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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

What is a credit report?

A credit report is a statement that has information about your credit activity and current credit situation such as loan paying history and the status of your credit accounts.

Most people have more than one credit report. Credit reporting companies, also known as credit bureaus or consumer reporting agencies, collect and store financial data about you that is submitted to them by creditors, such as lenders, credit card companies, and other financial companies. Creditors are not required to report to every credit reporting company.

Lenders use these reports to help them decide if they will loan you money, what interest rates they will offer you. Lenders also use your credit report to determine whether you continue to meet the terms of an existing credit account. Other businesses might use your credit reports to determine whether to offer you insurance; rent a house or apartment to you; provide you with cable TV, internet, utility, or cell phone service. If you agree to let an employer look at your credit report, it may also be used to make employment decisions about you.

Credit reports often contain the following information:

Personal information

  • Your name and any name you may have used in the past in connection with a credit account, including nicknames
  • Current and former addresses
  • Social Security number
  • Phone numbers

Credit accounts

  • Current and historical credit accounts, including the type of account (mortgage, installment, revolving, etc.)
  • The credit limit or amount
  • Account balance
  • Account payment history
  • The date the account was opened and closed
  • The name of the creditor

Collection items

Public records

  • Foreclosures
  • Bankruptcies
  • Civil suits and  judgments

A credit report may include information on overdue child support provided by a state or local child support agency or verified by any local, state, or federal government agency.

  • Companies that have  accessed your credit report .

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What Is a Credit Report?

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Credit Report: Definition, Contents, and How to Get It for Free

the meaning of credit report

A credit report is a detailed breakdown of your credit history prepared by a credit bureau . Credit bureaus collect financial information about you and compile their reports based on that information. Lenders use the reports, often along with other data, to determine your creditworthiness . Insurance companies, employers, and landlords may check your credit reports, as well.

Key Takeaways

  • A credit report is a summary of your credit history, compiled by a credit bureau.
  • Credit reports include details on your credit accounts, public records such as bankruptcies, and a list of entities that have asked to see your credit report.
  • The three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—are each required to provide you with a free report at least once a year.

In the United States there are three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion . Each of these companies collects information about your credit history to create a unique credit report on you. Although most of their information is similar, there are often small differences among the three reports depending on which of your creditors, such as mortgage lenders and credit card companies, provide information to that particular bureau. Some creditors may supply information to one or two bureaus but not all three, and some may not supply any information on you at all.

Credit reports focus primarily on your use of credit. They do not include information on other types of bills. Nor do they show your income, investments, or other assets.

Advisor Insight

Derek Notman, CFP®, ChFC, CLU Intrepid Wealth Partners LLC, Madison, WI

Make sure to review your credit report before you need it. A client of mine was applying for a home mortgage, and when the bank pulled their credit report, there was over $20,000 of credit card debt on the report, but the client didn't have any credit cards.

What had happened was that the client had the same name as their father, so when the credit report was run, it pulled their correct information but also accidentally pulled their father’s credit card balance.

Make sure to check for errors before you think you will need to apply for credit, so you can have them fixed if there are any. Not doing this could delay your credit decision, cause your lender to think twice about lending you credit, and ultimately delay a time-sensitive purchase.

What Information Is in My Credit Report?

  • Personal Information : The top of the report contains personal information to identify you, including your name (and any variations of your name that you use), address, date of birth, spouse or co-applicant, and phone numbers.
  • Accounts : The second section represents the bulk of most reports and includes detailed information on your past and present credit accounts, both revolving credit , such as credit cards and lines of credit, and installment credit , such as auto loans, personal loans , and mortgages. It will indicate when you opened the account as well as its current status, such as whether it is open or closed. In addition, and most importantly, it will show whether you have kept up with your payments on that account or fallen behind.
  • Public Records : The third section includes public records regarding any bankruptcies, legal judgments , or tax liens. It does not include non-financial matters, such as arrests.
  • Credit Inquiries : The bottom of the report lists all of the entities that have recently asked to see your credit report. These fall into two categories: hard inquiries , which happen when you apply for credit, and soft inquiries , which occur when a potential creditor requests your file without your knowledge for marketing purposes. Hard inquiries can have a negative impact on your credit score, although it is usually brief.

Credit scores are three-digit numbers, typically ranging from 300 to 850, that serve as a sort of shorthand for your creditworthiness. The information in your credit reports is used to compute your credit scores, but the scores themselves are not part of your report and must be obtained separately.

