Credit Reference Agencies (CRAs): A Complete Guide
Many consumers check their credit reports and scores with various credit-checking companies numerous times a year to keep on top of their finances and before applying for finance deals, like a credit card or loan, but where does all the information and data about you come from?
Credit reference agencies (CRAs) are the ones that hold data on you, and creditors and lenders refer to these agencies to get your information and score so that they can determine your creditworthiness. But very few people understand exactly how these companies work, how they hold our data, where they get it from and which companies use which credit reference agency.
Here, we explain everything you need to know about CRAs, including how many there are in the UK, a list of the main credit reference agencies, and exactly what information they hold.
Credit reference agencies (CRAs) are the organisations behind your credit report and score; they gather data about your finances and credit history, such as your accounts, past credit applications, whether payments were met on time and in full etc, and they use this data to compile a credit report and then generate a credit score based on the information recorded within the report.
When you make a credit application (for a mortgage, credit card, personal loan or a mobile phone contract, for example), 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.
Not all credit checking websites (Credit.com, Credit Karma, ClearScore, TotallyMoney, etc.) are CRAs; they simply distribute the data and report what they have obtained from the CRAs that they are partnered with.
Read more: How to Apply for a Credit Card
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 their financial behaviour over the last six years, 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 this data, and then they provide these credit reports and scores to authorised credit checking companies, who, in turn, distribute the data to consumers.
There are 3 to 4 main credit reference agencies in the UK, and they all use different scoring systems to calculate your credit score and produce a report. 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 online, as they often use different CRAs to get the information, but you can check them all in one place with CheckMyFile, which we will explain in more detail later on.
So, what are the main credit reference agencies, which ones are free and who uses who?
Here’s a list of the main CRAs in the UK with a brief breakdown of each one:
- Experian (Since 1996)
- Equifax (Since 1899)
- TransUnion (Since 1968)
- Crediva (This was founded in 2007, so it hasn't been around as long as the 3 main CRAs above, but many companies are now using this CRA as an additional way of checking someone's credit file)
Generally, you can check your credit report and score for free with the main credit reference agencies as they are legally entitled to provide a statutory report to consumers (as per GDPR rules), but to receive extra services, such as tips on improving your credit score, a more detailed report or you want to see more information that's held on you, you may have to pay a fee after the free trial period – so bear this in mind when signing up to them.
Which sites use Experian?
Experian credit score range
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, including Crediva.
As it is able to present you with an overall credit score based on data and information from Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and Crediva (a lower-scale CRA), Checkmyfile saves you a considerable amount of time and effort, as you don't have to sign up to each CRA service individually.
Signing up to Checkmyfile is 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 to keep on top of your finances.
You also get a fuller and more detailed credit report as the site uses all four CRAs rather than just the one, and this allows you to see what data each CRA holds on you and identify any mistakes on your own report which may be bringing your score down. This way, you can rectify any errors.
If your score needs work, Checkmyfile also offers various services to help you stay informed and know what your next step should be.
By law, credit reference agencies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion 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, and 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.
If you want a more detailed report, however, you will be better off signing up to Checkmyfile or another website that offers a more extensive report.Do CRAs decide whether or not you get accepted for credit?
No. When you apply for credit, whether that’s a loan, mortgage or credit card, it is the lender that decides whether or not they will give you credit or not – the credit reference agencies do not make that decision, they are merely there to provide the lender with data and information about you, so they can assess your level of risk and make an informed decision.
CRAs get their information and data from public bodies and government organisations (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 companies and credit checking websites that are also authorised and regulated.
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 carried out on you (both hard and soft)
- Any suspected cases of fraud
If you try a few different credit-checking websites like Checkmyfile, or you use each CRA directly, you may notice that your credit score differs between them all – there are a few reasons for this.
As seen above, each CRA’s maximum score varies, and they use different ranges 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.