What Is Credit History?

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DEFINITION

Your credit history is a record of how you’ve managed loans, credit cards, and other types of credit. It includes how many accounts you’ve opened and whether or not you’ve paid your bills on time. You can see the details of your credit history in your credit report. 

Definition and Example of Credit History 

Understanding your credit history is important. Your credit history reveals how you’ve used credit, such as loans and credit cards. Lenders may review your credit history to determine whether you qualify for a new loan or line of credit, and to determine the interest rate they should offer. Landlords, prospective employers, and others may also review your credit history. Your credit history often includes:

  • How many loans and credit cards you’ve taken out
  • How much money you owe 
  • The number of on-time and late payments you’ve made 
  • How long you’ve had accounts open 
  • Whether your accounts are delinquent or in good standing

Your creditors keep track of this activity and report it to the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These credit bureaus collect this information and turn it into your credit report. 

With your permission, lenders can check your credit reports to review your credit history when evaluating you for a loan or a line of credit. By seeing how you’ve handled money in the past, lenders get a sense of whether you’re a good candidate for a new credit line.

Important

Some employers and landlords also look at your credit history when determining whether to hire you for a job or rent you an apartment.

Let’s say we have two people applying for the same loan. Sofia has three credit cards and she pays off her balances in full every month. She has also paid off two student loans in full and makes on-time payments on her third loan. Based on her credit history, the lender approves Sofia for a personal loan with competitive rates. 

Ben, on the other hand, has several accounts in collections. He defaulted on his student loans and carries a large balance on his credit cards from month to month. When the lender looks at Ben’s credit history, it decides to either reject his application for a loan or offer him a loan with high interest rates.

How Credit History Works

Your credit history is a record of the number and types of your accounts, how much you owe, whether your bills are paid on time, your recent credit inquiries, and other activity. A history of on-time payments will appeal to a lender, while a record of missing payments or a limited credit history can be a red flag.

Good Credit History

Having a good credit history makes it easier to qualify for a loan or credit card with low interest rates. Your credit history will look good to a lender if you pay your bills on time, show you can manage a mix of credit, and keep your credit utilization ratio (the percentage of your available credit that you’re using) below 30%—the lower, the better. However, lenders may be wary if you’ve applied for a lot of new credit in a short period of time.

Bad Credit History

A bad credit history can disqualify you for a new line of credit or stick you with high interest rates. A lender might consider your credit history to be bad if it shows late or missed payments, loans in delinquency or collections, or a high credit utilization ratio. Other warning signs include a history of bankruptcy, foreclosure, or settled accounts.

Warning

Opening lots of new accounts at the same time may also be unsettling to a lender. If you’re pursuing a mortgage, for example, it could hurt your application if you simultaneously open two new credit cards and apply for a personal loan.

No Credit History

Some consumers have little to no credit history. This is sometimes also called having “thin” credit. If you’re a young adult or new immigrant, for example, you might not have ever opened a credit card or taken out a loan in the U.S. Without a credit history, it can be challenging to take out a loan on your own. You do have some options, however, such as applying for a loan with a cosigner, opening a secured credit card, or taking out a credit-builder loan to build your credit history.

How To Check Your Credit History

You can review your credit history on your credit reports. To access your credit reports, you can request free copies from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion at AnnualCreditReport.com. While this service previously offered one free credit report from each bureau per year, it’s been offering free weekly credit reports throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If you see any errors on your credit report, you can dispute that information with the credit reporting company in question and try to get it to correct your report.

Credit History vs. Credit Score

Third-party companies such as FICO and VantageScore rely on your credit history to generate your credit scores, which generally fall between 300 and 850. Your credit score is a numerical value that represents your creditworthiness at a glance. 

Consumers with a good credit history will have a higher credit score, while consumers with a bad credit history or no credit history will have a lower score. Your credit score is not on your credit report. To get it, you can use any number of free services, such as Credit Karma or Discover Scorecard. Many credit card companies also supply free credit scores, and some don’t even require you to have an account with them to get the free score.

Key Takeaways

  • Your credit history is used by lenders and other interested parties to determine your eligibility for a loan, line of credit, and more. 
  • It includes information about any loans or lines of credit you have taken out, as well as your current debt, if any. 
  • Your credit history shows your payment history and how long your accounts have been open.
  • A good credit history can help you qualify for a loan or credit card with competitive rates, while a bad, thin, or nonexistent credit history can hurt your chances. 
  • You can review your credit history by requesting a free copy of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.

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