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If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, car loan, home loan or even for insurance, you have a credit report. Lenders are interested in what your report says about your ability to manage your finances over time.

Who creates your credit report? Credit agencies (also known as credit bureaus) are for-profit companies that gather information from creditors and public records and consolidate it into a credit report. While there are many credit agencies, 3 major agencies dominate the industry: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

What's on a credit report?

Your credit report just provides information; it's up to the creditor to determine whether you’re a good or bad credit risk. Each creditor will analyze the information differently when deciding whether to extend credit. The credit report typically includes 4 types of information:

  • Identifying information: Your name, nicknames, current and previous addresses, Social Security number, year of birth, current and previous employers, and if applicable, your spouse's name.
  • Credit information: The credit accounts you have with banks, retailers, credit card issuers and other lenders. For each account, your credit report will list the type of loan (revolving credit, student loan, mortgage, etc.), the date you opened the account, your credit limit or loan amount, the account balance, and your payment pattern during the past two years. The report also states whether anyone else besides you (your spouse or cosigner, for example) is responsible for paying the account.
  • Public record information: State and county court records related to bankruptcies, tax liens or monetary judgments. In some states, credit reports list overdue child support payments.
  • Inquiries: The names of all credit grantors and potential employers who obtained a copy of your credit report for any reason. The inquiries section of your report contains a list of anyone who accessed your report for up to two years. These time periods protect you as a consumer or job applicant.

Almost as important as what is in your credit report is what isn't: no information about your race, religious preference, medical history, personal lifestyle, personal background, political preference or criminal record.

What is a credit score?

Most of the information on your credit report goes into a mathematical algorithm – and the result is a 3-digit number known as a credit score, which helps lenders evaluate your credit at a glance.

Most lenders use the credit scores developed by FICO®. But each credit-reporting agency will calculate your score differently based on the algorithms they have from FICO, as well as the type of credit you may be applying for, so your score can differ slightly from Experian to TransUnion to Equifax. When you request your own score, what you receive may also vary slightly from what your lender receives based on your application for a home, car, credit card, etc.

Most FICO® scores range from 300 to 850. Each lender has its own “good” ranges, but generally, the higher the score, the better.

How can I view or fix errors on my credit report?

To review a copy of your credit report, contact any of the 3 major credit-reporting agencies. Each agency compiles its own report, so you may want to obtain copies from all 3 agencies. Many experts recommend you check your credit reports once a year to check for errors and monitor your standing.

If you find any errors on your credit report, there are 2 ways to correct them.

  1. You may contact the credit provider and explain the error. If the creditor agrees that an error has occurred, the credit provider must report and correct the error to the credit-reporting agency.
  2. You can also fill out an online dispute form on each of the credit-reporting agencies' websites. After you fill out the form, the agency will investigate your claim and contact the creditor in question on your behalf. If the creditor agrees that an error has occurred, the credit-reporting agency will then fix the report.