Credit reports and credit scores are universally used to evaluate people’s credit. A credit report is a record of your credit activities while a credit score is a number based on those activities. The credit report lists any credit card accounts or loans you may have, how much you owe, and how regularly you make your payments. It also shows if any legal action has been taken against you for unpaid bills. There are usually four sections of a credit report: 

  • Identifying Information: Your full name, any known aliases, current and previous addresses, social security number, year of birth, current and past employers, and, if applicable, similar information about your spouse.
  • Credit History: The accounts you have with banks, retailers, credit-card issuers, utility companies, and other lenders (accounts are listed by type of loan, such as mortgage, student loan, revolving credit, or installment loan; the date you opened the account; your credit limit or the loan amount; any co-signers of the loan; and your payment pattern over the past two years).
  • Public Record Information: State and county court records on bankruptcy, tax liens, or monetary judgments (some consumer reporting agencies list non-monetary judgments as well).
  • Recent Inquiries: The names of those who have obtained copies of your credit report within the past year (two years for employment purposes).

You can access your credit report and score from a credit reporting agency. Credit reporting agencies are also known as consumer reporting agencies and credit bureaus. A credit reporting agency collects information about your credit activities and charges a fee for supplying the information. There are three major credit bureaus that operate nationwide: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion plus many smaller companies serving local markets.

Credit reporting agencies can provide information only to the following requestors:

  • Creditors who are considering granting or have granted you credit
  • Employers considering you for employment, promotion, reassignment, or retention
  • Insurers considering you for an insurance policy or reviewing an existing policy
  • Government agencies reviewing your financial status or government benefits
  • Anyone else with a legitimate business need for the information, such as a potential landlord

Credit bureaus also furnish reports if required by court orders or federal jury subpoenas. They will also issue your report to a third party if you request this in writing. 

Under the state Credit Security Freeze Law, you are allowed to block unauthorized access to your credit reports, which can help prevent identity theft.  

Get a free credit report
A more common way to help prevent identity theft and avoid major errors is to get a copy of your credit report periodically. You are entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To maximize this free service, you can obtain one credit report from a company every four months. These agencies, however, will charge you a fee to access your credit score.