Q&A with Caroline Thomas from CreditExpert
Caroline Thomas from CreditExpert joined us for a Q&A in November 2011 to answer all your questions on credit scores and ratings, as well as how to best manage your credit reports. She also offered tips on how to improve bad debt, and what to do if your credit profile is less than healthy.
CreditExpert is the UK's most trusted credit-monitoring service, with Experian having more than 30 years' experience. New customers can sign up for a free 30-day trial* of CreditExpert, offering unlimited access to your Experian Credit Score, weekly alerts of changes to your credit report and access to an award-winning customer services team. (*New customers only, monthly fee applies after trial ends.)
Q. cazboldy: Why is having access to your credit score so expensive? It's too expensive for me to use as an ongoing "part of my housekeeping".
Q. supadupapupascupa: I have been a customer of CreditExpert on two occasions and I have to agree that the service is brilliant. The information and website are all very good. However, I only join when coming up to getting a mortgage to check my rating because it is too expensive. I would use it much more often if you could pay a small fee as you go. You don't need to see it every month, perhaps twice a year in my opinion.
A. Caroline: I'm going to answer your questions together as they're both about pricing. We see CreditExpert very much as a premium product, not only providing unlimited credit reports and Experian Credit Scores but also award-winning customer service, ID fraud insurance, access to our intelligent price-comparison service Lower My Bills and insurance to cover your expenses if ID fraud strikes. Although we believe CreditExpert offers excellent value for money on an ongoing basis - and I'm pleased to say that many people agree - you are of course free to join and leave the service as you wish.
So you certainly could use CreditExpert to give your credit history a twice-yearly MOT, for instance. And I'm pleased that supadupapupascupa has used the service a few times and found it really useful. You can also, of course, obtain a one-off copy of your statutory Experian credit report through our website at any time. We think it's really important that there is choice and flexibility in how you can access your data.
Q. FoxyFi: I have an excellent credit score (over 920) and report, yet I have recently been turned down for a remortgage and even a small loan of £2,000. I was quite puzzled as I checked my report with all the ratings agencies, including CreditExpert.
After I was turned down for the small loan, I contacted CreditExpert again and found that I've got a judgement dating back to 2007 linked to a commercial address that I used about three times when I was working on buying my property - I have no bad credit listed at any of the places I have lived in and those are the addresses they ask for.
Since then, I haven't been turned down for any loans I requested until now. Why was I able to get credit when I was less financially secure than I am now? And why was I unable to see the commercial linked address which has the judgement yet the lenders were - I thought that through CreditExpert I saw everything on my report? I might have a judgement against me but I have not missed any payments on my mortgage or any loans for the last eight years. Why don't lenders take this into account? Please explain.
A. Caroline: Without reviewing your credit report I can only comment in general terms. What seems likely is that the judgement was registered at an address you didn't give to us when you set up your CreditExpert membership. This would explain why the data wasn't included on the reports you obtained from us until you spoke to one of our agents and they did a little more digging.
While your report should have included an actual linked address to where the judgement is recorded, we would not actually search the address unless you confirmed it was actually an address you had used.
Your lenders, however, can explore linked addresses and what your experience seems to show is that some explore a little deeper than others. Judgements are kept on your report for six years, so this is likely to hang around for a few more years yet.
If you dispute the debt you can, of course, apply to the court to have it cancelled. Similarly, if you settle the debt your credit report will be updated to show this. You can also add a note to your credit report to explain the circumstances surrounding the debt, which might be useful considering your comments and if the judgement has to stay there. I can't comment on behalf of lenders, but we all know that many continue to be incredibly cautious at the moment, so would probably be fairly concerned to find a court judgement on your credit report.
Q. ToothbrushThief: A relative was using my address as a postal address (moving around a lot) and has now gone bankrupt. They have not changed the address on their accounts despite my requests and I'm concerned my credit file will be marked. I have completed a financial dissociation with all three main agencies and written to the banks/other companies as their letters arrive. They are ignoring me though - and still the post arrives - anything else I can do?
A. Caroline: You shouldn't need to worry about your own credit report at all. This is because, these days, credit checks take place on people and not on addresses. People can be linked through credit checks, but only if they choose to link up their credit reports by taking out joint credit. I'm guessing this isn't the case here, so your own credit history will not be affected by your relative.
Talk: money matters
Talk: legal matters
Q. crushonyou: My partner is a US citizen (who has lived in the UK for five years, with indefinite leave to remain) but is not able to register on the electoral roll. We want to buy a house next year but we are concerned how this will affect his credit rating. He has a good salary, one credit card (paid off in full monthly) and his name is on household bills. The mortgage would have to be based on his income alone as I am not currently working. What can we do to ensure his credit rating is not adversely affected by not being on the electoral roll? Are there any other issues might arise because he is not a UK/EU citizen?
