Lenders, mortgage lenders, auto lenders and credit card companies use credit reports to help decide whether or not to lend you money and at what interest rates. Employers, landlords and insurers also may review your report.
You can get a free credit report from each of the nationwide credit bureaus once a year. This gives you three opportunities to make sure the information is correct and that no one has fraudulently opened accounts in your name.
What is a credit report?
A credit report is a history of your borrowing behavior that is maintained by the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies. Lenders use them to make credit decisions. Credit bureaus also sell them to businesses that want to offer you products and services like credit cards, mortgages and loans.
These reports include information about your bill payment history, credit accounts and loans. They also show whether you’ve been sued or arrested, and if you filed for bankruptcy. They help lenders decide whether to extend you credit and at what interest rate. They may also affect the prices you pay for insurance and housing. Employers and landlords can also view your report.
Credit reports can vary slightly from one bureau to another. That’s because creditors aren’t required to report to every bureau. The exact details of a credit report can vary by agency as well, but most contain the following information:
What is a credit score?
Your credit score is a three-digit number based on the information in your credit report. Lenders use it to determine your creditworthiness, and it can impact whether you get approved for loans or mortgages and the interest rates you pay.
Your score includes a mix of factors like the length of your credit history, how much debt you have and your payment and balance histories. It also considers the types of credit you have (credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts and mortgages), as well as your credit utilization ratio.
A good credit score shows lenders you are a low risk as a borrower. It can help you save on insurance premiums, rent and utility rates and qualify for jobs or loans with better terms. A poor score can make it difficult to obtain the things you need and want. You can improve your credit scores by avoiding errors on your credit report and being responsible with your finances.
How do I get a copy of my credit report?
You can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — once every 12 months. You can request your reports at the same time, or stagger them throughout the year.
A credit report includes information that identifies you, like your name and address, and lists financial issues such as debt, collection accounts, foreclosures and bankruptcies. It also documents each time your credit report is accessed and includes records of disputed items.
Businesses use the information in your credit report to decide whether to lend you money, rent an apartment or hire you. It’s important to review your report regularly for errors — which you can dispute if necessary. It’s also a good idea to monitor your credit to catch identity theft or other problems early. Federal law requires that if you’re turned down for credit, employment or insurance because of an item on your report, the company that denied you must tell you which credit agency provided the inaccurate information.
How do I dispute errors on my credit report?
If you find incorrect information on your credit report, you can dispute it. Disputes can be made online, by phone or via mail. Whatever method you choose, make sure to clearly identify each item of inaccurate information and why it is incorrect. You should also include copies of any documents that support your claim.
Once a credit bureau investigates your claim, they are required to send you their findings in writing. Depending on the results, they may remove or update the error. Generally, it takes up to 30 days for the credit bureaus to respond to your dispute.
When disputing errors, it is important to work quickly and diligently. Inaccurate information can remain on your report for years, which can have lasting effects. Errors can range from simple typos to signs of identity theft, such as accounts being opened or loans being taken out in your name without your permission. In 2019, a victim of identity theft was reported every 3 seconds.