What is a credit report and how is it used?
An illustrated guide

Knowing your credit score and how to improve it can set you up to succeed. Applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or opening a new a bank account all often require a credit report.

Infographic: What is a Credit Report? On a black background, with white and yellow text, this infographic displays the definition of a credit report plus the two main ways people use credit reports: applying for credit, and managing financial health.We’ve collected information from government agencies, consumer organizations, financial companies, and the major credit bureaus themselves on what credit reports are and why they are important for you to understand.

First, a definition of credit reports

A credit report is a standardized collection of information used by US businesses to evaluate an individual’s likelihood to pay a financial obligation.

The most widely-used credit reports are those provided by the “Big 3” credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion

These companies make their money by gathering up data about your financial life and then charging other businesses—like credit card companies or landlords—to see it. Credit reports can also include credit scores, which reduce the bureau’s evaluation of your financial reliability to a number.

As an individual, there are two ways you might use your credit report

Applying for Credit:

A credit report is what companies will see when you apply for credit (and sometimes other things). 

If you’re looking to take out a mortgage, apply for a credit card, or in some cases take a new job, there’s a good chance a person on the other side is going to pull your credit report. To get ahead of the game, you can pull it for yourself. 

Monitoring Your Own Finances:

A credit report is something you can monitor to understand (and improve) your perceived financial health.

The official government-authorized site to pull a copy of your report is AnnualCreditReport.com. The site makes available a copy of your credit report from each of the big 3 bureaus at least once a year. (It’s not the site with the catchy jingle, which will sign you up for a credit monitoring service that costs money.)

There are also ways to pull your credit report through private companies, but make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Sometimes companies will use the offer of a credit report to sign you up for an overpriced service you don’t want, like identity theft protection. Read the reviews, or the fine print.

Other credit report questions? We answer questions like “Who can run a credit report on me?” and “Is it bad to get a credit report?here.

More perspectives of what a credit report is and how it’s used:

What is a credit report according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

A credit report is a statement that has information about your credit activity and current credit situation such as loan paying history and the status of your credit accounts.

The CFPB also has information on:

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What is a credit report according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Your credit report contains information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, or filed for bankruptcy. Credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home.

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting companies.

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What is a credit report according to USA.gov

Credit reports list your bill payment history, loans, current debt, and other financial information. They show where you work and live and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy

Credit reports help lenders decide if they’ll give you credit or approve a loan. The reports also help determine what interest rate they will charge you. Employers, insurers, and rental property owners may also look at your credit report. You won’t know which credit report a creditor or employer will use to check your credit.

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What is a credit report according to Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO)

Your credit report contains your credit history as reported to the credit reporting agency by lenders who have extended credit to you. The information in your credit report is also used to generate credit scores such as your FICO® Scores.

Your credit report lists what types of credit you use, the length of time your accounts have been open, and whether you’ve paid your bills on time. It tells lenders how much credit you’ve used and whether you’re seeking new sources of credit. It gives lenders a broader view of your credit history than do other data sources, such as a bank’s own customer data.

A credit report also includes information on where you live, and whether you’ve been sued or arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy.

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What is a credit report according to AnnualCreditReport.com

When you make a payment on a credit card or loan, the business that gave you the loan or credit keeps a record of how much and often you pay, as well as the credit limits and loan balances. Those businesses and other sources may report your credit, loan and payment history to one or more credit reporting companies. 

The credit reporting companies each combine the information they receive about your different credit, loan and payment activities into a credit report. The credit reporting companies prepare credit reports for people in the U.S. Since not all businesses report to all three credit reporting companies, the information on your credit reports may vary.

A credit report is an organized list of the information related to your credit activity. Credit reports may include:

  • A list of businesses that have given you credit or loans
  • The total amount for each loan or credit limit for each credit card
  • How often you paid your credit or loans on time, and the amount you paid
  • Any missed or late payments as well as bad debts

Credit reports may also include:

  • A list of businesses that have obtained your report within a certain time period
  • Your current and former names, address(es) and/or employers
  • Any bankruptcies or other public record information

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What is a credit report according to the US Federal Reserve

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.

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.

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What is a credit report according to the American Bankers Association

Your credit report includes the following information

Credit history – The number and types of credit opened both active and closed accounts), age of your accounts, your account balances and payment history.

Credit inquiries – How often you have applied for credit. These “hard inquiries” will show up on your credit report for up to two years. 

Collections – Unpaid or overdue debts, such as foreclosures, bankruptcies or liens.

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What is a credit report according to Equifax

A credit report is a summary of how you have handled your credit accounts. Credit reports are used by potential lenders and creditors to help them decide whether to offer you credit — and at what terms. It’s important to check your credit reports regularly to ensure the information is accurate and complete.

Your Equifax credit report contains the following types of information:

  • Identifying information
  • Credit account information
  • Inquiry information 
  • Bankruptcies
  • Collections accounts

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What is a credit report according to Experian

A credit report is a readable presentation of the data stored in your electronic credit file at one of the three national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax). The information stored in your credit file at each bureau is essentially the same, but each bureau organizes the data differently, and each formats its credit report in its own way.

Your Experian credit report is divided into four sections:

  • Personal Information
  • Accounts
  • Inquiries
  • Public Records

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What is a credit report according to TransUnion

Your credit report is a record of your credit activity and history. It includes the names of companies that have extended you credit and/or loans, as well as the credit limits, loan amounts and your payment history. You can think of it as your financial resume; it tells the story of your financial health to potential lenders.

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What is a credit report according to CNBC

The information listed on your credit report summarizes how you manage credit, including payment history and account balances. This factors into the lender’s understanding of how you manage financial products and whether they should extend credit to you or not.

Credit reports include a variety of information about you and your accounts, inquiries and public records.

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