While many people will have heard of the term "credit record", research from one credit card provider revealed that only 48 per cent of people have ever checked their own file to see what it contains.
There are a number of reasons for this including not knowing where to get the information from and assuming that it's an expensive and complicated process. But the main reason is that many consumers don't realise how much their credit history can affect their everyday life.
An impaired credit rating can prevent you getting a mobile phone contract, or the best energy tariff, and could mean that borrowing via a credit card, loan or mortgage will be charged at a higher interest rate or result in your application being declined.
There are three main credit reference agencies (CRAs) in the UK – Experian, Callcredit and Equifax – and to obtain a statutory copy of your own report from any of these companies will cost you just £2. You can choose to see the information online or arrange for a copy to be posted to you.
If you've never looked at your record, I'd recommend that you pay the £2 so that you can check exactly what information is registered against your name. For all you know, the details may be incomplete or incorrect, making it more difficult and more expensive to obtain credit than it should be.
Your credit report contains details of your payment history, any late or missed payments on your existing loans and credit cards, and information on other cards and loans you've had in the past six years.
Your record will also include details of any bankruptcies and county court judgments as well as the amount you currently owe on your credit agreements together with details of searches and new applications made.
It's also worth trying to dispel some of the myths surrounding credit reports and CRAs.
Make sure you are registered on the electoral role otherwise you won't appear as being listed at your address if a lender makes a credit search.
Third-party information, including members of your family who live, or have lived, with you does not appear on your credit file as long as you don't share any joint financial commitments. If you've got any financial associations with ex-partners, for example joint accounts, make sure these are closed down.
Other people who have lived at your address previously will not affect your credit score. Information you won't find on a credit record includes details of savings, student loans, Child Support Agency details or criminal records.
Hints and tips that won't cost you a penny
If you're looking to get hold of a few tips on how to improve your credit rating, then you should take a note of the following.
Close credit card accounts that you're no longer using. Even though your balance may be zero, any prospective lenders will take into account any existing credit limits you have available to you when assessing applications for new finance.
If you apply for credit and are declined, don't make further applications with other lenders in the hope that one may say yes, as multiple applications and searches on your file within a short space of time will have a negative effect on your credit rating.
Having no record of managing credit can count against you so it's worth having a credit card and using it a few times each year. If you repay the statement balance in full and on time it won't cost you a penny, but it demonstrates that you are capable of managing credit and this will be reflected positively in your file.
If you've never taken a look at your own credit file I'd recommend getting hold of a copy using the low-cost statutory option as a start – it could turn out to be £2 well spent.
Andrew Hagger is an independent personal finance analyst from moneycomms.co.ukReuse content