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Understanding your credit report

If you are having difficulty obtaining credit it could be due to the information that appears on your credit report. This includes details of any arrears that you may have had in the past, and any County Court Judgements, Bankruptcy Orders or Individual Voluntary Arrangements, as well as other factors.

Many companies contact credit reference agencies to check your credit report when you apply for credit. It is worth bearing in mind that any applications for credit will therefore show up as a ‘search’ on your credit report so this could have a negative effect if you have applied for credit on numerous occasions. Surprisingly, there are occasions when the information being held is out of date or inaccurate. However, it is possible for you to see your credit report, check the information and, if appropriate, have it amended.

Finding out why you’ve been turned down for credit

The first step is to approach the company that turned you down for credit and ask them how they arrived at their decision. Although many companies rely on credit reference agencies for information on the credit-worthiness of potential customers, some have their own credit scoring systems.

Nevertheless, information from your credit report may be a factor that is taken into consideration when the company allocates your credit score. Credit scoring systems are often automated and you may find that a manual check will produce a more positive result for you. If you were about to be turned down for credit, it would be wise to ask for your application to be reassessed using manual scoring instead.

If the company based their decision on information obtained from a credit reference agency, ask the company which agency they used. You can then contact the credit reference agency and ask them to send you a copy of your report. N.B. this is your legal right in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. The agency will make a small charge to cover their administration costs and they will ask for information such as your name, address, date of birth and previous addresses. You can approach the agency either by phone or letter, and some agencies allow you to apply for your credit report via the Internet.

Viewing your credit report

You will usually receive your credit report within seven days if by post but if you apply over the Internet you should receive it more quickly. In fact, the information is often available instantly once you make your online payment, but this will depend on the credit reference agency. The three major credit reference agencies in the UK are currently: Experian Ltd (www.experian.co.uk), Equifax plc (www. Equifax.co.uk) and Callcredit Ltd (www.callcredit.co.uk).

Information on credit reports relating to payments in arrears, County Court Judgements etc should be retained for six years. If more than six years have elapsed you can ask the agency to remove that information. Likewise, if any of the information is inaccurate you have the right to ask to have it removed. The credit reference agency should then correct the information within 28 days.

You can also have a ‘notice of correction’ of up to 200 words put on your credit report. This may explain, for example, why the information on the report could be misleading or how your financial circumstances have changed since you got into arrears. This notice will also ensure that future credit applications (that use information from that credit reference agency) are assessed manually rather than by an automated credit scoring system.

If you are successful in having your credit report amended you may find that your ability to obtain credit will improve. This will enable you to build up a good credit record for the future.

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