Credit scores are computed using formulas developed by FICO or a competitor such as VantageScore . They assign different weightings to the information in your credit report, to reflect its importance and predictive value. A typical FICO score breaks down like this:

Payment history: 35%. This reflects whether you pay your credit bills on time.

Amounts owed: 30%. This looks at factors such as your credit utilization ratio , which compares how much debt you have outstanding to the total amount of credit you have available to you. Generally speaking, the lower that percentage, the better.

Length of credit history: 15%. Older accounts count for more than newer ones.

Credit mix: 10%. The credit scoring models favor individuals who've had a variety of credit types (such as a credit card and a car loan or mortgage) and used them all responsibly.

New credit: 10%. If you've taken on a lot of new credit lately, lenders can see that as a red flag.

While that's a typical breakdown, some scoring models put greater emphasis on certain factors. For example, there are scoring models specifically for mortgage lenders, car loan lenders, and credit card issuers. As a result, many consumers won't have just one credit score but several of them.

How Long Does Information Remain on Your Credit Report?

Information on your credit report will typically remain for at least seven years, after which it basically falls off. One exception is Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which can remain for up to 10 years.

Who Can See Your Credit Report?

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act , businesses and other parties need a legally permissible reason to request your credit report. That list can include lenders, insurance companies, employers, landlords, and government agencies. In the case of employers, you must give your permission in writing.

How Can You Obtain Your Credit Report?

By law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major bureaus at least once a year. The official website for that purpose is AnnualCreditReport.com . You're also entitled to see your credit report free of charge if you've recently been denied credit, insurance, or employment based on the information in your report or if you've been a victim of identity theft.

Your credit reports contain information that lenders, insurance companies, and others will use to judge you. For that reason it's important to check your reports periodically to make sure the information in them is correct. If you find errors, you have a right to dispute them, and the credit bureau is required by law to investigate the matter and get back to you.

Federal Trade Commission. " A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act ," Page 1.

Experian. " Understanding Your Experian Credit Report ."

myFICO. " What's in My FICO Scores? "

TransUnion. " How Long Does Bankruptcy Stay on Your Credit Report? "

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. " Who May Request My Credit Report? "

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What Is a Credit Report?

Jim Akin

Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com .

In this article:

  • What Is in a Credit Report and How Do You Read It? 

How Is a Credit Report Made?

Why is your credit report important, when should you get a credit report, what to look for in a credit report, how information in your credit report affects your credit scores.

A credit report is a record of your history managing and repaying debt. It works as a kind of report card lenders and other companies view when deciding to do business with you.

Included in your credit report is a historical record of how and when you pay your bills, how much debt you have, and how long you have been managing credit accounts.

Lenders and other companies may use your credit report to learn more about your previous borrowing experience, which helps them make decisions about granting you credit. Credit reports are also used to calculate your credit scores, verify your identity and for other purposes within certain limits defined under federal law.

What Is in a Credit Report and How Do You Read It?

A credit report is a readable presentation of the data stored in your electronic credit file at one of the three national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax). The information stored in your credit file at each bureau is essentially the same, but each bureau organizes the data differently, and each formats its credit report in its own way.

Personal Information

This includes:

  • Your full name, along with any variations of it you may have used when seeking or using credit (with or without a middle name or initial, nicknames, or surnames used prior to marriage or divorce, for instance).
  • Your current address and other addresses you've provided when opening credit accounts.
  • The names of current and past employers.
  • The names of any persons with whom you've jointly applied for credit in the past.

This section lists:

  • All your open loans and credit card accounts and up to seven years of monthly payment records for each, noting whether each payment was made on time or past its due date. For late payments, your credit report will indicate if they were 30-, 60- or 90-days past due.
  • Closed accounts, including paid-off loans and credit card accounts closed by either you or the card issuer, stay on your credit report for 10 years after they're closed and show up to seven years of payment history.
  • If applicable, accounts turned over to collections , property foreclosures and repossessions of vehicles or other merchandise as a result of non-payment will also be recorded in this section of a credit report.

This section of your credit report tracks companies' requests for your credit report or a credit score, and they remain on your credit report for up to two years. Experian reports group inquiries into two sections :

  • Hard inquiries are requests to check your credit associated with applications for new credit, such as a loan or credit card.
  • Soft inquiries usually occur when your credit report is checked for other reasons, such as for credit prequalification or when you check your own credit. They may also be a result of companies you already have a relationship with checking your credit status.

Public Records

If you file for bankruptcy, the details of the filing and its status (open, closed, etc.) will appear in this section of your credit report, where they will remain for seven or 10 years depending on the type of bankruptcy. If there's no relevant information to include, your Experian credit report may not have a Public Records section.

The national credit bureaus maintain millions of consumers' credit histories, based on information supplied by lenders and other entities. Each file includes records relevant to a person's history borrowing and making monthly payments. For identity verification purposes, your credit file also contains information such as your current name and any other names you may have used in the past, current and past addresses and your date of birth.

A credit file is not set in stone—it's a living and breathing record that's constantly being updated with the latest information being provided to the bureaus by your lenders and other institutions. When a company such as a lender, insurance provider or potential employer requests to check your credit, the bureau pulls the contents of your credit file that are relevant and disclosable by law to the company, and packages it in an organized document known as a credit report.

Your credit report does not contain all the data in your credit file—the credit bureaus have your full payment history on record, for instance, but are typically authorized to release only records for the last seven years. Your credit report also cannot be provided to just anyone; there are strict limits on the types of companies that can check your credit and when they are allowed to do so.

The data in your credit report is the raw material used to create credit scores , important numbers that can have a big financial impact on your life.

If your credit report shows a long history of on-time payments, it may mean you have higher credit scores , which will help you get credit cards and loans on more favorable terms. Conversely, late payments, bankruptcy and similar marks on your credit reports can lead to lower credit scores and make it harder for you to get approved for credit cards and loans, or cause a lender to charge a higher interest rate.

It's a good idea to check your credit reports two to three months before making a major credit application, such as for a home mortgage or car loan. Review your reports carefully to make sure you recognize all listed accounts and the balance and payment information matches your financial records. If there is anything on your credit report that you believe is inaccurate, you can file a dispute to correct it.

It is also a good practice to review your credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies at least once a year. Associating credit report checks with another event in your life—like the New Year holiday or your birthday—can help you remember. You can get a free credit report directly from Experian every 30 days and a free report every 12 months from each of the three national credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com . (Through April 2021, you can get a free credit report each week from the three credit bureaus from AnnualCreditReport.com.)

When you examine your credit report, it's a good idea to to do the following:

  • Be certain you recognize all the accounts listed on your report. If not, get in touch with the lender listed for that account to find out what is happening and to check for the possibility of identity theft .
  • Make sure the account status information is correct for your accounts. If it is not, start by calling the lender to ask about the discrepancy, then initiate a dispute .
  • Check the credit utilization ratio on each revolving credit account. To do this, divide the reported balance for each by its credit limit, then multiply by 100 to get a percentage. You also can calculate an overall utilization ratio by dividing the sum of all your balances by the sum of all their credit limits. Remember to keep your utilization ratio below 30% on individual accounts and overall.

Except for your personal information, everything listed in your credit reports has the potential to affect your credit scores , with payment history and credit utilization being the two most important factors.

Lenders like to see a healthy combination of well managed accounts, such as credit cards, an auto loan and a mortgage, so a good credit mix can positively affect your credit score as well.

What's on Your Credit Report?

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What Is a Credit Report and What Is on It?

Learn what a credit report is at Equifax! Read about each consumer reporting agency, see how to get a credit report, understand what is on a credit report and much more! [Duration - 2:16]


  • Your credit reports are important pieces of financial information that help lenders measure your level of credit risk, or the likelihood you’ll pay your bills on time.
  • Your credit reports include information about the types of credit accounts you’ve had, your payment history and certain other information such as your credit limits.
  • Credit reports from the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — may contain different account information.

Your credit reports are important pieces of financial information that help lenders measure your level of credit risk, or the likelihood you’ll pay your bills on time. So, it's important to understand what a credit report is, as well as what you’d expect to find on one.

What is a credit report?

A credit report is a summary of your credit history, including the types of credit accounts you’ve had, your payment history and certain other information such as your credit limits.

Information in your credit reports is typically provided to the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — by your creditors. You may see differences in your credit reports depending on which CRA provides them. This is because not all lenders report information to all three CRAs. Some report only to one or two, or even to none at all.

How is your credit report used?

Lenders use your credit reports as part of their evaluation process when deciding whether to extend you credit — and at what terms. Additionally, the information on your credit report is used to calculate your credit scores.

Prospective employers and landlords may also access your credit reports to help them decide whether to offer you a job or a lease. Your credit reports may also be reviewed if you’re trying to secure insurance coverage or if you’re applying for services such as utilities or a mobile phone contract.

What is in an Equifax credit report?

Your Equifax credit report contains the following types of information:

  • Identifying information: This section of your Equifax credit report, which is not used to calculate your credit scores, includes personal information, such as your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth.  
  • Credit account information: This information is reported to Equifax by your creditors and includes the types of accounts (for example, a credit card, mortgage, student loan or vehicle loan), the date those accounts were opened, your credit limit or loan amount, account balances and your payment history. Under certain circumstances, it may not contain all your credit accounts, such as a closed account that has dropped off your report after a certain period of time, or an account not reported to Equifax by one of your creditors.  
  • Inquiry information: There are two types of inquiries: “soft” and “hard.” “Soft” inquiries may result from checking your own credit reports, companies extending you pre-approved offers of credit or insurance, or your current creditors conducting periodic account reviews. Because soft inquiries do not impact credit scores, regularly checking your credit reports is a low-risk way to monitor your credit accounts and help you identify inaccurate or incomplete information, or suspicious activity that may signal potential identity theft. “Hard” inquiries occur when companies or individuals, such as a credit card company or lender, review your credit reports because you have applied for credit or a service – for example, a new loan, a credit card or a mobile phone contract. Hard inquiries remain on your credit reports for up to two years, and may impact your credit scores. Hard inquiries are just one of the factors that determine your credit scores.  
  • Bankruptcies: Bankruptcies generally remain on your credit report for seven to 10 years, depending on the type of bankruptcy. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is visible on your credit report for up to 10 years, and Chapter 13 for up to seven years.  
  • Unpaid child support and alimony: It’s also possible for unpaid child support or alimony payments to end up on your credit report and remain there for up to seven years, even if the account is later paid in full. While paying the account will not remove it from your credit report, it may lessen the impact that the previously overdue account has on your credit score.  
  • Collections accounts: The type of accounts that can be turned over to a collection agency are credit accounts, and also accounts with banks, retail stores, cable companies, mobile phone providers, doctors and hospitals. Effective July 1, 2022, medical debt that was sent to a collection agency but you have since paid off will no longer appear on your Equifax, Experian or TransUnion credit reports. Also, a landlord may seek payment by selling your rent debt to a collection agency. The unpaid rent sold to a collection agency can be included in your credit report for up to seven years.  

How to get a credit report

It's important to check your credit reports regularly to ensure the information in them is accurate and complete . It’s also wise to monitor your credit scores.

You can receive free Equifax credit reports with a myEquifax account . Sign up and look for "Equifax Credit Report" on your myEquifax dashboard. For a free monthly VantageScore 3.0 credit score, click "Get my free credit score" on your myEquifax dashboard to enroll in Equifax Core Credit™ . A VantageScore is one of many types of credit scores. You can also get free credit reports annually from the three nationwide CRAs at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Get your free credit score today!

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Credit Intel

6 Min Read | December 30, 2022

What is a Credit Report and Why is it Important?

Understanding what a credit report is could be confusing. Learn what information a credit report contains and how to get your credit report for free.

What is a Credit Report

This article contains general information and is not intended to provide information that is specific to American Express products and services. Similar products and services offered by different companies will have different features and you should always read about product details before acquiring any financial product.


A credit report is a detailed account of your credit history.

They’re an important measure of your financial reliability.

Your credit report might be used in a variety of situations, from getting a credit card to buying a house – or even applying for a job. 

In today’s Web-cookied, location-based digital era, it’s not uncommon for the websites and apps you use to track nearly every move. But did you know there’s also a group of  credit reporting agencies  likewise tracking your financial payment history? The credit reports they generate are detailed, objective accounts of your credit situation and financial history – separate from, but used to help calculate, the simplified numerical representation of financial reliability known as your  credit score . 

And it may not matter whether or not you’ve ever had a credit card. If you’ve ever taken out a loan or simply paid a utility bill, chances are one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) are keeping tabs on your “creditworthiness.”

Why Your Credit Report Matters

Your  credit report  and credit score are objective measures of your financial reliability, and therefore can carry a lot of weight in a number of circumstances.  Depending on the current status of your credit accounts and the history of your bill and loan payments, you might think of your credit report as a trusty companion – or perhaps a looming shadow.  

If lenders deem you creditworthy, your credit report might help you get approved for a  new credit card  with great perks, and even help you land a job or a new apartment.  

But if your financial history is rocky, the credit or loan application process might seem daunting. Understanding what’s in your credit report and how it translates into your credit score can help you know what to expect.

What Information is Included in Your Credit Report

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) notes that each credit bureau creates a slightly different credit report, but most are split into four or five main sections 1 :

  • Personal information  includes any name you’ve ever used in connection with an account, your birth date, social security number, and former addresses.
  • Credit account information  includes current and past credit accounts (such as credit cards, loans, and mortgages), account balances, payment history, and how long each account has been open.
  • Debt collections  may appear if a lender has ever transferred overdue account payments to an external collection agency.
  • Public records  list applicable history of bankruptcies, foreclosures, liens, or civil suits.
  • Recent inquiries  list any entities that have recently inquired about your credit, like credit card companies or lenders.

Did you know?  As an added security measure to help protect against fraud, American Express reports a reference number to credit bureaus – instead of your actual account number.

How to Get a Free Credit Report

Every 12 months, you’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. You can request your credit reports directly from AnnualCreditReport.com, a resource approved by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC. You can spread your three free reports over the course of 12 months to monitor your credit throughout the year.  

It’s worth noting that this source may not provide your credit score. However, many banks and credit card companies offer free access to your credit score. Otherwise, you can purchase your credit score from one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. 2

Credit Score

How Banks and Businesses Use Your Credit Report

Lenders, businesses, and other entities may look at your credit report and credit score to help decide how financially trustworthy you are. Thus, establishing good credit can help you get approved for loans or a credit cards, earn lower interest rates, get approved for higher lines of credit, and more. 

There are two main types of  credit inquiries : “hard” and “soft.” Hard inquiries usually occur when you apply for a loan, mortgage, or credit card. But they often come with a price. CFPB points out that hard inquiries can  impact your credit score since most scoring algorithms pay attention to how often you apply for credit. 

Soft inquiries provide a basic overview of your credit history and won’t impact your credit score, according to CFPB. Prescreened credit card or loan offers typically rely on soft inquiries. 

And don’t worry, your credit report isn’t openly accessible to anyone. Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), strict laws dictate that only governments and businesses with legally acceptable reasons can request access. 3

Ways Credit Reports Can Help You Achieve Financial Goals

Whether you see your credit report as a friend or foe, it will always be there to vouch for your reliability when you’re in the market for a house or a new car. But credit reports are used for a variety of other important things, too. Here are some of the less obvious ways your credit report might be used:

  • Getting a job. Prospective employers can look at a version of your credit report to determine your dependability and inform employment decisions about you.
  • Car insurance rates.  Car insurance companies may check a credit report to determine your premium.
  • Renting an apartment.  Solid credit history can indicate the likelihood you’ll pay rent on time – thus making you a better prospective tenant. 
  • TV, internet, and cell phone services. Some cable, internet, and cell phone providers might look at your credit report to determine whether or not you have to make a security deposit before starting service.

The Takeaway

A credit report is a detailed account of your credit history that lenders, businesses, and credit card companies use to assess your financial reliability. And because it measures “reliability,” credit reports are also often referenced in a variety of situations beyond getting a credit card or loan, such as renting an apartment or applying for a job. 

1 “ What is a credit report? ” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

2 “ Where can I get my credit score? ” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

3 “ Who may request my credit report? ” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Megan Doyle

Megan Doyle  is a business technology writer and researcher whose work focuses on financial services and cross-cultural diversity and inclusion.

All Credit Intel  content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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What is a Credit Report?

A record of a consumer's history of managing debt created by a credit bureau based on information supplied by the consumer's lenders. It contains information such as the consumer's name, address, Social Security number, credit accounts and balances owed, payment history, and more.

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Credit report and score basics

From: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

Your credit report

Your credit report is a summary of your credit history.

Your credit report is created when you borrow money or apply for credit for the first time. Lenders send information about your accounts to the credit bureaus, also known as credit reporting agencies.

Your credit score

Your credit score is a three-digit number that comes from the information in your credit report. It shows how well you manage credit and how risky it would be for a lender to lend you money.

Your credit score is calculated using a formula based on your credit report.

Note that you:

  • get points if you use your credit responsibly
  • lose points if you have trouble managing your credit

Your credit score will change over time as your credit report is updated.

How a credit score is calculated

It’s impossible to know exactly how much your credit score will change based on the actions you take. Credit bureaus and lenders don’t share the actual formulas they use to calculate credit scores.

Factors that may affect your credit score include:

  • how long you’ve had credit
  • how long each credit has been in your report
  • if you carry a balance on your credit cards
  • if you regularly miss payments
  • the amount of your outstanding debts
  • being close to, at or above your credit limit
  • the number of recent credit applications
  • the type of credit you’re using
  • if your debts have been sent to a collection agency
  • any record of insolvency or bankruptcy

Lenders set their own guidelines on the minimum credit score you need for them to lend you money.

If you have a good credit score, you may be able to negotiate lower interest rates. However, when you order your credit score, it may be different from the score produced for a lender. This is because a lender may give more weight to certain information when calculating your credit score.

Who creates your credit report and credit score

There are two main credit bureaus in Canada:

These are private companies that collect, store and share information about how you use credit.

Equifax and TransUnion only collect information from creditors about your financial experiences in Canada.

Some financial institutions may be willing to recognize a credit history outside Canada if you ask them. This may involve extra steps. For example, you may request a copy of your credit report in the other country and meet with your local branch officer.

Who can see and use your credit report

Credit bureaus follow rules that define who can see your credit report and how they can use it.

Those allowed to see your credit report include:

  • banks, credit unions and other financial institutions
  • credit card companies
  • car leasing companies
  • mobile phone companies
  • insurance companies
  • governments

These businesses or individuals use your credit report to help them make decisions about you.

These decisions could be to:

  • lend you money
  • collect a debt
  • consider you for rental housing
  • consider you for a job
  • provide you with insurance
  • offer you a promotion
  • offer you a credit increase

A lender or other organization may ask to “check your credit” or “pull your report". When they do so, they are asking to access your credit report at the credit bureau. This results in an inquiry in your credit report.

Lenders may be concerned if there are too many credit checks, or inquiries in your credit report.

It can seem like you're:

  • urgently seeking credit
  • trying to live beyond your means

Consent and credit checks

In general, you need to give permission, or your consent, for a business or individual to use your credit report.

In the following provinces a business or individual only needs to tell you that they are checking your credit report:

  • Nova Scotia
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Saskatchewan

Other provinces require written consent to check your credit report. When you sign an application for credit, you allow the lender to access your credit report. Your consent generally lets the lender use your credit report when you first apply for credit. They can also access your credit at any time afterward while your account is open.

In many cases, your consent also lets the lender share information about you with the credit bureaus. This is only the case if the lender approves your application.

Some provincial laws allow government representatives to see parts of your credit report without your consent. This includes judges and police.

Contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office for information on laws related to credit reporting.

What's included in your credit report

Your credit report contains personal, financial and credit history information. In general, it takes 30 to 90 days for information to be updated in your credit report.

Personal information in your credit report

Your credit report may contain your:

  • date of birth
  • current and previous addresses
  • current and previous telephone numbers
  • social insurance number
  • driver’s licence number
  • passport number
  • current and previous employers
  • current and previous job titles

Financial information in your credit report

Your credit report may contain:

  • non-sufficient funds payments, or bad cheques
  • chequing and savings accounts closed “for cause” due to money owing or fraud committed
  • credit you use including credit cards, retail or store cards, lines of credit and loans
  • bankruptcy or a court decision against you that relates to credit
  • debts sent to collection agencies
  • inquiries from lenders and others who have requested your credit report in the past three years
  • registered items, such as a car lien, that allows the lender to seize it if you don't pay
  • remarks including consumer statements, fraud alerts and identity verification alerts

Your credit report contains factual information about your credit cards and loans, such as:

  • when you opened your account
  • how much you owe
  • if you make your payments on time
  • if you miss payments
  • if your debt has been transferred to a collection agency
  • if you go over your credit limit
  • personal information that is available in public records, such as a bankruptcy

Your credit report can also include chequing and savings accounts that are closed “for cause”. These include accounts closed due to money owing or fraud committed by the account holder.

