Finance for Dummies – Credit Reports

Your credit report is used by a lot of businesses: utility companies, mortgage lenders, prospective employers, banks, and others.  It is vital that you understand what information that is contained on your credit report and the companies that gather that information, credit bureaus.

What information is on my Credit Report?

Your credit report is a record of your financial history and contains:

  • Inquiries – List of individuals and businesses that recently requested information about you.
  • Public Record – Public records such as bankruptcy, court judgments against you, and any tax liens.
  • Your Identity – Name, address, social security number, date of birth, and employment information.
  • Credit History – Credit card accounts, car loans, mortgages, and student loans.  Typically includes credit terms, payment history, and outstanding balance.

Why is my Credit Report Important?

Your credit report is important for a number of reasons:

  • Employers may use your credit report to make a hiring decision.
  • Lenders may use credit report information in making a decision to extend credit to you and what interest rate to charge.
  • Insurance companies use your credit history to make decisions about whether to insure you and what rate to charge.
  • Landlords use your credit history to determine whether you will make a good tenant and pay your rent on time.
  • Telephone and utility companies use your credit history to decide whether to provide services.

Who collects and reports information about my credit history?

Currently there are three major companies that collect credit information: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.  These companies collect credit information about you and then share it in the form of a credit report to individuals and businesses you are requesting credit or services from.

Where do the credit bureaus collect information about me?

Credit bureaus obtain information from public records like county tax records or court records.  They also get information from your credit card issuer, mortgage company, bank, and auto loan company. Credit bureaus get information from different sources, this is the reason your credit report can contain different information.

Who is allowed to see my credit report?

Because credit reports contain sensitive personal information access is controlled.  Credit bureaus can provide your credit report to the following:

  • Government agencies to determine your eligibility for services or benefits
  • Lenders you are asking for credit or have granted you credit.
  • Utility companies, telephone, and cell phone companies that provide you service.
  • Insurance companies that are considering offering you a policy or already have insured you.
  • Prospective employer or current employer, only if you give your permission
  • As required by Federal Grand Jury Subpoenas or Court Order
  • Anyone who has a legitimate business need for information such as your bank or future landlord.

What can I do if I am denied credit or employment because of something in my credit report?

The company that is denying you credit or employment is required to notify you and provide you with the name, address, and phone number of the credit bureau that was the source of the information used to deny you credit.  You may request a free credit report from this credit bureau within 60 days of receiving notice. If after reviewing your credit report you identify an error, you may dispute the information and request the information be corrected. (See below for details about correcting errors.)

Lenders also use your credit report to set the terms of the credit they offer you.  If you are offered terms less favorable (higher interest rate for example), because of information contained in your credit report, the lender may give you a notice with information about the credit bureau that provided the information used in the decision.  Again you may request a free credit report from the reporting credit bureau within 60 days of receiving notice.

 How long does information stay on my credit report?

Information such as late payments stays on your credit report for seven years.  Personal bankruptcy stays on your credit report for ten years.  Unpaid judgments or lawsuits stay on your report for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.  Criminal convictions can stay on your credit report indefinitely.

How can I correct errors on my credit report?

If you determine information on your credit report is inaccurate you may dispute the information and request the information be deleted or corrected.  To correct the information you should contact the credit bureau that provided the report or the company that provided the incorrect information to the credit bureau.

When disputing information on your credit report be sure to:

  • Provide your name, address, date of birth, and social security number
  • Provide documentation about the inaccurate information such as a copy of an official consumer complaint, account statements, identity theft or fraud affidavit, or police report.
  • Provide specific details about the inaccurate information and why you are disputing it.

What is the process to correct information on my credit report?

If you submit a dispute directly to a credit bureau or a company that provided the inaccurate information to the credit bureau, your dispute generally must be investigated within 30 days.  If additional information is provided during the investigation, the investigation period may be extended and additional 15 days.  You will receive written results either from the credit bureau or the company that provided the disputed information once the investigation is completed.

If the investigation determines the information is inaccurate, the information provider must notify all three credit bureaus so the information can be corrected.  You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report in addition to your annual free report.  You may request the credit bureau send a notice of any correction to anyone who received a copy of your report in the past six months.  You may have a copy sent to anyone who received a copy or your credit report regarding employment.

What can I do if the investigation does not resolve my dispute?

You may ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your future credit reports.  You may also ask the credit bureau to provide this statement to anyone who received a copy of your credit report in the past.

How can I get a free copy of my credit report?

You can get a free credit report every twelve months from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion by visiting or calling (877) 322-8228

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