A credit report is a detailed statement of your credit history — how you’ve handled your credit accounts and repaid your debts.
Credit reports include key financial information used by lenders, credit card issuers, and insurance companies to determine your creditworthiness. The information contained in your credit report also determines your credit score.
How do credit reports work?
For the most part, credit reports detail your history of payments to creditors over the past seven years. They may include personal information as well as credit inquiries performed by financial institutions.
Credit reports are issued by the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The bureaus, also known as credit reporting agencies, gather the information provided by creditors and lenders regarding the accounts you have with them.
If you’ve declared bankruptcy, your report may go back 10 years as opposed to the usual seven.
The origins of credit reporting
The roots of modern credit reporting go as far back as the early 19th century, when a group of London tailors began to compile information on customers who failed to settle their debts. In 1826, a newsletter pointing out unreliable customers began to circulate in Manchester.
The practice of monitoring consumers’ creditworthiness continued to evolve throughout the 19th and 20th centuries with the creation of the three credit bureaus:
How is a credit report generated?
Credit reports are prepared by credit bureaus. The data on these reports comes from a variety of sources, including banks, lenders, credit card companies, collection agencies and the government.
Who uses the information on your credit report?
With your credit report, the bureaus collect credit information about the debts you owe, your payment history, etc. This data is then provided to businesses, upon request, to help them manage risk and determine your ability to pay back debt.
The following are some of the entities that may evaluate your creditworthiness based on your credit report:
Insurers / Insurance companies
What goes into your credit report
Credit reports contain a wide range of information from the past seven to 10 years, from personal details to data concerning loans and lines of credit under your name. This includes how many credit accounts are in good standing and which, if any, have late payments.
The personally identifiable information (PII) contained in your report is used to match the data with you.
What’s in your credit report?
Your credit report may contain the following data:
Personal information. Full name (current and other forms), phone numbers, date of birth, Social Security number, current and former home address, and any employers listed on credit applications.
Credit accounts. Closed and open (credit card, mortgage, car loan, among others), the creditors associated with these accounts, loan amounts, payment history, credit limit, current account balance, and dates when they were opened and/or closed.
Public records. Bankruptcies and home foreclosures. As of 2017, tax liens do not appear on credit reports.
Hard and soft inquiries. These credit inquiries are typically carried out by potential lenders or by companies performing a background check. Checking your own credit report can result in a soft credit inquiry.
The difference between credit reports and credit scores
Credit scores can give lenders and creditors an idea of your ability to pay your bills on time and how much risk you represent as a borrower. The information used to calculate your credit score comes from your credit report.
On the other hand, credit reports are the source of your credit score, as these show your credit history, payment history and the current state of your accounts.
Credit report vs. credit score
Credit reports and credit scores are commonly confused. Here are the key differences between them:
• A detailed statement of your credit history
• A three-digit number that typically ranges between 300 and 850
• Includes information from all your accounts
• The score represents your creditworthiness
• There are three reports, one per credit bureau
• The information on your credit report determines your credit score
How To Read Your Credit Report
Credit reports are usually split into four sections: Personal information, Accounts and credit history, Public records and Inquiries.
While reports are not always easy to read, they give you a better understanding of your credit history and how lenders and credit card issuers use it to evaluate your creditworthiness.
It bears repeating that your credit score will only be as good as the account information on which it’s based, so make sure it’s accurate.
Identifying mistakes on your credit report
A study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission found that 20% of consumers had mistakes on their credit reports that were corrected after being disputed.
If mistakes go unchecked, they can drive up interest rates and reduce your ability to buy a home, refinance your mortgage, request an auto loan or even land a job.
When reading your credit report, look out for:
Incorrect late payments
Addresses you don’t recognize
Accounts you’ve never opened
Account limits that are higher than they should be
Requests for new credit you don’t recall making
Any bill incorrectly marked as unpaid
Correcting mistakes on your credit report
We cover more on this topic in our article on how to remove negative items from your credit report. But in a nutshell, you can file a dispute directly with the bureau that provided the report.
By federal law, bureaus must respond within 30 days of receiving your dispute. You can also file a dispute with the company that provided the negative information.
While some inaccuracies found in your reports may be simple errors, others could indicate you’ve been a victim of identity theft. If you believe that to be the case, visit the FTC’s website for fraud reporting and request a free fraud alert from any of the three main credit bureaus.
FAQs about credit reports
How can I get a free credit report?
You have a right to a copy of your credit report, as required by The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is tasked with enforcing the act.
You can request a free annual credit report from all three credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com, the only government-sanctioned website for free credit reports.
Due to the pandemic, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are offering free weekly credit reports that will remain available through April 2022.
How long does a bankruptcy stay on your credit report?
If you filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, it will appear on your credit report for 10 years.
But if you filed for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan, it will remain on your report for seven years.
How long do late payments stay on your credit report?
A late payment can remain on your credit report for up to seven years as of the delinquency date.
How long do hard inquiries stay on your credit report?
Hard inquiries may remain on your credit report for up to two years. These inquiries indicate that you applied for credit and they may affect your credit score.
How to freeze your credit report?
A credit freeze prevents any new accounts from being opened in your name. You can freeze your credit with any of the three credit bureaus. Typically, it takes effect almost immediately. Additionally, it’s free to both freeze and unfreeze your credit.
How long do closed accounts stay on your credit report?
A closed account with no history of late payments can remain on your credit report for up to 10 years.
Summary of Money’s guide to credit reports
Credit reports are detailed accounts of how you’ve handled credit — like loans and credit cards — over the years.
Credit reports include personal information, details about your credit accounts, information from public records, and credit inquiries.
Incorrect or outdated items on your credit reports can lower your credit score, so make sure to review all three of your reports regularly.
The only government-sanctioned website where you can request your free credit reports is AnnualCreditReport.com.
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