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By Noel Dávila
February 3, 2021
Showing half of credit report from the large yellow envelop
Jose Velez / Money

A credit report is a detailed statement of your history with credit — how you handled your accounts and repaid your debts. The report includes key financial information used by companies to determine your creditworthiness and your credit score.

What You Should Know:

  • A credit report is a comprehensive summary of the history of your payments to creditors over the past seven years. If you’ve declared bankruptcy, the report goes back 10 years.
  • A credit report may include personal information, past and current credit accounts, inquiries performed by financial institutions, and any bankruptcies or foreclosures, among others.
  • Credit reports are prepared by the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

A credit report essentially breaks down how you’ve managed your credit. The information on your record can come from banks, credit card companies, collection agencies, and the government.

Besides personal information, such as your Social Security number, address, and birth date, a credit report will also include details regarding accounts like credit cards, car loans, and mortgages. Public information — bankruptcies, foreclosures, and judgments — may also be included.

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.

This was followed in 1826 by the creation of the Society of Guardians for the Protection of Tradesmen Against Swindlers, Sharpers, and other Fraudulent Persons in Manchester. This group circulated a monthly newsletter informing its members of unreliable customers.

The practice of monitoring consumers’ creditworthiness continued to evolve throughout the 19th and 20th centuries with the creation of the three credit bureaus: Equifax (1899), TransUnion (1969), and Experian (1996).

“Our role as credit bureaus is to collect and store information about the debts you owe and then provide them to businesses to help them manage risk and determine whether or not you will be able to repay a debt,” says Rod Griffin, Senior Director of Public Education and Advocacy for Experian. “At the same time, we help people connect with those businesses to get the credit they need by providing a credit report that shows they’re a good customer,” he added.

These reports inform credit scores that may be evaluated by financial institutions, insurance providers, employers, potential landlords, retailers, among others, to predict a consumer’s ability to pay back debt.

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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 accounts. These break down past and current accounts and specify which of these remain in good standing and which, if any, had late payments.

Other information includes when accounts were opened, as well as the credit limits, loan amounts, and balances. These reports also show if your credit was pulled by any company as part of an inquiry and the date on which it was performed.

“Fundamentally, your credit report is a record of the debts you owe and how you’re repaying them,” says Griffin. “It’s simply a record of your financial obligations along with identifying information so we can match the information to you.”

What’s in Your Credit Report?

Credit reports are records of your financial obligations and how well you’ve repaid debt throughout your history. These reports include a wide range of information that determines your credit score and creditworthiness.

The following is some of the data your credit report may contain:

  • Personal information. Your full name in its current form and any other forms you’ve used related to an account, phone numbers associated with accounts, date of birth, Social Security number, current and former home address, and current and former employers if listed on any credit applications.
  • Accounts. Closed accounts as well as those currently open, identified by type (credit card, mortgage, car loan, among others), the creditors associated with these accounts, payment history, credit limit, current balance, and dates when the accounts were opened and closed (if applicable).
  • Public records. Bankruptcies and home foreclosures. Until 2017, tax liens placed on any property, along with civil judgments resulting from unpaid debts would appear on credit reports. That all changed with the National Consumer Assistance Plan.

When reading your credit report, always take a close look at your personal information and make sure it’s correct. Names and addresses you don’t recognize could be an indication of identity theft. Also, creditors can consider alternate names suspicious, given that they’re sometimes used for deceitful ends.

Errors on your credit report can have an adverse effect on your credit score, driving up interest rates, and reducing your ability to buy a home, request a loan, or even land a job. That’s why it’s essential to properly read and understand your credit report, and how to dispute any errors you may encounter.

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 that is used to calculate your credit score comes from your credit report.

Credit reports, on the other hand, are the source of your credit score, as these show your credit history, payment history, and the current state of your accounts. That’s why your credit report is used as the source of your credit score.

Credit Report ≠ Credit Score

Credit reports and credit scores are commonly confused as being the same thing. While somewhat related, they are in fact different. Here are some key differences.

• 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

“With FICO, a credit score goes all the way up to 850 and it’s basically a ranking that is based on the information from all three of your credit reports,” says Kate Dore, personal finance writer, and banking products expert. “They take that data and put it into a score form.”

If a lender wants a snapshot of the information in your credit report they need only to look at your credit score.

“People do tend to equate credit reports and scores but they are two different things,” says Griffin. “A credit report is a record of the debts you owe, while a credit score is a tool that lenders use to analyze the information in your report to determine the risk that you will not pay any debts as agreed.”

Mistakes on your credit report can have a negative effect on your credit score. They can drive up interest rates and reduce your ability to buy a home, request a loan, or even land a job. That’s why it’s essential to know how to read and understand your credit report and how to dispute any mistakes.

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How To Read Your Credit Report

Requesting and reviewing all three of your credit reports at least once a year is important to ensure your financial health.

Credit reports are usually split into four sections: Personal information, accounts and credit history, public records, and inquiries.

While they’re not always easy to read, if you take the time to look at your reports closely, you may have a better understanding of your credit history, and how creditors use it to evaluate your creditworthiness.

It bears repeating that your credit score will only be as good as the information on which it’s based, so make sure it’s accurate.

A study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission in 2013 found that 20% of consumers had mistakes on their reports that were corrected after being disputed.

When reviewing your credit report, try to spot any mistakes that are affecting your credit score. If these go unchecked, not only could they have a negative impact on your credit standing, but they could also cost you money.

Keep an eye out for the following:

  • 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

To correct any mistakes, you can file a dispute with the bureau that provided the report. “Go through all three reports, line by line, and make sure there are no inaccuracies,” says Dore. “Unfortunately, there’s a large percentage of Americans that find errors on their credit report, and some of those errors could actually be hurting their credit scores. If you find something that’s incorrect, you can file a dispute directly with the credit bureau.”

By law, bureaus must respond within 30 days of receiving your dispute. You can also request a correction from the company that provided the inaccurate 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 your case, act immediately by visiting the FTC’s website for fraud reporting and requesting a free fraud alert from all three credit bureaus.

FAQs About Credit Reports

How do you get a credit report?

Everyone has a right to see their credit reports for free, as required by The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970. The act was enacted to promote the “accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of consumer reporting agencies.” 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, the only government-sanctioned website for free credit reports.

Due to the ongoing health crisis, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are offering free weekly credit reports. This allows consumers that have entered any kind of payment forbearance or deferment to stay on top of their finances in this rapidly-developing situation.

Free weekly reports will remain available through April 2021.

Why are my credit reports different?

If you were to compare your three credit reports, you may notice some items are not listed across all three bureaus. This lack of consistency between reports is due to the fact that creditors are not required by law to report to any of the three credit reporting agencies. That said, most of them report to at least one.

As surprising as that may be, it further underscores the need to acquire all three credit reports in order to get the full picture of your credit situation and safeguard your credit against potential fraud or reporting inaccuracies.

What bills help build credit?

Credit reporting agency Experian now offers a service called Experian Boost, which uses utility and telecom payments information to build your credit history. Not all credit bureaus offer this option, however.

Although not a bill, your could also have rent payments reported to credit bureaus to help build your credit faster. Nethertheless, the only way to have these payments reported is to opt into a rent reporting service.

There are several companies that offer rent reporting services. Some of these cater to renters while others cater to landlords. Both typically charge monthly service fees, with some exceptions.

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