If you live in the U.S. and have ever had a credit card, loan, mortgage, student financing, or bought a car, you have a credit report. Credit reports are maintained by the three big credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. These companies collect data from lenders and government sourced public records and collated them into a complete financial picture of your credit history and creditworthiness.
Credit reports are used to determine if you are a good risk when you apply for a loan or other debt. They also help to determine your FICO score.
What’s on a Credit Report?
A typical credit report contains a lot of information about a person and their financial habits. First, they contain personally identifiable information like your name, address, social security number, birth date, and employment data. All of these previously mentioned information shows on a credit report.
Furthermore, they also contain all your credit accounts, current (open) credit card accounts, loans, mortgages, student loans, other debts and accounts going back seven years, open or closed. On each account, the report also shows when the account was opened, how much your credit limit or loan is, the current balance, and a detailing of your payments and if they were made on time, late or not at all.
Additionally, a credit report also shows any credit inquiries into your account. This means when you apply for a credit card, set up utilities, rent an apartment, or request a credit increase, it shows up as a “hard inquiry” into your creditworthiness. Too many of these can hurt your credit score. Soft inquiries, however, are not damaging to your credit report and can only be seen by you. Hence, you should be worried about hard inquiries if you are anxious about what's on a credit report
Public records like bankruptcies, foreclosures, tax liens, civil judgments, and lawsuits can also show up on your credit report. Although new statues have changed the way credit reporting agencies use this information, public records like bankruptcies cannot be removed and will hurt your credit score. So to answer the question about what’s on a credit report, it is basically all the important financial information about you.
Who Can Access Your Credit Report?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act states that anyone with a “permissible purpose” can access a copy of your credit report. So, what does that really mean?
Banks and lenders can access a copy of your credit report before extending your credit, or issuing you loans and credit cards.
The federal government allows the use of credit reports for these purposes, but the Fair Credit Reporting Act highly regulates them.
According to Experian, the following list are reasons that someone could access your credit report legally:
In accordance with your written instructions;
In response to a court order or federal grand jury subpoena;
To manage the risk of current or potential credit or insurance accounts that were initiated by you;
For employment purposes, with your written permission;
For the purposes of a potential investor assessing the risk of a current obligation;
In connection with your application for a license or other benefit granted by the government, when consideration of financial responsibility is required by law;
In connection with a business transaction initiated by you;
In connection with a child support determination, under certain circumstances;
In connection with a credit or insurance transaction not initiated by you, when a “firm offer” of credit or insurance is extended, and certain other restrictions are met.
If you set up utilities or open an account with a cell phone carrier these days, they will check your credit before approving you. Insurance companies also have the right to check your credit, as do government agencies when issuing licensing and other permits. Debt collectors may access your credit report without your permission. Because there is so much personal information contained within a credit report, it is essential that these records remain secure and only provided to authorized personnel. That is why the Equifax and Experian data breaches were so alarming. Millions of consumers were affected by that information being stolen and sold on the dark web. Many were the victims of identity theft, and now those companies offer tools to protect customers.
How to Protect Against Identity Theft
Data breaches occur regularly, but when the victim is a credit reporting agency that holds all your information, it is even more disturbing. It’s impossible to protect your personal information completely, but you can take steps to be as safe as possible.
Sign up for credit monitoring with a good company like IDStrong.com.
Regularly check your credit report for errors and fraud.
Scan your monthly bank and credit card statements looking for suspicious activity.
Watch out for phishing emails. Never click a link or download attachments in email.
Keep your computer updated with security patches and antivirus software.
The best defense to keeping your credit report and information safe is to use common sense and never give out personal details to anyone you don’t know.