Credit report basics

A credit report provides detailed information on how you have used credit in the past, including how much debt you have and whether you’ve paid your bills on time. There are three credit bureaus in the United States: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. Each one compiles your credit information from various reporting sources, such as lenders, into your credit report.

When you apply for credit, such as credit cards, student loans, auto loans, or mortgage loans, lenders check your credit report to make decisions about whether or not to grant you credit and what rates and terms you may qualify for.

What does a credit report include?

The information that appears on your credit report includes:

  • Personal information: Your name (including aliases or misspellings reported by creditors), birth date, Social Security number, current and past home addresses, phone numbers, and employment history.
  • Accounts: A list of your credit accounts (credit cards, installment loans, mortgage or auto loans) with creditor names, account numbers, balances, payment history and account status (current or past due).
  • Public records: Bankruptcies.
  • Recent inquiries: Who has recently requested to view your credit report and when.

Note that your credit report does not include information about your marital status (married or divorced), income, bank account balance, or level of education. Your credit report could include your spouse’s name if reported by a creditor.

The credit bureaus may not have the same information about you as creditors are not required to report information to every bureau and may not furnish data at all.

Who can check my credit report?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limits who can view your credit report and for what reasons. Generally, the following people and organizations can view your credit report with your permission/consent:

  • You: You are entitled to review the information on your credit report. Viewing your own credit report may not affect your credit score.
  • Lenders: When you apply for credit from a lender, that potential creditor will request to review your credit report. These are considered “hard inquiries” and can affect your credit score. (Note that when lenders view your credit report to make pre-approved offers, your credit score is not affected.)
  • Landlords: When you apply to rent an apartment or house, you’re essentially asking the landlord to trust that you will pay your rent on time every month. This allows them the right to ask for a copy of your credit report and score.
  • Insurers: An application with an insurance company is a kind of financial account, and insurers can ask to review your credit report when you apply for coverage.
  • Employers: Potential employers may request to view your credit report to make hiring decisions.

How often is my credit report updated?

Your credit report is updated frequently, as new information is reported by lenders and older information is gradually removed per federal retention requirements.

However, it’s important to also know that most lenders report changes in account status on a monthly basis. If you make a payment on one of your accounts, or miss a payment, it’s possible that it won’t reflect on your credit report for up to 30 days.

Monitoring your credit

Credit reports can be important tools for detecting identity theft and fraud. When someone uses your personal information to commit fraud, such as opening a new credit account in your name, your credit report is often the first place where the signs of the fraud will appear. Monitoring your credit can help you catch these signs sooner and take immediate action to remedy the situation.

For more information on understanding credit, see the following articles: