All About Credit Reports

Many Americans don’t bother to check their credit report until they’re thinking about applying for credit. A 2014 Harris Interactive poll found that 65 percent of Americans hadn’t checked their credit report in the previous 12 months, and most who didn’t (32 percent) said it was because they weren’t planning any major purchases or credit applications.

Of course, if you plan a major credit move – such as applying for a mortgage or vehicle loan – reviewing your credit report can provide insight into how potential lenders might perceive your application. But even if you’re not applying for credit, your credit report contains valuable information.

What is a credit report?

Many credit reporting companies, including the three national credit bureaus, collect and compile information about consumer credit behaviors. Your credit report is a snapshot of all your past and present credit activities. It includes basic identifying information about you, such as your name and current and past addresses, as well as information obtained from your creditors, public records and other reliable sources.

Information is generally separated into easy-to-understand sections. A typical credit report could include:

  • Personal data – Includes information associated with your records that has been reported to us by you, your creditors and other sources. It may include name variations, your driver’s license number, Social Security number variations, your date of birth, your spouse’s name, your employer, your telephone numbers and information about your residences.
  • Past and current credit accounts, including balances (if any), the date when those accounts were opened and closed, payment history, debt owed and any co-signers.
  • Public records such as bankruptcies, monetary court judgments, federal and state tax liens, and overdue child support payments.
  • Recent “hard” inquiries into your credit status from anyone with whom you applied for credit and from others – such as lenders, insurers and employers – whom you’ve given permission to view your credit report.

Who can view your credit report?

Federal law entitles you to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus once every 12 months. Go to annualcreditreport.com to get yours. Reviewing your credit report regularly can help you better understand the changes in your credit history and score, and detect any signs of fraud or identity theft.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) stipulates who – other than you – may look at your credit report, including:

  • Companies with whom you have credit dealings (such as a credit card provider) or with whom you are applying for credit, such as a mortgage company.
  • A current or potential employer, but only if you give written consent.
  • Insurers who will be underwriting a policy for you.
  • Courts and certain other government agencies, but only under certain circumstances.

What if you disagree with something on your credit report?

The FCRA gives you the right to dispute information on your credit report that you believe is incorrect. If you discover information in your credit file that you feel is incomplete or inaccurate, you must first alert the reporting credit bureau in writing of your dispute. The Federal Trade Commission provides an explanation of dispute procedures on its website. The credit agency must then investigate your dispute. If it turns out the information is wrong, the law requires the agency to remove or correct it within 30 days.

Your credit report is an important part of your overall financial health. It’s important to understand how your credit history affects your ability to get credit and your overall finances.