Credit reporting is a system lenders use to decide whether or not to give you credit or a loan and how much interest they can charge you for it. Your credit report is based on the bills payments you have missed or been late paying, loans that you have paid off, plus your current amount of debt. A credit report contains information on where you work and live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) gather this information and sell it to creditors, employers, insurers, and others. The most common type of CRA is the credit bureau.
The three major national credit bureaus are:
Fraud Hotline: 1-888-766-0008
Fraud Hotline: 1-888-397-3742
Fraud Hotline: 1-800-680-7289
Request your free credit report online or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
Based on the information in your credit report, lenders calculate your credit score so they can assess the risk you pose to them before they decide whether they will give you credit. The higher your score, the less risk you pose to creditors.
The information in your credit report is used to calculate your FICO (the acronym stands for Fair, Isaac and Company) score. Your score can range anywhere from 300-850.. Aiming for a score in the 700s will put you in good standing. A high score, for example, makes it easier for you to obtain a loan, rent an apartment, or lower your insurance rate. Your FICO score is available for a fee. Free credit reports do not contain your credit score, although you can purchase it when you request your free annual credit report.
Your Credit Report
Q: What is a credit report?
A: A credit report is a record of your credit history that includes information about:
Your identity. Your name, address, full or partial Social Security number, date of birth, and possibly employment information.
Your existing credit. Information about credit that you have, such as your credit card accounts, mortgages, car loans, and student loans. It may also include the terms of your credit, how much you owe your creditors, and your history of making payments.
Your public record. Information about any court judgments against you, any tax liens against your property, or whether you have filed for bankruptcy.
Inquiries about you. A list of companies or persons who recently requested a copy of your report.
Q: Why is a credit report important?
A: Your credit report is important because lenders, insurers, employers, and others may obtain your credit report from credit bureaus to assess how you manage financial responsibilities. For example:
Lenders may use your credit report information to decide whether you can get a loan and the terms you get for a loan (for example, the interest rate they will charge you).
Insurance companies may use the information to decide whether you can get insurance and to set the rates you will pay.
Employers may use your credit report, if you give them permission to do so, to decide whether to hire you.
Telephone and utility companies may use information in your credit report to decide whether to provide services to you.
Landlords may use the information to determine whether to rent an apartment to you.
Q: Who collects and reports credit information about me?
A: There are three major credit bureaus–Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion–that gather and maintain the information about you that is included in your credit report. The credit bureaus then provide this information in the form of a credit report to companies or persons that request it, such as lenders from whom you are seeking credit.
Q: Where do credit bureaus get their information?
A: Credit bureaus get information from your creditors, such as a bank, credit card issuer, or auto finance company. They also get information about you from public records, such as property or court records. Each credit bureau gets its information from different sources, so the information in one credit bureau’s report may not be the same as the information in another credit bureau’s report.
Q: How can I get a free copy of my credit report?
A: You can get one free credit report every twelve months from each of the nationwide credit bureaus–Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion–by
visiting www.annualcreditreport.com or
calling (877) 322-8228.
You will need to provide certain information to access your report, such as your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth.
You can order one, two, or all three reports at the same time, or you can request these reports at various times throughout the year. The option you choose will depend on the goal of your review. A report generated by one of the three major credit bureaus may not contain all of the information pertaining to your credit history. Therefore, if you want a complete view of your credit record at a particular moment, you should examine your report from each bureau at the same time. However, if you wish to detect any errors and monitor changes in your credit profile over time, you may wish to review a single credit report every four months.
Q: Who else is allowed to see my credit report?
A: Because credit reports contain sensitive personal information, access to them is limited. Credit bureaus can provide credit reports only to
lenders from whom you are seeking credit;
lenders that have granted you credit;
telephone, cell phone, and utility companies that may provide services to you;
your employer or prospective employer, but only if you agree;
insurance companies that have issued or may issue an insurance policy for you;
government agencies reviewing your financial status for government benefits; and
anyone else with a legitimate business need for the information, such as a potential landlord or a bank at which you are opening a checking account.
Credit bureaus also furnish reports if required by court orders or federal grand jury subpoenas. Upon your written request, they will also issue your report to a third party.
Q: Does the credit bureau decide whether to grant me credit?
A: No, credit bureaus do not make credit decisions. They provide credit reports to lenders who decide whether to grant you credit.
Q: How long does negative information, such as late payments, stay on my credit report?
A: Generally, negative credit information stays on your credit report for seven years. If you have filed for personal bankruptcy, that fact stays on your report for ten years. Information about a lawsuit or an unpaid judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. Information about criminal convictions may stay on your credit report indefinitely.
Q: What can I do if I am denied credit, insurance, or employment because of something in my credit report? What can I do if I receive less favorable credit terms than other consumers because of something in my credit report?
A: If you are denied credit, insurance, or employment–or some other adverse action is taken against you, such as lowering your credit limit on credit card account–because of information in your credit report, the lender, insurance company, or employer must notify you and provide you with the name, address, and phone number of the credit bureau that provided the credit report used to make the decision. You can get a free credit report from this credit bureau if you request it within sixty days after receiving the notice. This free report is in addition to your annual free report.
In addition, lenders may use a credit report to set the terms of credit they offer you. If a lender offers you terms less favorable (for example, a higher rate) than the terms offered to consumers with better credit histories based on the information in your credit report, the lender may give you a notice with information about the credit bureau that provided the credit report used to make the decision. Again, you can get a free credit report (in addition to your annual free report) from this credit bureau if you request it within sixty days after receiving the notice.
If you receive one of these notices, it’s a good idea to get your free credit report and review the information in it right away. If you think your credit report contains inaccurate or incomplete information, follow the steps in Credit Report Errors below, to try to resolve the issue. For tips on how to improve your chances of being granted credit, or to improve your chances of receiving credit on better terms, read the Federal Reserve’s 5 Tips: Improving Your Credit Score.
Q: I’ve been receiving unsolicited credit offers. Why? Can I opt-out of receiving these offers?
A: Credit bureaus may sell the names and addresses of consumers who meet specific credit criteria to creditors or insurers, who must then offer them credit or insurance. For example, a creditor could request from a credit bureau the names and addresses of consumers who have a credit score of 680 or higher and then offer credit to those consumers.
You can have your name and address removed from these lists by opting-out of the listing. This will reduce the number of unsolicited offers you receive. To opt-out, call 888-5-OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com . You will need to provide certain information in order to opt-out, such as your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth.