An overview of credit reference agencies (CRAs)
Many of us check our credit reports and scores with various credit checking companies numerous times a year, but very few of us understand exactly how these companies actually hold our data and where they get it from.
Here, we explain everything you need to know about credit reference agencies (CRAs), including how many there are in the UK, a list of the main CRAs, and exactly what information they hold.
What is a credit reference agency?
Credit reference agencies (CRAs) are the people behind your credit reports; they gather data about your finances and credit history, use that data to compile a credit report and then generate a credit score based on the information within.
When you make a credit application (for a mortgage, credit cards, personal loans or a mobile phone contract), the lender will use one or more of the available CRAs to determine your creditworthiness and how much of a financial risk you pose to them, before they accept your application.
How do CRAs work?
Credit reference agencies receive information from a variety of sources – including government organisations, public records, and credit card companies – regarding an individual’s credit history and financial behaviour, which they then use to generate a credit report.
Once they have enough information to create your credit report, CRAs are able to calculate a credit score based on the data inside, and then provide those credit reports and scores to authorised credit checking companies, who in turn distribute the data to consumers.
>>> Read more: What are the best CRAs in the UK? <<<
How many credit reference agencies are there in the UK?
There are three to four main credit reference agencies in the UK, and they all use different scoring systems to calculate your credit score. This is why you’ll probably notice that you don’t get a consistent credit rating or credit score when you try a variety of credit checking websites, as they often use different CRAs, but you can check them all in one place with CheckMyFile. We’ll explain exactly why you may have different credit scores with different CRAs in due course.
So, what are the main credit reference agencies? Here’s a list of the most well-known CRAs in the UK:
Experian is one of the most well-known credit reference agencies in the UK, and you are able to see your credit score for free. However, in order to access your full Experian credit report, you must pay a £14.99 per month subscription fee after a 30-day free trial.
Many credit checking websites are available to present you with some of your data from Experian for free, including Money Saving Expert’s Credit Club (which gives your credit report and score for free) and Credit.com (which provides your free Experian credit score and a report card with some in-depth information).
As we mentioned, all CRAs have different scoring systems and credit rating brackets, but here’s Experian’s credit score range:
- Very poor: 0-560
- Poor: 561-720
- Fair: 721-880
- Good: 881-960
- Excellent: 961-999
As you can see, Experian’s credit score is rated out of a maximum 999 and anything above 881 is considered a good credit score. If you’d like more information or are interested in using Experian’s services, take a look at our full Experian review.
It costs £7.95 a month (after a 30-day free trial) to receive your Equifax credit report and score directly, but if you are happy to sacrifice some detail, you can use ClearScore or CreditWise to view your Equifax credit data for free.
- Very poor: 0-279
- Poor: 280-379
- Fair: 380-419
- Good: 420-465
- Excellent: 466-700
Equifax’s maximum score is 700, less than both Experian and TransUnion (CallCredit), and anything above 420 is considered a good credit score.
Our Equifax review gives you everything you need to know about the CRA, so be sure to take a look before you sign up to its credit reporting services or any of the credit checking websites that use its data.
TransUnion (formerly CallCredit) is the credit reference agency behind the data found on TotallyMoney, Noddle (recently taken over by Credit Karma), and MoneySuperMarket Credit Monitor.
It’s a popular choice of CRA among the free credit checking websites, which means you’re able to view most of your TransUnion data for no cost at all.
Here’s TransUnion’s credit score range:
- Very Poor: 0-550
- Poor: 561-565
- Fair: 566-603
- Good: 604-627
- Excellent: 628-710
Despite having a somewhat similar maximum credit score as Equifax, their category ranges vary considerably, as a good credit score is considered anything above 604 with TransUnion, whereas Equifax note that a score of 420 and above is good.
Checkmyfile and Crediva
Checkmyfile, as aforementioned, is a credit checking website and not a CRA, but it holds data from all the main CRAs in the UK. As it is able to present you with your credit score from Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and Crediva (a lower-scale CRA), CheckMyFile saves you a considerable amount of time and effort, rather than you signing up to each CRA service. It’s certainly worth doing, even if you just use the 30-day free trial, as it’s so important to keep track of your credit profile. You also get a fuller and more detailed report, which allows you to see a variety of aspects regarding your score.
Statutory credit report: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion
By law, credit reference agencies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (CallCredit) must provide you with a statutory copy of their credit report if you request it. A statutory credit report is a one-off snapshot of your credit report at the time you receive it, but it provides you with sufficient details of the information held on you by the CRA.
You can request to receive your statutory credit report online or via paper copy, and it costs just £2 every time.
How do credit reference agencies get their information?
CRAs get information from public bodies and government organisation (including the electoral roll), as well as credit companies – including credit card and mortgage providers.
Only authorised and regulated CRAs are legally allowed to receive such information, and they can only pass it on to credit checking websites that are also authorised and regulated.
What information is kept by the credit reference agencies?
When you receive your credit report, regardless of which credit reference agency it’s from, you should expect to see the following:
- Generic personal information
- A list of your personal accounts and financial associates
- Your current account provider
- Public record information and electoral roll data
- Any court judgements against you
- Searches made regarding your credit
- Any suspected cases of fraud
Why are credit scores different between agencies?
If you try a few different credit checking websites, or use each CRA directly, you may notice that your credit scores are different with them all – this is down to a few reasons.
As you’ve seen above, each CRA’s maximum score varies, and they use different scales to categorise credit scores from ‘very poor’ to ‘excellent’.
Also, there’s the issue that not all lenders report to every CRA – some report to all three, while others report to just one or two, which causes an inconsistency in terms of the data held by each agency.
It’s therefore possible that you could have a bad credit score according to Experian, and a good credit score from both Equifax and TransUnion. This is nothing to stress over, as lenders will often check your credit history with at least two or three CRAs to judge your overall creditworthiness.
To get the most accurate credit score, you should ensure that all the data held on you is correct by checking your credit report regularly. If you notice any mistakes, these can be amended by disputing the data through the CRA.