What Is a Credit Report?

A person looks at paperwork.
•••

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

DEFINITION

A credit report is a detailed summary of your credit activity, including your loan repayment history and the status of your current accounts.

Definition and Example of a Credit Report

Your credit report is a digital or paper document that shows a detailed breakdown of your credit activity. On your credit report, you can see your history of paying bills, current loans, lines of credit, and other financial information. Your credit report will also show negative marks such as missed payments or bankruptcy filings. Your creditors report your information to the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—which use this data to create and maintain your credit report.

You can access your credit report for free through AnnualCreditReport.com or companies such as Credit Karma that offer credit monitoring services. Once you have access to your report, you can click on and scroll through the various sections of your credit report.

How Does a Credit Report Work?

Creditors such as lenders and credit card companies report your information to the credit bureaus, which use this financial data to create your credit report. Creditors may not report your activity to every credit reporting company, so you might see slightly different reports from each credit bureau.

The credit reports you see from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion might look slightly different from one another, but they will all show you similar information. Here’s what you’ll see on your credit report:

  • Identifying details: This includes your name, birthday, current and former addresses, phone number, and Social Security number.
  • Credit activity: Your current and historical accounts. The report will reveal the type of account, such as installment or revolving balance, your loan amount or credit limit, and your account balance. It will also show the name of your creditor, when you opened or closed the account, and your payment history.
  • Accounts in collections: If you missed payments on any debts and they were sold to collections agencies, you’ll see that on your report.
  • Public records: This includes bankruptcies, foreclosures, liens, civil suits, judgments, or overdue child support.
  • Credit inquiries: If a lender runs a hard credit inquiry to check your report, it will appear on the report. Allowing too many credit checks in a short period of time could be a red flag to a lender.

Lenders typically look at your credit report when determining whether you qualify for a loan or line of credit, as well as what interest rate to give you. If you have a history of missing payments or bankruptcy, a lender might decide you’re too risky for a loan.

You don’t have to wait for a lender’s decision to find out what’s on your credit report. You can request a free copy from each of the three credit bureaus to review your information and flag any credit reporting mistakes.

Disputing Errors on Your Credit Report

When reviewing your credit report, you might come across inaccurate information. If you find errors, you can dispute them by sending a letter to the credit bureau reporting the error, or by filing an online dispute. The Federal Trade Commission provides a sample letter you can use as a template.

If the information is indeed inaccurate, the credit bureau is required to remove it from your credit report. If the information is correct, however, it will remain. Most negative information, such as accounts in collections, typically stays on your credit report for seven years.

Some negative marks, such as Chapter 7 bankruptcy, can remain on your report for up to 10 years.

Freezing Your Credit Report

If you’re concerned about a data breach or identity theft, you can restrict access to your credit report by requesting a credit freeze. When you freeze your credit report, creditors can’t access it, so an identity thief would have a difficult time opening a fraudulent account in your name. 

You can request a credit freeze online, over the phone, or via the mail for free. You will need to lift the freeze before you can get a new loan or credit card. You can lift the freeze permanently or temporarily as often as you need.

Credit Reports vs. Credit Scores

While your credit report contains a wealth of information on your financial activity, it does not show your credit score. Third-party companies calculate credit scores based on the information in your credit report.

Two common credit scoring models are FICO and VantageScore, both of which range from 300 to 850. You can check your credit scores for free through a credit monitoring service or a bank. Alternatively, you can pay for a service such as myFICO to view your FICO scores.

Along with checking your credit report, many lenders look at your credit score when deciding whether to approve you for a loan or credit card. For example, mortgage lenders often take the middle score of your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion score when assessing your creditworthiness. So if your scores from those bureaus are 700, 710, and 720, respectively, your mortgage lender will use your 710 score.

How To Get Your Credit Report

You can request a copy of your credit report for free from the three major credit bureaus or at AnnualCreditReport.com. This website is the only federally authorized source for accessing free credit reports.

In the past, you were allowed to get one free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau per year. Since the 2020 recession, however, AnnualCreditReport.com has been offering free online credit reports every week.

You also are entitled to a free copy of your report if a company has taken an adverse action against you, such as a denial of credit or insurance. You must request your free copy within 60 days of the adverse action.

There are also a few other circumstances when you’re eligible for a free credit report, including receiving public assistance, being a victim of identity theft, having a fraud alert in your file, or being unemployed and planning to search for a job within 60 days.

Key Takeaways

  • Your credit report is a detailed breakdown of your credit activity, including your current and past accounts, loan balances, and repayment history.
  • The three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—create your credit report from the information they collect from your creditors.
  • Lenders review one or more of your credit reports when evaluating your application for a loan or line of credit.
  • You can request a free copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, but you’ll need to use a separate service to access your credit score.
  • Negative marks often stay on your credit report for seven years, but you can get them removed if they were the results of reporting errors.

Want to read more content like this? Sign up for The Balance’s newsletter for daily insights, analysis, and financial tips, all delivered straight to your inbox every morning!

Article Sources