Which credit reference agencies do lenders use?

When applying for car finance, your credit score can make a significant difference to the APR you’re offered, your repayment amounts and the overall interest paid. It’s not the only factor lenders consider, but it is important.
But who calculates these scores and how?
Introducing credit reference agencies.
These are the organisations responsible for gathering information on you and your financial history, creating an in-depth credit report, and crunching the numbers to calculate your credit score.
In the UK, there are three credit reference agencies you need to know: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Let’s look at the big three in more detail:

What are credit reference agencies?

In a nutshell, credit reference agencies (CRAs) are independent companies that store data about you. It’s not quite Big Brother, but if you’ve ever had a bank account or credit card, these agencies probably have a file with your name on it.  
In fact, bank accounts and types of credit are just two of the many pieces of information these agencies will hold. They also keep track of things like your credit applications, payment history, utility bills, and address history.
All this information will be used not only to calculate your credit score, but also to share with lenders who are considering offering you finance. That’s why checking your credit report regularly – and knowing what lenders will see – can give you that extra peace of mind when applying for car finance.

Who are the biggest agencies in the UK?

The big three CRAs in the UK are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
Experian has been around for more than 125 years, operates in 37 countries, and employs over 17,000 people. Its headquarters is in Dublin.
TransUnion acquired Callcredit, one of the UK’s largest credit reference agencies, in 2018 and is known for pioneering Open Banking. Its UK headquarters is in Leeds.
Equifax has been around for over 120 years and operates in 25 countries. Headquartered in Atlanta, USA, the CRA employs 13,000 people worldwide.

How do credit reference agencies work?

CRAs collect and hold the data that lenders need to make informed decisions. This includes information about your finances as well as data such as whether you’re registered on the electoral roll. Once they’ve gathered the details they need, they’ll generate a credit report for you and calculate your credit score.
It’s worth keeping in mind that each agency relies on companies and organisations sharing your data with them. Companies get to pick and choose so not all of them will share information with all three CRAs. That means each CRA can use different data points and different calculations to create your credit score.
CRAs don’t make any lending decisions themselves; they just provide the data lenders rely on to help make up their mind. It’s rare that the CRA will even know which of your credit applications have been successful as well as which have been refused and why.

What information do they collect?

While each of three main CRAs collects different information, their list will likely include things like:

  • Your name
  • Your current address and up to six years’ address history
  • Your electoral roll registration record
  • Your payment history including any missed or late payments
  • Your available credit and how much of it you use
  • Your financial links e.g., the people you share a joint credit card or mortgage with
  • Details of all your accounts from the last six years and when you opened them
  • Details of any defaults, County Court Judgements (CCJs), an Individual Voluntary
  • Arrangement (IVA), or bankruptcy in the last six years

They’ll get this information from a wide range of places such as public records and the companies you have a relationship with like your bank, credit card providers, mobile phone company, and utility supplier.

How do they calculate credit scores?

As you might have guessed by now, each agency likes to do things their own way.
Let’s break down the scoring system of the big three and how you can tell whether your current score is considered poor, fair, good, or excellent:


Experian will give you a score from 0 – 999.

The bandings are:
0 – 720 – Poor
721 – 880 – Fair
881 – 960 – Good
960 – 999 - Excellent


TransUnion will issue you a score from 0 – 710.
The bandings are:
0 – 565 – Poor
566 – 603 – Fair
604 – 627– Good
628 – 710 - Excellent


Equifax is perhaps the most straightforward as it will give you a score from 0 – 1000.
The bandings are:
0 – 438 – Poor
439 – 530 – Fair
531 – 810 – Good
811 – 1000 - Excellent

How do these methods differ?

The secret sauce used by each of the three CRAs isn’t public knowledge, so we can’t be sure how each calculation method differs (they’re good at keeping secrets!)
However, by checking your credit report regularly, you can start to see the types of information the agency gathers and how it impacts your score. If you’ve maxed out your credit card in one month, for example, and then see your credit score drop then you’ll know that credit utilisation is probably part of that CRA’s calculation.
Some free credit score reporting services like ClearScore and Credit Karma will also share information on the factors being considered. They can let you know whether there’s anything you can do to improve your score with that CRA and the factors that have an impact. Having a complete payment history might be labelled as a high impact factor, for example, while paying towards a mortgage could also help but is flagged as low impact.

Which does Carmoola use?

At Carmoola, we use TransUnion. One of the UK’s largest CRAs, TransUnion offers a rating between 0 and 710.
If you’d like to check how your credit score looks with TransUnion ahead of applying with us (or you’re just curious), you can find out for free by visiting Credit Karma.

FAQs about credit reference agencies

What is the most used credit reference agency in the UK?

When it comes to ranking the UK’s CRAs, Experian is currently the market leader and the largest of the three. Experian lands somewhere in the middle, while TransUnion is the newest CRA and so is used by slightly fewer lenders than the other two more well-known names.

What is the most reliable credit agency?

All three of the main CRAs are considered reliable and secure holders of your data and have established relationships with all the UK’s major financial institutions. That being said, according to a May 2020 ICM Unlimited survey (46% of 995 respondents), Experian has been named the most trusted credit agency in the UK.

*Most trusted based on 46% of 995 respondents. ICM Unlimited survey May 2020.

Who should I use as a credit reference?

In many cases, you won’t be able to find out which lenders use which of the three CRAs. Instead, it’s worth taking a few minutes each month to double-check your credit report with all of them. This will not only show you the score that lenders might see but can also give you an opportunity to review the details and challenge anything that needs correcting.

You can check your credit score for free with Experian, with Equifax through ClearScore, and with TransUnion via Credit Karma.