When you apply for a loan or mortgage, take out a credit card, or even apply for certain jobs, your lender or potential employer will apply to a credit bureau to look at your credit report and score. If you’re planning to do any of these things in the near future, or you simply want to know what information credit bureaus hold about you, then you might also want to take a look at your credit report yourself.
In this article, we’ll discuss the best free credit report solutions available to you in South Africa, and then we’ll discuss the most common credit report questions.
Free Credit Report
1. ClearScore ZA
Under South Africa’s National Credit Act, each credit bureau must give you free access to your credit report and score once a year. However, ClearScore offers you free access to your Experian credit report all the time. The company has committed to never charging for their services, explaining that your credit data should be freely accessible to you whenever you want it. We agree, which is why ClearScore tops our list of free credit report solutions.
To help you keep track of your credit profile, ClearScore also offers monthly reports on your credit activity, as well as simple, actionable tips for improving your score. You can download a free app, too, so you’ve always got your credit data at your fingertips.
We really can’t overstate the benefits of having such easy access to your credit data. It’s especially important when you consider that identity thieves can quickly run up huge amounts of debt in your name. If you’re only checking your report once a year, the damage could be catastrophic before you even realise there’s a problem. However, regular updates and free access means you can pick up on fraudulent activity before it spirals out of control.
Another major benefit of ClearScore is their “soft search” feature. We mentioned earlier that credit applications leave enquiries on your credit report. Using the information from your report, ClearScore highlights the credit products you’re most likely to be accepted for and lets you check your eligibility without leaving a footprint on your report.
2. My Credit Check by Compuscan
My Credit Check belongs to Compuscan, one of South Africa’s largest credit bureaus. Like ClearScore, they offer free lifetime access to your credit report and credit score. They also offer free budgeting tools for managing your finances and tailored advice for improving your credit score, along with a handy online portal for disputing credit information.
Going above and beyond the free annual credit report requirement, Credit4Life gives you free, unlimited access to your XDS credit report for 30 days. As a bonus, you can receive a further free month for opting into communications, and another free month for signing up to the free Protect Me identity protection service. That’s 90 days of free access to your report, with the added security of knowing your credit report is in safe hands.
Outside of the free 90 days, you can view your XDS credit report for a monthly subscription of R14.99, or you can get year-round access and additional benefits for R99.99 per year.
4. CreditExpert from Experian
Experian is one of the world’s largest credit bureaus. CreditExpert is their credit reporting division, offering you one free copy of your credit report per year. If you want to check your score more frequently, CreditExpert offers a monthly subscription for R21 or an annual subscription for R145.
If you choose a subscription option, CreditExpert also offers a number of add-ons to help you better manage your credit profile:
- Credit Risk Rating (R5 per month) – uses your credit history to rate your credit risk from 1-5.
- ID Verification (R5 per month) – protects against ID theft by confirming that the identity number you supply during applications matches the ID number on record with Home Affairs.
- Detect (R5 per month) – uses the information on Experian’s records to flag up potentially fraudulent credit applications in your name.
- Alerts (R4 per month) – sends email or text alerts whenever there is credit activity on your file.
In line with the National Credit Act, TransUnion allows you to view your credit report and score for free once a year. You can pay for one-off access to your TransUnion credit report at any time, or sign up to the subscription service for R40.35 per month, or R321.80 per year. This also comes with a credit alert service, debt analysis tools, and comprehensive identity theft protection and insurance.
What is a credit report?
Your credit report is a picture of your credit history and behaviours over a specific period of time. It shows:
- How much you’ve borrowed, when, and from whom. This borrowing is usually in the form of a mortgage, loan, credit card, overdraft, store card or other credit agreement. Mobile phone contracts and utilities are usually classed as credit agreements, too, because you receive the services before you’ve paid for them.
- How long you’ve held each of your credit accounts. Long-term accounts suggest reliable, loyal customers.
- How much of your available credit you’re currently using. If you’re using all or most of your credit, this might suggest financial difficulty.
- Enquiries that have been made into your account. These are typically applications made by potential lenders to view your credit report when you’ve applied for credit, but may also include enquiries from other parties like employers.
- Whether you’ve made the agreed payments to your creditors in a timely manner. If not, they may classify you as a “late” or “tardy” payer, which will be recorded on your report as an “adverse classification”.
- Whether you’ve defaulted (i.e. failed to make one or more payments) on any debts.
