credit reference files

Managing Debt


Priority Debts



IVA’s & Bankruptcy

Managing Debt


Priority Debts

Debt Management Plans


IVA’s & Bankruptcy

Written by Pete Latham

May 11, 2020

Credit Reference Files Introduction

The reason I’ve included a section on credit reference files is because you’re going to need to know the extent of the damage caused by your gambling debt or debt in general. It’s also a good place to start because paying attention to what’s recorded on it should form part of a long-term strategy to become debt free. Fortunately, finding this information out is free and once you’re armed with it you can begin to fix the problem. Don’t expect results with it overnight as this will take time. Your credit score may well get worse before it gets better but it WILL get better if you’re serious about stopping gambling. It could well be the case that at the moment your score will be poor but don’t be disheartened as when it starts to improve you can use it to your advantage in order to become debt free quicker.

Your Credit Reference File

Your credit reference file is a chunk of data held by a Credit Reference Agency, about you and anyone else you’re financially linked to. When you apply for credit, this file is consulted (often automatically) and a decision is made as to whether or not you are extended the credit you want. Lending companies such as credit cards, loan companies or banks will usually make use of a scoring system. If your score isn’t high enough you will be declined credit. In some cases you may still be accepted for the product you’ve applied for but at a higher interest rate than the one that was advertised. There is no set scoring system and it can vary significantly between lenders. You may think you have a good score and still get declined, as there simply isn’t a hard and fast rule here.

Credit Reference Agencies

Over the last few years, you may have seen numerous adverts for companies that allow you to check your credit score for free. There are 3 main credit reference agencies in the UK and different lenders may use one or a combination of all of them to share or obtain your financial data before making a decision on whether or not to offer you credit. Bear in mind though that regardless of the score you see, it is the financial company that scores you according to their own criteria. This means your score is simply a guide. That being said, the credit scores you see are generally a very good indication of your chances of obtaining credit. Remember also that as well as obtaining information from your credit reference agency file, lenders also share it. This means that any accounts you already have will be documented with the relevant credit reference agency. The 3 main credit reference agencies in the UK are:



TransUnion (Formally Call Credit)

third Party Websites

Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are the actual agencies but the free checks you may see advertised are often through third party companies. For example, Clear Score is powered by Equifax and Credit Karma takes its data from TransUnion. Experian also runs it’s own checking site called Credit Expert.

If you sign up to a few of these sites, you’ll notice that your credit score differs between each one. Your score will be a number and the higher the number, the better your score. For a little more clarity, some will give a definition of your score ranging from very poor to excellent. Again this may differ between sites and agencies. A good thing about Credit Karma and Clear Score is that they will also present you with offers based on your score. Not only that, they will give will give you a % chance of approval for each offer. This is usually highly accurate and may come in useful for when you look at strategies for becoming debt free in the future. The images below highlight the potential differences in scores between the 3 websites. These scores are all for the same person at the same time.

Credit Reference Files- Experian Score
Credit Reference Files- Clear Score
Credit Reference Files- Credit Karma Score

Information on Your Credit Reference File

The information you see on your file is based on your credit reference report. There are a lot of misconceptions about this data and you may have heard the term ‘credit blacklisted.’ There is no such thing as a blacklist and as mentioned earlier, a decision to extend you credit will be based on the lender’s own criteria which is usually credit scoring.

Data held on your credit reference file is generally held over a rolling 6 year period and this is the reason I recommended that you check your file as early as possible. The work you do on fixing your finances will potentially be a long road ahead and changes will be slow to take effect. Another myth you may have been sucked into believing is that your credit reference file can be repaired by paying a fee to some company or other. It cannot. The only person that can ‘repair’ your file is you and the only way you can do this is by making sensible financial decisions from now on. The only possible exception to the ‘repair’ terminology is that if data held on your report is factually incorrect and there is an established procedure for fixing this which will be discussed later.

The Six Year Snapshot

As discussed, credit reference agencies keep your financial data for a rolling 6 year period. As I type, the date is 30th April 2020. If I would have settled a loan in April 2014, the data should no longer show on the report. Similarly, if I had missed payments on that loan and it was closed for whatever reason at that time, the payment history will also be gone from the report. However, if I opened a credit card account in April 2010 and I still use that card today, then the data will show for that card for the last 6 years and will show as long as the card is active. If I settle the balance and close the account today, the fact that I had that account will still show until April 2026. Whilst payment or missed payment data will show on you file for the last 6 years, there are other data entries which show for less than that. You can see an example of an account detailing the payment history below.

Credit Reference Files- Payment History

Credit Reference File Search Data

Search data can broken down into two separate parts- a hard or a soft search. A hard search has the ability to negatively affect your overall score whilst a soft search does not. An example of a soft search entry would be a quotation say for life insurance. This may well be for identity checking etc. Another example may be that you’ve used a check before you apply service for something like a credit card. Companies often do that these days as a leader to get you to make a speculative application. They will tell you if you’re likely to be accepted but it is not a definitive answer.

A hard search is a formal application for credit and lenders record this as it often gives them useful data as to your financial state at the time. For example, if a lender can see that in the last month you have made 10 applications, it may lead them to conclude that you are desperate for credit and pose a higher risk to them. Search data in itself does not record whether an application has been successful only that the application has been made. Search data is held on your credit reference file for 12 months although generally speaking, lenders are only really interested in the last 6 months. The advice would be not to have more than 1-2 hard searches recorded in this period.

Credit Reference File Payment History

Each credit account that currently shows on your credit file will have a payment history attached. As discussed this will go back for a maximum of 6 years if you r account is that old. The image above shows what this data would look like on your report if you had a perfect payment history. A history of missed payments will lower your score and reduce the chances of you obtaining further credit. If you happened to miss one payment 3 years ago, this is far less likely to impact than one or two missed payments last in the last few months. However, whilst missed payments will have some impact, there are worse entries that you could have on your file.


When you default on an account, other lenders will be able to see this and you will find it considerably more difficult to obtain further credit. The default will also significantly decrease your credit score which will be a good indication as to how prospective lenders will see you in terms of risk. A default will remain on your credit reference file for 6 years. If you do receive a default, you are strongly advised to seek professional help and there are a number of organisations that can do this free of charge. You can learn more about defaults, here.

County Court Judgements (CCJ’s)

A County Court Judgement (CCJ) is a method of debt recovery used by lenders. If you receive a CCJ, then this will be entered onto your credit reference file and will remain there for 6 years from the date of issue. Having a CCJ will make it significantly harder to obtain credit in the future because other lenders will see that you have been unable to keep to previous agreements. A CCJ will not make it impossible for you to get further credit but if you do so, it will most likely be at a much higher cost in terms of any interest you pay. You are strongly advised to seek professional help if you receive a CCJ. The help is free and you can learn more about CCJ’s, here.

IVA’s & Bankruptcy

An IVA is conducted through an Insolvency Practitioner and if you choose to take out an IVA, an entry will be made on your credit reference file where it will remain for 6 years. As with defaults, and CCJ’s this will severely limit your chances of obtaining credit in the future and you should not attempt to obtain credit with an active IVA. You will need professional help to obtain an IVA and this is discussed in more detail, here. 

Bankruptcy is another form of insolvency and a highly effective way of dealing with debt if you have no realistic hope of paying your debt in a reasonable time. However, it as far reaching implications and you should seek specialist advice if considering it. You can find more detail on bankruptcy here. 

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