- A credit report contains key information about your credit history, which can influence how easily you can access credit and at what interest rate.
- The report includes your personal information, credit accounts, credit inquiries and relevant public records, such as bankruptcies or late payments.
- You can request a free copy of your credit report to gain awareness of your credit history and report any errors.
Understanding your credit report can help you gain greater insight into your financial wellness. A credit report is a snapshot of an individual's or business's credit history. A credit report is analyzed by financial institutions and lenders to determine eligibility for lines of credit, loans and mortgages.
Read on to learn more about a credit card definition, a summary of what is included in a credit report and why your credit report is important for understanding your credit history.
What information is usually found in a credit report?
Learning what information is on a credit report can help you understand what lenders and other third parties see when they request yours.
A credit report contains extensive information including your credit score and often contains personal information, credit accounts, credit inquiries or public records. This information can contribute to how your credit scores are calculated.
There are three major credit bureaus that can provide these credit reports: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.
Your credit report contains several elements of your personal identification, including your date of birth and social security number, that help identify the report as belonging to you.
Other forms of personal information on a credit report include:
Full name: Including any names you’ve used in the past on credit applications or accounts. This might include different surnames, nicknames or other variations of your name
Current and previous addresses: Including any addresses used on a credit application or account
Current and past employers: Employer names as well as employment dates
Phone numbers: Including mobile, home and other numbers associated with your credit accounts
A credit report outlines your account history, and contains a record of your current and historical credit accounts. This includes all types of credit: revolving credit lines, credit cards, home loans and other installment loans, such as auto loans. Prior credit accounts, for example, a loan paid off in full, may also stay on your report for up to 10 years.
This section of a credit report also outlines:
Current and/or closed account information: A list of current and former accounts, including the date(s) when each account was opened and closed
Balance and payment history: The current or outstanding account balance for each line of credit, as well as each account’s credit limit, and a summary of late or missed payments
Lender contact information: Up-to-date contact information allows you to contact lenders if you have questions about the information on your credit report
Any hard and soft credit inquiries will be shown on your credit report, along with the dates of each credit check and the purpose of the inquiry.
Applications for new credit that appear as a hard inquiry can slightly affect your credit score for up to two years. Soft credit inquiries, such as those made when checking your own credit score, will not affect your score.
The final section of a credit report will outline relevant public records that may be of interest to lenders, including bankruptcies, foreclosures, civil suits and tax liens. Depending on the type of public record, for example, the type of bankruptcy filed, records may be listed on your credit report for 7 to 10 years.
Third parties, such as potential lenders, use the information in your credit report to make decisions about whether to approve or deny your credit application.
How are credit reports used, and who uses them?
Lenders need to review applicants’ credit information to make informed decisions as to whether or not to grant them credit. As a result, they could request your credit report from any of the three national credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.
Parties and individuals that could access your credit report could include:
Banks: A bank or other financial institution may review your credit report when you first open an account or when you apply for overdraft protection.
Credit lenders: Lenders may review your credit report as part of the approval or pre-approval process for credit, such as a mortgage or credit card.
Employers: Employers may request a credit report to verify an applicant’s identity, view past employers or as part of a larger background check to reduce the risk of theft.
Insurance companies: Insurers may pull your credit report to assess your financial wellness and perceived risk level.
Landlords and utility companies: Landlords may use credit reports to confirm applicants’ identities and employment status, and both landlords and employers use credit reports to assess risk level.
With so many parties able to access your credit report, it’s important to ensure that the report is accurate and up to date, to prevent errors from affecting your credit applications, insurance applications and more.
How often should you check your credit report?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests consumers check their credit reports once a year at a minimum to ensure the information is correct and that there are no signs of identity theft.
If you’re planning to apply for a new credit card or a loan within the next few months, checking your credit report prior to applying can allow you ample time to dispute any errors or lift any credit freezes you may have in place.
How to access your credit report
You’re allowed access to one free credit report each year through annualcreditreport.com. This is the only free credit report provided by the three nationwide credit reporting companies under VantageScore: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
However, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you’ve been denied credit within the last 60 days. This can be done by directly contacting the credit reporting agency.
Finding and disputing errors on your credit report
If you find errors in your credit report, you’ll be able to file a dispute with the credit bureau that provided the report. Each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — can be contacted by mail, by phone or through online support.
To file a dispute, you’ll need to identify the specific area(s) in your report that contain errors, as well as gather supporting documentation to verify the error. Please note, the lender/financial institution you are applying for credit with will not dispute errors on your behalf.
Why your credit report is important
Your credit report is a major factor that lenders use to determine your creditworthiness and whether or not to conduct business with you. Your credit report can reveal whether you’re an at-risk borrower or, conversely, showcase your solid credit history to help you get better interest rates on new credit accounts.
The information in your credit report affects many life decisions, such as where you can live, whether you can secure a vehicle or whether you can refinance to help lower your debts. Checking your report regularly should be a part of any credit monitoring strategy, as well as part of a smart financial plan overall.