Credit X Files; Agencies Move to Quash Myths Of

Article excerpt

WITH a new series of The X Files on television, perhaps it is time some of us delved into our own secret files - or ''the credit files'' as they are known by some agencies.

Credit files still remain a bit of a mystery to most of us - we know financial data is stored by various agencies, but no-one seems to know who they are or what information is held, let alone for what this information is used.

Even the names of these agencies sound a little mysterious - Experian and Equifax.

But there is no need to call Mulder or Scully just yet - rather than hiding behind a cloak of secrecy, these agencies are keen to open their doors to consumers and encourage them to find out more about their credit file.

Certainly, there are a lot of myths surrounding these agencies, which both companies are keen to dispel.

Many people wrongly assume that these credit agencies are government- controlled. They are not. Both these agencies are commercial companies that collect financial information to pass on to third parties.

But, because of the sensitive nature of much of this information, they have to work within strict guidelines laid down by the Government - namely the Data Protection Act and the Consumer Credit Act.

Both companies hold information on how much credit you have and any debt problems you might have experienced.

Much of this information - such as county court judgments and bankruptcy orders - is already publicly available.

These agencies also pool information from all the major lenders in the UK.

This data cannot be passed on to anyone. Only companies that supply information on their customers can access data on other customers.

Your file should have information on any credit cards, store cards, bank loans, hire purchase agreements and mortgages you have.

According to Equifax, one of the main credit reference agencies, sharing information helps lenders crack down on fraud and ensures credit is given responsibility.

Most people assume that far more information is stored about them. Neither agency collects information from utility companies - so if you are late with a gas or electricity bill then this is not going to show up.

Likewise, credit agencies cannot access council records, so council tax debts should also go unnoticed. …