Other accounts included in a credit report

Your mobile phone and internet provider may report your accounts to your credit bureau. They can appear in your credit report, even though they aren’t credit accounts.

Your mortgage information and your mortgage payment history may also appear in your credit report. The credit bureaus decides if they use this information when they determine your credit score

A home equity line of credit ( HELOC ) that is added to your mortgage may be treated as part of your mortgage in your credit report. If your HELOC is a separate account from your mortgage, it is reported separately.

Why your credit history matters

It can affect your finances.

Financial institutions look at your credit report and credit score to decide if they will lend you money. They also use them to determine how much interest they will charge you to borrow money.

If you have no credit history or a poor credit history, it could be harder for you to get a credit card, loan or mortgage. It could even affect your ability to rent a house or apartment or get hired for a job.

If you have good credit history, you may be able to get a lower interest rate on loans. This can save you a lot of money over time.

It can show signs of identity theft

You can also use your credit report to check for signs of identity theft. This is something you should do at least once a year for both credit bureaus. Look to make sure someone has not tried to open credit cards or other loans in your name.

Related links

  • Improving your credit score
  • How long information stays on your credit report
  • Ordering your credit report and score
  • Identity theft and identity fraud

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How to Read Your Credit Report

9 Min Read | Jan 10, 2023

Ramsey Solutions

Here’s something you should know about us: We hate credit scores. Yep—they’re bogus. But even though they’re nothing more than a measly “I love debt” score, you shouldn’t ignore them altogether . . . especially since your score is tied to your credit report. Even if you’re debt-free and don’t care what big banks and lenders think of you, you still need to check your credit report for errors or signs of fraud  at least  once a year.

But sifting through your report can be pretty confusing, especially if you don’t know how to read a credit report or what kind of red flags to look for. It can be a lot to take in. But don’t worry! We’ve done the heavy lifting so you don’t have to.

Ready, set, let’s walk through everything you need to know about how to read your credit report.

What Is a Credit Report?

A credit report is kind of like a report card for your credit history. It can be used by potential lenders to determine how risky it is to lend you money, which is basically just how likely you are to pay your monthly payments on time. Your credit report can tell them:

  • The date you opened any credit accounts or took out any loans
  • The current balance on each account
  • Your payment history
  • The credit limits and total loan amounts
  • Any bankruptcies
  • Your identifying information (name, address, Social Security number)

A credit bureau or credit-reporting company like Equifax, Experian or TransUnion will provide your information to whatever company may be considering giving you a loan or credit account. These bureaus all operate independently, so their reports may be slightly different depending on the information provided by the lenders they used.

How to Get a Credit Report

You’re allowed  one free copy of your credit report every year  from each of the major credit-reporting agencies we just talked about. But the reports aren’t automatically mailed to you—you have to ask for them! And since each agency keeps different details about you on file, it’s worth checking with all three. If you play your cards right, you can even stagger them so you’re getting a free report nearly every quarter.

Now that you know how to get a credit check, we’ll walk you through the four major areas you need to inspect for any red flags. These could help you spot potential identity theft situations, so listen up!

Identifying Information

This section has any personal information that could be used to identify you, including:

  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Phone number

Red Flags:  Everything in this section needs to refer to you and not someone else who happens to share your name (looking at you, Mr. Smith). And while you’re at it, go ahead and double-check the Social Security number—just in case.

Make sure all the addresses listed are places you’ve actually lived. If you’ve never been to Waxahachie, Texas, but the report says you lived there for seven years, you definitely want to follow up on that. Later, we’ll share what steps to follow if you  do  find errors in your report.

Credit History

The bulk of the report is in this section. Your credit history includes:

  • Open and paid credit accounts, like credit cards, mortgages and loans
  • Accounts shared with someone else
  • Total loan amounts
  • Remaining loan balances
  • Late payments
  • Accounts that have been sent to collections

Red Flags:  Read and reread this section to make sure everything listed is correct. Got it? Okay. Now check again. Seriously. Look for any unfamiliar accounts and check for payments being noted as late (when they actually weren’t).

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If you’ve closed a credit card account, confirm it’s showing up as closed on your credit report. Also, make sure no lines of credit have been opened in your name without your consent—that’s a huge red flag and might mean you’re at risk of  identity theft .

Public Records

You want this part to be blank. The financial activity listed here—like  bankruptcy and judgments—is taken from public records, and some of it can stay on your credit report for 7–10 years.

