linked with this person you will need to contact the organisation you got the report from, and they will be able to break the link.
Court judgementsThese include CCJs - which is where a court confirmed you owe a debt, bankruptcies and individual voluntary arrangements. They will stay on your report for six years, and will have a major impact on how lenders view you.
The listing on the report will tell you the date of the judgement, the amount, the name of the court and the case number - as well as the source of the information. If you believe the details are wrong, you can contact the court to challenge it.
If you pay the judgement within a month of it going on your report, it will be removed. If you pay it after this point the record will remain for six years but it will show as being 'satisfied'.
Bankruptcy details are provided by the Insolvency Service, and will stay on your record for six years. A voluntary arrangement is when you go through the courts to establish that you will pay an agreed amount off your debts. If the arrangement is 'completed' you can send your documents to the credit ratings agency, such as Experian, and they will update their records.
Credit accountsAll the credit agreements you have with any organisations should show in this section - for six months after the account is shown as settled (which means you have closed and paid them off).
Each one will indicate how well you have maintained payments over the previous three years. The last 12 months' payments are show in full - with the most recent first - then for every other month there will be a 'status code'.
So, for example, in a month when you paid everything on time you'll receive a code of 0, if payments are up to a month late you receive a 1, if they are two months late you receive a 2 - all the way to the number 8 - which indicates a default. Even if you pay the debt later the default will stay on your record for six years - although anything you have paid in since the default will show, and when you repay it in full, it will show as being 'satisfied'.
If the account shows a D it means the account isn't being used. If there's a ? it means the lender didn't provide any information for this month, and if there's a U then there's no record for this month because there may be a query or the account may be new.
Individual codes won't be listed, it will simply state something like 'number of status 1-2 is 1, number of status 3+ is 0.'
Alongside this there are a number of words that may appear to describe the debt. This can include things like 'gone away' if the report shows you moved and didn't update the address, 'debt assigned' if they sold it to a debt collection agency, 'arranged' if the lender agreed to vary repayments for a period, and 'partial settlement' - which means you paid some of the debt through a bankruptcy or IVA.
Account management detailsThis will sometimes appear on your credit or store cards - showing the balance on your statement each month, the amount you repay (and a code to show whether you made the minimum repayment which shows as an M), and any cash withdrawals. This can be detailed for the previous 12 months, along with any changes to the credit limit. Lenders will use this to see how you are currently managing your credit - it can also be a good way to spot identity fraud.
Current account informationThis will appear on your record, with details of your overdraft limit and balance, and a different set of codes. Some will only show when your overdraft balance is over a particular sum - so you may be slightly overdrawn and have the balance shown as zero. Likewise any money in your account isn't recorded on the report, so if you are in credit the balance will show as zero.
Because current accounts are more flexible, the codes can mean a few different things, so, for example, a zero might indicate you are not overdrawn, or that you are managing your account within the terms of the agreement. The numbers 1-6 show to a certain extent how many months you are behind - but that you have arranged to bring the account in order.
An 8 can indicate you have been over your overdraft limit for more than three months and not established how you will repay, that you are in default, or that the lender has closed the account. Meanwhile. a U will show your account is new, or that it isn't active and you have no debt.
Correcting account informationWith all of this information, if you think a code or an amount is wrong, then you can contact the organisation you hold the account with and query the details. If you have any problems, Experian says you can contact them and they will contact the lender concerned. If the information is right, but there's a very good reason for it, you can contact Experian and add a statement to your report explaining the circumstances.
If you don't recognise the name of an organisation, then you can contact them using the details at the back of the report. There's a chance you know them by another name, but if after contacting them you don't recognise the loan, contact Experian immediately.
If there's an organisation missing, it may be because the lender in question doesn't have an information-sharing agreement with the credit agency.
RepossessionsThese will show on your report. It's likely that a repossession will be shown with three addresses - the one where you were living when you got the mortgage, the property the mortgage applied to, and the forwarding address. However, lenders will know there's only one repossession. Once you have paid anything owing, this will continue to show for a further six years.
Previous searchesThis will record everyone who checked your report for the previous 12 months - which is known as a 'footprint'. You will also see 'quotation searches', which show you only asked for a quote rather than applying for credit - which lenders view very differently. There may also be 'unrecorded enquiries' which are identity checks that don't affect your credit score.
If there's a footprint from someone you don't recognise, it's always worth contacting the lender. It may be a mistake, a case of identity theft or they may just be someone you know that trades under more than one name.
You may also have a financial association search - which appears when someone you are linked to financially applies for credit and the lender checks your report.