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Credit files and debt. How does it work?

Missing payments to your debts will affect your credit rating and could make it harder to get other credit in future.

Your credit file should show accurate information about credit you've taken out and how you've managed repayments.

What is my credit file?

Your credit file is made up of information shared by lenders, and other public information. This helps companies carry out ID checks to make sure you are who you say you are, and it also helps them decide how risky it is to lend you money, based on whether you’ve paid back debts on time in the past.

If a creditor decides that the information on your credit file means you may be a higher risk, they could refuse you credit, offer you a smaller amount of credit, or charge you a higher interest rate.

What are credit reference agencies?

There are three credit reference agencies operating in the UK. These are private companies which hold information about your credit history.

What information is held on my credit file?

Your name, date of birth, aliases, current and past addresses will all be recorded on your credit file.

It also stores information provided by lenders about loans, cards, bank accounts and other credit agreements you’ve taken out. This information includes:


  • The amount you currently owe
  • Whether the account has defaulted
  • The credit limit for cards or overdrafts
  • Your payment history, including details of missed or late payments
  • In some cases, whether you’re making reduced payments to a debt through a debt management plan (DMP)

As well as credit agreements, some utility companies now add information to your credit file about your payments to them.

Your credit file also includes other public information such as:


  • Whether you’re on the electoral roll
  • Details of any court judgments or decrees against you
  • Whether you’re currently bankrupt or insolvent
  • Criminal fines or liability orders for child maintenance arrears, in some cases
  • Not all lenders will share information with all three credit reference agencies, so you may find the data they hold differs slightly.

How long will information stay on my credit file?

Information about missed payments, defaults or court judgments will stay on your credit file for six years. These details will be removed from your credit file after six years, even if the debt itself is still outstanding.

For example, if you missed a payment to a debt in 2010, the record of the missed payment would be removed from your credit file in 2016, even if you‘re paying it off.

All details of a debt will be removed from your credit file six years after any of the following:


  • The account has defaulted
  • You’ve gone bankrupt, or had a DRO, IVA or trust deed approved
  • You’ve paid off or ‘settled’ the debt in full
  • Your creditor has agreed to accept a reduced amount and write off the remainder of a debt (a ‘partial settlement’)

If a debt has defaulted, it’ll be removed entirely from your credit file after six years even if you’re still paying it off.

There are some exceptions to this, where a debt can appear on your credit file from more than six years, but these are not common. For example bankruptcy can stay on your credit file for up to 15 years if you’re found to have acted dishonestly or negligently.

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Can I get a copy of my credit report?

Everyone is entitled to a copy of their credit report for a fee of £2. Because the information held by each of the three credit reference agencies might vary, it’s best to ask for a copy from each of them to get a full picture.

You may be able to get free access to your credit report. For example, Callcredit operate an online service called Noddle which allows you ongoing access to your credit file at no cost. The only drawback is that they advertise about credit cards or other financial products that they think you might like to apply for. Try to ignore these adverts.

Will my poor credit history affect other people?

Your credit history is based on you not your property. This means no one else will be affected by your credit history just because they live in the same house as you.

But if you’ve taken out any credit agreement in joint names with someone else your credit file will show a link or ‘association’ to them. This means your poor credit history may affect them and vice versa. This could apply to joint loans or bank accounts, or cases where someone else has acted a guarantor for you.

If you have any joint accounts included in your credit file but you no longer have any connection to the person involved, you can ask for your credit files to be ‘disassociated’. This removes the link between your credit file and theirs. You can only do this if the joint account has been paid off in full and you don’t live with the other person.

To apply for disassociation, you need to contact the credit reference agencies directly.

Can I be added to a blacklist?

Creditors make lending decisions based on the information they find on your credit file, and each will have their own criteria to decide whether to lend money to you, how much, and at what rate of interest. 

This means there’s no such thing as a ‘blacklist’ saying you should or should not get credit – it’s up to each lender to make their own choice.

Credit file questions we’re asked most often

  • What if the information on my credit report is wrong? You can contact either the credit reference or the lender to tell them, and they should update their records. If they don’t you could make a complaint.
  • Will my credit history affect my job? Some employers credit check new or existing staff, but this is only likely to happen in parts of the financial services sector. If you think your credit history might cause problems at work, speak to your union rep, or ask to speak to your HR department confidentially about the possible consequences.
  • Can I get a mortgage with a poor credit history? A mortgage lender will credit check you and they may refuse you a mortgage or charge you a higher rate of interest if you have a poor credit history. Some companies specialise in lending mortgages to people with poor credit, but they’re likely to charge much higher interest.
  • Can I rent a property with a poor credit history? Some landlords or letting agents credit check. You’ll have to give them permission to access your credit file, so you should know this is happening. They may refuse you a tenancy, or they could ask for a guarantor or larger deposit. Some landlords only check public information such as the public registers of court judgments or insolvency, so a record of missed payments to defaults to other debts won’t always affect your tenancy application.
  • Will my credit affect my car insurance? Insurers will credit check you, and if you pay in monthly instalments there’s a risk that a poor credit history could mean paying a higher rate of interest. In our experience it’s very unlikely that a poor credit history will stop you getting an insurance policy.