Experian is one of the best-known consumer credit reporting agencies, which collects and maintains information on more than a billion people and businesses around the globe.
The company provides several ways to access your credit details. You have the legal right to apply for a copy of your report for a one-off fee of £2. Alternatively, open an Experian Credit Score account and you're able to view your current credit score for free (though beware, it's only updated every 30 days).
Experian's CreditExpert is a more powerful solution which allows you to view your credit score and report at any time, updates them daily, alerts you to any significant changes which might indicate identity fraud, and constantly monitors the web for any signs of your personal information.
The Experian website does a far better job of explaining its products than most of the competition. If you've never seen a credit card report, for instance, you don't have to rely on a basic list of topics to understand what it contains. The site provides a sample credit report with dummy data which you can browse for yourself, a quick and easy way to see exactly what you're buying.
If you're tempted, CreditExpert is priced at a very standard £14.99 a month. You're not billed until you've completed a 30-day trial, so there's no risk in trying the service out.
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Every credit report monitoring service requires a lot of information before you can sign up, and CreditExpert is no exception. You'll need to provide your name, email and physical address, date of birth, phone number, mother's maiden name, as well as choosing a username, password, and a memorable word which you'll need every time you log in (using an 'enter characters 3, 5 and 7' system). And of course they need your credit card details, too.
While this might be annoying with other services, it's probably the best approach here. Credit reports contain a huge amount of sensitive information and it's vital that the service properly protects your account.
But if you stopped reading there, you'd miss the rest of the description: "We would also like to tell you about relevant news, offers and products (including financial products offered by third parties) which we think may be of interest to you. Please un-tick the box if you do not wish to receive these communications."
Log in to CreditExpert and you're presented with a clear and simple web dashboard. The first item we noticed was a colour-coded dial which highlighted our credit score and explained where we ranked compared to the rest of the population.
A View button takes you to a slightly more detailed view of your credit card report. This is carefully designed to be as simple as possible, and contains little more than a list of active and settled financial accounts, and some very basic summary details of your products (what's the highest available credit card limit on your credit cards, what's your total non-mortgage credit total.)
Beginners will probably appreciate this approach. They're not drowned in tables of figures, or payment histories going back years. Instead, the report is much more about giving you a clear explanation of why your score is good, or bad. For example, it might warn you that having a large number of credit accounts could cut your credit score, but this reduces over time, and as you settle accounts this can have a positive effect.
More experienced users can drill down to some of the details reasonably easily. We clicked a link for a credit card account, for instance, and were able to view account information and its balance and payment history going back 72 months. But other data often takes a little more time to find than we've seen with competing services.
An option to print or download your report (as a PDF) could help you compare details later. The report isn't formatted to fit the document – it's just one long page which gets sliced up to fit your PDF page size – but it's still a useful way to maintain a local copy of your data.
You don't have to keep watch over your credit report at all times. Experian does this for you, and if there are any significant changes, like a new account being opened in your name, you can be sent an alert by email or text message.
A separate web monitoring system looks out for your personal details, and alerts you if they turn up in suspicious places. Experian scans for your name, address, email and phone number, and you can extend this by adding more bank account and credit card numbers, a driving licence number, passport number, a nickname or alias.
There's no easy way to evaluate or compare this type of search system, as we've no idea where Experian is looking or how in-depth its search capabilities might be. But the service only takes a few minutes to set up, and if there's only a 1% chance of it noticing your details have been revealed in a data breach, that's going to be well worth your time and effort.
Experian CreditExpert doesn't excel in any particular area, but it delivers the basics well, and the credit report is so simple that even the financially-phobic will figure it out right away.
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