- Whether a creditor has attempted to trace you or taken enforcement action (e.g. a letter of final demand) against you due to defaulted debt.
- Whether you’ve been bankrupted or subject to legal action in relation to your finances (e.g. court judgements, admin orders or sequestrations).
- Whether fraud has been committed in your name, or you’ve committed fraud in another name.
- Any complaints you’ve made about the accuracy of information on your report.
Using all of the information on your credit report, a credit bureau will give you a numerical credit score. This is essentially a snapshot or summary of your credit report that creditors can use as part of their lending criteria.
What is a credit bureau?
Because the financial information in your credit report is highly sensitive, only licensed agencies can access it and share it with authorised organisations like creditors. These agencies are known as credit bureaus.
There are four credit bureaus in South Africa: Experian, Compuscan, TransUnion and XDS. The information they hold on you comes mostly from banks and lenders, but not all of them report to all four agencies. One bank or lender may report to all of them, while another may only report to one or two.
That means that different agencies may hold slightly different information about you, and therefore your credit score may differ depending on which agency a lender uses to run a credit check on you. For that reason, it’s a good idea to look at your credit report with all four agencies (more on that in a moment!).
Why do my credit report and credit score matter?
As you can see, your credit report and credit score both provide a pretty comprehensive picture of your financial behaviour. A creditor will use this information to assess the risk of lending to you, so if your report suggests that you’re not a reliable customer, you may find it difficult to get credit. If you do, you may find that creditors will lend to you at inflated interest rates to offset some of their risk, which can work out very expensive for you.
Lending aside, it’s increasingly common for employers to ask to run credit checks on applicants. In most cases, you can’t be denied a job based on your credit score alone. However, if you have a seriously adverse credit history, you may find it difficult to get work in certain roles with a financial or legal element.
Should I apply to see my credit report?
In short, yes! It’s always a good idea to know what information bureaus hold about you, especially if you’re about to apply for credit. Looking at your credit report can highlight any potential issues and give you the opportunity to improve your score. In turn, this will give you access to much better interest rates and ultimately save you money.
Also, keep in mind that applications are recorded as enquiries on your credit report, and many lenders are wary of a high number of enquiries in a short time because they suggest you might be in financial trouble. Seeing your report upfront means that you can address any problems that might lead to a decline before you apply, rather than finding out afterwards and damaging your score with lots of unsuccessful enquiries.
Finally, identity and credit fraud are getting more and more common, and they can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on your life. Checking your credit report on a regular basis can alert you to any fraudulent activity so that you can quickly put a stop to it.
Now that you know how your credit report works and why it’s important, here are our top 5 ways to see your credit report for free.
You have a bad credit score, now what?
If you’re concerned that a poor credit score is preventing you from lending, the first thing to do is confirm that all of the adverse information on your credit report is correct. If there are errors that could be negatively impacting your score, then you should contact the bureaus with evidence. If the information is found to be inaccurate, you have a legal right to have it corrected.
If you genuinely do have a poor credit history, you might worry that you’ll never be able to get affordable credit. That’s not the case, as your credit report only holds information for a set amount of time. The time limit varies depending on the type of information:
- Credit enquiries stay on your report for one year.
- Payment history stays for three years, even after the account is closed.
- Rejected complaints stay for six months.
- Adverse classifications (e.g. defaults, late payer status) stay for one year, or until the debt is repaid.
- Court judgements stay for five years, or until they’re paid up or rescinded by a judge.
- Administration orders and sequestrations stay for five years, or until they’re rescinded.
Quite often, improving your credit report is simply a matter of waiting until adverse information “times out” and drops off your report. In the meantime, you can strengthen your credit score by making sure all payments are made promptly and in full, resolving legal issues, and paying off late or outstanding debt wherever possible.
In some cases, a low credit score can actually be due to a lack of credit history. If you’ve never borrowed, then prospective lenders have no information to tell them how reliable you’ll be as a customer.
One way around this is to take out a credit-building card. These credit cards do have higher interest rates, but if you pay the balance in full at the end of every month, then you won’t be charged any interest. Once you’ve demonstrated responsible usage and made reliable payments, your credit score will improve and you’ll have access to better credit products.
As you can see, there are lots of factors that influence your credit report, and getting the full picture is the first step to building a healthy credit score. Remember that you have a statutory right to a free credit report with each bureau every year, and products like ClearScore offer this service for free year-round. Sign up and take control of your credit score now!