A. Caroline: It is certainly worth your other half getting hold of a copy of his credit report to see how it is shaping up. From what you say, it sounds as if he may have some credit history already but, as you say, not being able to register on the electoral roll might be an issue, though not an insurmountable one - he will be able to add a note to his credit report explaining why he isn't registered.
My colleague James writes a regular credit-advice column for Experian - which is well worth checking out - and I'm including a link to a very detailed answer James gave to someone in a very similar position. I hope this helps and that you manage to get your mortgage when the time is right.
Q. MoreSpamThanGlam: I was made bankrupt four years ago and still the debts are showing as a default. I rang Egg, one of the creditors, and was told that I still owed the money and it had to stay on file. I said that as it was showing as a live debt it was misleading shareholders. How is this legal and how is it remedied? I also could not de-register from CreditExpert until my card expired.
A. Caroline: First, you simply need to call the CreditExpert helpdesk if you wish to close your account. We have a freephone number for this - 0800 561 0083 - and lines are open 8am to 6pm. On the bankruptcy and defaults issue, it is right that the defaults remain as a record of your individual agreements with those lenders. But once your bankruptcy is discharged, the lenders should update these records to show that there is no longer any balance outstanding. To not do this contravenes guidance issued by the Information Commissioner, who ensures we all comply with the Data Protection Act. If you get in touch with our Customer Support Centre we will happily contact the creditors on your behalf.
Q. scotchmeg: I have a bad debt dating from five years ago. I am ready to make a reduced payment, which will stop them asking for money and effectively close the account. But the outstanding amount will still appear on my credit report. Can this be removed or do I have to wait for the six years to be up before I am free of it? Also, is it your credit report that reveals you are not a first-time buyer? Does this vanish after six years too?
A. Caroline: If the debt defaulted five years ago - a copy of your credit report will confirm this - then it will drop off your credit report after one more year. This is because defaulted accounts only stay on your report for six years, regardless of when and how you repay them. If the debt has only now been registered as a default, then the six-year clock will only have just started ticking. While a default is always bad news for your credit rating, the impact will lessen if you manage to clear the debt and, of course, as it gets older.
On the first-time buyer issue, your credit report will certainly show whether you've had a mortgage in the last six years, but not any concluded before that. Credit reports do not include information about property ownership.
On the pricing question, I think I've covered this in my first answer above but I would add that we always keep these things under review and listen closely to what our customers tell us.
Q. prioneyes: My husband accrued bad debt during his first marriage (it ended in divorce six years ago). For that reason, I bought our house in my own name. He paid the last agreed installment of the debt about three years ago and we've recently married. What are the implications of this when we next apply for a mortgage - would we be better to apply jointly or should we still try to keep him out of it despite being married?
A. Caroline: I suggest your husband obtains a copy of his credit report to see exactly what is recorded. This is usually the first stepping-stone to resolving any credit report concern or issue. If the debts defaulted during or shortly after his previous marriage then his report should now be clear. This is because defaulted accounts are removed from your credit report after six years. Assuming everything is now clear, you should have no problems applying for a new mortgage in the future.
While marriage is not itself a financial connection and won't therefore link up your credit reports, applying for any sort of joint credit will create a bond between your reports. This will mean that when either of you apply for credit in the future, the lender will also be able to check out your other half's credit report. When your husband gets his report, make sure he checks the financial connections section (where these financial bonds are registered) to make sure he isn't still linked to his ex-wife. If he is, he simply needs to drop us a line to ask us to break the link.
Q. yellowflowers: I joined Credit Rating and was told my rating was excellent. But I got turned down for a loan from every bank and loan company I tried - why?
A. Caroline: I'm glad you asked this question, though not of course that you couldn't get a loan. The score we give you alongside your Experian credit report, which we call your Experian Credit Score, is essentially a health-check of your Experian report.
We boil down your credit report data into a single number on a scale of 0-999. This score indicates the risk of your not repaying any credit you obtain, based on your credit report. The higher your score the better.
However, while this score is an excellent guide to the state of your credit history, lenders have different credit scoring systems and will factor additional information into their scores. For example, they will collect information from your credit application form that we do not have, such as information about your job and salary.
There is a lot of pressure on banks and other lenders to lend responsibly and many have tightened their affordability calculations in light of this and general caution in the markets.
Importantly, whenever you are refused credit - and it happens to us all from time to time - you should always press the lender for the fullest explanation possible. Only they know, and they may be able to give you some useful pointers for next time. You should certainly make an effort to discover the reason behind any credit refusal before trying another lender because the footprints that result from your credit report being checked following your application are themselves factored into credit scoring. If you apply for a lot of credit in a short space of time, some lenders might think you're getting a bit desperate or even that fraud is taking place. This is why it's always sensible to space out your applications where you can and, as I said already, investigate any credit refusal before approaching another lender.
