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What is a credit report?

What Is a Credit Report? Why It’s Important and How To Check It

Updated on November 15, 2022


Your credit score is one of the many crucial indicators of your financial health, which can impact your ability to obtain the credit you need. Credit scores are created based on the data reported by your previous creditors. The resulting three-digit score gives potential lenders or creditors an assessment of how likely you are to repay your debt.

The best thing about credit scores is that you can gradually increase them by adopting healthy financial habits, depending on your current situation. Your credit score reflects the information in your credit report. So, it would help if you began by understanding what credit reports are, what they show, and why it is essential to check them.

What is a Credit Report?

A credit report is a carefully structured document prepared by credit bureaus reflecting your credit history and current financial situation. Information about your debt repayment and the status of your credit accounts are included. Creditors, lenders, banks, and other financial institutions report financial information to credit bureaus to build credit reports.

In the U.S., there are three main credit bureaus. Each credit bureau maintains the same information in your credit file. They each organize the data differently and format credit reports differently. The information on all your credit reports may also vary because not all businesses report to all three credit reporting agencies. Irrespective of which credit bureau builds your credit report, having an accurate and clean credit report is essential for most facets of your financial life.

Why is a Credit Report Important?

Your credit report's information serves as the foundation for credit scores, ranging from 300-850, that depict your creditworthiness. Lenders often review your credit report to determine whether you qualify for a loan or line of credit and what interest rate to offer you.

A long history of on-time payments on your credit report is a positive indicator and contributes to a higher credit rating. Thus, you can obtain credit cards and loans on more favorable lending terms. On the other hand, too many missed or late payments, bankruptcy, and other similar marks can drop your credit ratings. Lower credit ratings will make getting approval for credit cards and loans tougher or compel lenders to charge you a higher interest rate. However, even with a lower credit score, it is possible to borrow funds by seeking out lenders that offer bad credit loans.

Your credit report is crucial because it can impact many aspects of your life. Besides obtaining loans or credit, your ability to rent an apartment, buy a house, purchase an automobile, or get hired for a job may be affected.

Which are the Three Credit Reporting Agencies?

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the three major credit reporting agencies in the United States. Each reporting agency compiles data based on financial behavior to produce a unique credit report.

These credit bureaus gather and sell data about your credit behavior. However, companies who check your credit, including lenders and credit card companies, must have a legit cause to do so, like screening loan applications. Most of the time, they need your consent.

How to Get a Credit Report?

It is wise to monitor the information on your credit report since lenders can use it to assess your creditworthiness. There are numerous paid sources to get an up-to-date copy of your credit report. You can also qualify for a free credit report annually under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Visit to get a free credit report from the three main credit bureaus. You can also call to obtain a free credit report by calling 1-877-322-8228 or download a form online and send it to the Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281, to request a report.

Be aware that the waiting period to receive a credit report can range from a few minutes to fifteen days, depending on how you make your request. The internet request form is the quickest way to access your credit report. If you request it by phone, you may receive your report within 15 days; if you request it by mail, it usually takes about 15 days after each bureau receives your request.

What Information & Documents are Required to Get a Credit Report?

Here's a list of the essential information you need to send any one, two, or all three major bureaus to get your credit report:

  1. Your name
  2. Current address
  3. If you've lived at your current residence for less than two years, your previous address.
  4. Social Security number
  5. Date of birth

Credit reporting companies may ask you for several pieces of information to authenticate your identity. Your monthly mortgage payment or credit card limits are often requested. Overall, receiving a copy of your credit report has become significantly less complicated over the last decade.

What Does a Credit Report Show?

All credit reports contain essentially the same types of information, even if Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion display your data differently. Here are the four common categories of information:

A credit report shows personal information

Personal Information

A list of details that identify you is included in the personal information section of your credit report. Your name, current and previous addresses, social security number, date of birth, spouse or co-applicant information, and phone numbers are all listed at the top of the report. This information is updated based on the data you give lenders when you apply for new credit.

A credit report shows credit accounts

Credit Accounts

This section makes up the majority of most reports. It contains complete details on all your credit accounts, including installment loans, auto loans, personal loans, and mortgages, as well as revolving credit like credit cards and lines of credit. Each reported account will be classified as Open, Closed, or Negative. The details about all missed payments, charge-offs, or collections actions, are also included.

A credit report shows credit inquiries

Credit Inquiries

This section of your credit report keeps account of the inquiries made by businesses seeking your credit report or credit score. Your requests for credit can prompt hard or soft inquiries. Be aware that when you apply for pre-approved credit, if there is a hard credit check, These inquiries can stay on your credit report for up to two years.

A credit report shows public record and collections

Public Record And Collections

Public records about financial activities, such as judgments, tax liens, and bankruptcies, are included in this section. If you file for bankruptcy, you'll find the specifics of your bankruptcy filing and its status listed in this credit report section. Depending on the type of bankruptcy you apply for, the information will appear and stay on your credit report for seven or ten years.

It is essential to regularly check the information on your credit report to ensure that your lenders see the most accurate credit scores when you apply for credit. You must notify the relevant credit bureau if you discover a mistake on your record.

How Often Should You Check Your Credit Report?

According to experts, you should check your credit report and score at least once every year. The information on the credit reports of all three major credit reporting agencies can vary, sometimes by more than you would expect. You should review all three to gain a thorough picture of your creditworthiness.

Apart from the regular annual credit checkup, you should review your credit report before making significant financial decisions. An added benefit to consistently checking in on your credit reports is that you will gain insights into potential fraud or identity theft.

You might want to set up fraud alerts or a credit freeze if you detect any signs of identity theft causing errors on your credit report. You should contact one of the three main credit bureaus to set up alerts. When you report a fraud alert to one credit bureau, that bureau will contact the other two bureaus on your behalf. Freezing your credit won't damage your score, and you may unfreeze it whenever you need to apply for any loan or credit card.

Who Looks at Your Credit Report and Why?

Some lenders use these reports to make well-informed decisions about whether or not to lend you money and what interest rates to charge you. In some cases, your credit report is also used by lenders to assess whether you will continue to adhere to the terms of an existing credit account.

Besides banks and other financial institutions, your credit report is crucial for numerous businesses to make decisions about you. Prospective landlords can examine your credit report before they decide whether to rent to you. Some organizations even perform credit checks on applicants as part of their hiring process.

Does Requesting a Credit Report Hurt Your Score?

No, checking your credit reports or scores does not affect your credit ratings. Regular checkups are crucial in ensuring the accuracy of your personal and account information and can assist in identifying possible identity theft. Requesting for your credit report is a perfect example of a soft inquiry. Your credit scores are unaffected by soft credit checks, which are only visible to you when you check your credit report under the credit inquiries section.

Difference Between Credit Report and Credit Score

A credit score is a single numerical rating. In contrast, a credit report collects data about your credit activity and current credit situation. Your credit reports significantly influence your credit scores. That's because data from your credit reports is used to construct credit ratings. Consider your scores as a brief synopsis of your credit report. For this reason, cleaning up the reports is the first step to improving your credit score.

Just like credit scores, you have various credit reports. Scores can also change depending on the data used to generate them.


A credit report records how you have previously handled and repaid debt. When considering whether to do business with you, lenders and other companies use it as a form of a report card. Therefore, reviewing your credit reports will assist you in understanding your situation and identifying any fraud or inaccuracies with your accounts.

Remember that it's not the end of the world if a debt collection shows up on your credit record. While there may not be any quick remedies for fixing your credit, there are undoubtedly easy steps you can use to raise your credit scores over some time.

Photograph of author Joseph Priebe

Joseph Priebe

Joseph Priebe takes pride in assisting audiences with his articles to help them make sound financial decisions.

With over ten years of experience writing financial content his goal at CASH 1 has always been creating engaging and easy-to-digest information for anyone searching for immediate or long-term monetary solutions.

When Joseph is not writing about personal finance, you can find him photographing the Southwest United States with his 4x5 Graflex Crown Graphic camera. He is based in Phoenix, Arizona.