Gorski Law
Pennylvania & New Jersey Consumer Rights Law Firm
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Credit Report Basics

Answers to commonly asked questions about credit reports, what credit reports contain and how credit reports are used. 

What is a credit report?

A credit report is a document that contains information that most often is used to assess your ability to repay a loan and generate a "credit score" which tries to estimate how safe or risky making a loan to you might be.

What information is on my credit report?

Credit reporting agencies primarily collect and report the following items of information: personal identifying information, credit account history and public record information. The report also contains a list of persons who have requested a copy of your report in the past.

Personal Identifying Information
Includes your name, nicknames, birth date, social security number, current and prior addresses, current and prior phone numbers and current and prior employers.

Public Records
Included bankruptcy filings, civil judgments and tax liens.

Account History
Includes your current and prior loans or lines of credit and any accounts that have been transferred to a debt collector.

Credit reports do not contain information about race, religion, medical history, political affiliations or criminal history. 

Who is collecting this information about me?

Three credit reporting agencies collect and keep files of consumers' credit information that is used for credit scoring: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Although all three companies collect the same categories of information about consumers, there are some creditors and collectors that do not report information to all three agencies. As a result, it is not uncommon for there to be some degree of variation between your credit reports from each agency. 

How do credit reporting agencies get this information?

The credit reporting agencies buy public record information from other companies that collect public record information about consumers. The consumer reporting agencies also have contracts with various creditors (e.g., banks, mortgage lenders, student loan companies, etc.) who report personal identifying information about you and information about the status of the account(s) you have with that creditor. Information from creditors is usually transmitted to the credit reporting agencies on a monthly basis.

Who can look at my credit report?

Creditors, collectors, landlords, insurance companies and employers are the most common entities that may look at your credit report. Generally, your credit report cannot be reviewed without your permission.

Am I allowed to review my credit report?

Yes, all three credit bureaus must make credit files about you available to you at your request. There are various ways to obtain a copy of your credit report. Get more information on the specifics of requesting a copy of your credit report.

Am I allowed to review my credit score?

Yes. Credit reporting agencies are permitted to charge you for providing you with your credit score, but there are many ways to review your credit score for free now (e.g., through your bank or credit card company) so you may want to consider if any of these free options are available to you before paying for your score.  

A few other things you should be aware of regarding your credit score:

  • There are different credit scoring models out there so be sure you understand which scoring model you are looking at and how the scoring model works.  The two most commonly used models are FICO scores (created by Fair Isaac) and Vantage Score (created by the credit bureaus themselves).
  • You score is generated from information collected by one credit reporting agency, not all three companies combined information. For example, if you are interested in knowing your FICO score, you will have three FICO scores based on information from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.
  • The score you are getting is not necessarily the score that creditors are buying to assess your credit. Creditors commonly buy specialized scoring products that weight your credit history different based on the type of loan you are seeking. 

How long can negative information stay on my credit report?

Most negative information can stay on your credit file for  7 to  7 1/2 years. Significant exceptions include:

  • Bankruptcies can stay on your credit report for 10 years;
  • Unpaid tax liens can stay on your credit report indefinitely;
  • Unpaid, federally insured student loans can stay on your credit report indefinitely.

Will I hurt my credit score if I review my own credit report?

No. Reviewing your own credit report does not have any impact on your credit score.  Credit scores are mostly calculated using your payment history, the amount of debt you have, the length of your credit history, the types of credit accounts you have and any new credit account applications you have made recently.