Q. tiredemma: How I can stop CreditExpert taking £6.99 from my account every month? I signed up for a 'free' credit report over a year ago. I have phoned and sent three letters but CreditExpert have continued to take the money. Rather worryingly, they even continued taking payment after I had my bank cards replaced, which would indicate that they have access to my actual card number.
A. Caroline: I'm really not sure what has happened here - most people report that our cancellation process is easy and straightforward. it's certainly not in our interest to make it any other way because many people join and leave the service on a regular basis, as they feel the need arises. We are contacting you separately to obtain more details to enable us to investigate this for you. If you have got in touch to cancel your account and we have omitted to do this for some reason then we will of course put this right for you. I'm sorry you've had a less than positive experience with us so far.
On the debit card issue, banks do issue replacement cards on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. Where a continuous payment authority has been set up - which is how we collect CreditExpert subscriptions - the card providers do let us know when the card number changes. This is standard practice.
Q. ZombiouslyGhoulblivious: Why don't you make it clear that in order for an individual to get a full picture of their credit file they need to contact all three credit agencies? Not all lenders use Experian to credit check and therefore not all lenders provide you with information.
A. Caroline: I think we do actually flag up the other two credit reference agencies to people, particularly at times when it might be important to check your credit report with all three. Check out our guide on relationship breakdown.
As far as data sharing is concerned, the vast majority of lenders these days file credit repayment information with all three credit reference agencies. This means that, increasingly, the main difference between the reports held by the three agencies are the search footprints, which are of course only registered with the agencies or agencies the lender carries out a credit check with (some actually use two!) I'm pleased to say that most lenders continue to run their credit checks through Experian, so for most people their Experian report will be the most comprehensive.
You'll also be pleased to know that if you fall victim to identity fraud and alert one of the credit reference agencies, they will alert the other two for you. So we actually do work closely together.
Q. VirgoGrr: I think you can see from the questions already asked, MNers want advice about a range of personal issues that can affect their credit reports. Experian provide credit report data for a fee. Interpretation of that data would be the role of an underwriter or a risk analyst. Unless Experian are willing to let an analyst reply to each question according to the questioners circumstances and also point out that every lender will have their own 'score card' criteria that they apply when assessing applications for credit that no-one else is privy to, the advice will not be worth much, IMHO.
A. Caroline: What you may not be aware of is that many high street lenders actually rely on Experian for help building and monitoring their credit scoring systems. As far as I'm aware, Experian was the first organisation to build and sell credit scorecards to lenders in the UK. So when we analyse your credit report and give it a score or give you advice based on the information you provide in a question, for example during sessions like this, you are actually getting advice from people who understand credit report data and, importantly, how lenders use it in credit decisions.
Q. LemonDifficult: I signed up for a credit report from CreditExpert some time ago wanting my credit score. After the 'free trial' you started debiting £7.99 from my account every few months, without a warning email. I tried to cancel my direct debit, but for some reason there wasn't one on my bank account. I rang the bank and they told me I couldn't cancel with them and they couldn't stop you taking money, I'd have to cancel with CreditExpert. So I went to CreditExpert's website to find out how to cancel and again, no details of how to cancel. I looked in FAQs but again no details. In Contact Us, there is a number for general enquiries but I haven't had time to use it yet.
Why isn't this a normal direct debit? Given how hard you've made it to cancel your services, I have to assume you've worked out there are plenty of people out there just like me - disorganised - people who probably also have credit issues they need to get to the bottom of. What kind of customer service is that? It seems sly and opaque.
A. Caroline: I'm sorry you've had a problem with this but I really can't understand why. You simply need to call us to cancel your membership and the continuous card payment authority (which is what we use, not a direct debit).
On the FAQs page on our CreditExpert website there is an Ask a Question facility at the top of the page and if you type any sentence containing the word cancel (or even just the word 'cancel') it will return information about closing down your account, including our freephone cancellation number.
You can also call us on the general enquiries number which is behind the 'contact us' link, which I think is on every page on the site.
As CreditExpert is a monitoring service, we will be sending you regular emails or text messages about changes to your credit report, so it would be quite difficult to forget about your membership unless, for example, you changed your email address without telling us. We do, by the way, make it very clear when you sign up to CreditExpert that you are joining a monthly subscription service and that you will need to cancel before the end of the free trial if you don't want to continue into a paying subscription. I know it's easy to miss things like this if you're in a rush but I can assure you we are very transparent about the mechanics of the free trial offer.
Last updated: almost 2 years ago