Red Flags:  It’s pretty rare to find an error in this part of the report, but it’s worth scanning anyway. Mistakes in this section should be cleared up ASAP.

Here you’ll see detailed listings of every business that has requested your credit report. There are two types of credit inquiries: soft and hard. Soft inquiries are just from companies wanting to send you promotional materials or current creditors checking your financial status. Hard inquiries are made when you actually apply for a credit card, loan or mortgage.

Red Flags:  If you’re not doing debt anymore, you shouldn’t have any hard inquiries on your report. Any hard inquiry you didn’t authorize is a sign someone might be using your information to sign up for debt. Any old inquiries should disappear from your report after about two years.

What Does an “Open Account” Mean on My Credit Report?

An open account is any line of credit you’ve opened and never officially closed. You know, like that paid-off department store credit card you forgot to call about and cancel. Even if you haven’t used a credit card for years, it will still show up as an open account on your credit report until you close the account . It’s time to just go ahead and close it for good.

What Does a “U” Stand for on a Credit Report?

The “U” on your credit report stands for “unclassified,” meaning that the account hadn’t been updated at the time the report was pulled. It’s one of many status codes that can appear next to an account on your credit report. Codes like this usually indicate a problem with the account, like it being past due or sent to collections.

You might also see a “U” if the  account is new  and you haven’t made any payments on it yet. Again, if you didn’t open the account, that’s a warning sign you need to look into.

Who Can See My Credit Report?

Most people can’t legally use your personal information to access your credit report. However, there are several types of organizations that are allowed to pull your credit: banks, creditors, lenders, insurance or utility companies, potential landlords, collections agencies, potential employers and the government.

The laws about who can access your credit score are different from state to state. If you’re worried at all, do some research and find out what the law is where you live.

Where Can I Find My Credit Score?

If you got a free credit check, don’t be surprised when it  doesn’t  include your  credit score . To see that, you’ll have to use a free web service or pay for it through myFICO or another credit bureau.

FICO Score Ranges

Remember, when it all comes down to it, a credit score is really just an “I love debt” score. That’s right, a “good score” simply shows how well you’ve played the debt game. It doesn’t reflect your actual net worth or the amount of money you have in the bank. In other words, it’s really nothing to be proud of. The only way to keep your stellar credit score is to live in debt and stay there—no, thanks!

It  is  possible to  live life without a credit score , which is exactly what  Dave recommends . But that doesn’t mean you should trash your credit to lower it! Just start paying off your debt, close your credit accounts once they’re paid off,  and  don’t take on any new debt. If you’re following  the Baby Steps , you should reach that indeterminable score (the term the credit bureaus use for folks who don’t use credit) within a few months to a few years. Remember: No credit is  not  the same as having a low credit score.

Can Someone Run a Credit Report Without Me Knowing?

It depends. Like we said earlier, there are soft inquiries and hard inquiries. Soft inquiries happen all the time without you even knowing—a company might check your credit score if they’re planning on mailing you a promotional offer. These inquiries don’t affect your credit score at all.

But hard inquiries require your actual consent before they can happen. These impact your credit score and can’t legally be done without you knowing, so breathe easy—but don’t slack off when it comes to keeping an eye on your credit. Check your credit report at least once a year, and if you notice a hard inquiry you didn’t authorize, you’ll need to dispute it with the credit agency.

How to Dispute Inaccuracies

Any mistakes on your credit report need to be taken up with the agency that shows the error. Write a letter that lists each incorrect item you found and why you’re disputing it.

Let’s say you closed a credit card, but it still shows up as an open account on your credit report. Here’s what you need to do: Gather up documents and any evidence you have to prove it’s a mistake. Then, send all of this by certified mail to the credit reporting agency—and don’t forget a return receipt! The agency has only 30 days to respond, so you should see some movement pretty quickly.

Avoid Identity Theft

Learning how to read a credit report might seem complicated at first, but now that you know what to look for, it’s not so daunting. And like we said earlier, it’s a good idea to do a credit check at least once a year. Why? Because staying on top of your credit report is a great way to guard yourself from identity theft,  so make sure you’re protected !

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About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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How to Freeze Your Credit

Identity theft is becoming a bigger problem every single year. But you don’t have to sit back and let it happen to you. There are ways to protect yourself. Learn how to freeze your credit right here.


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