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What are Credit Reports?

Credit Reports evolved out of a need to have a centralized source from which potential credit grantors could obtain information on the credit worthiness of prospective borrowers. As late as the 19th century, it was customary for a lender to separately track down and contact each of an individual's past creditors in order to obtain a good picture of the ability and inclination of a potential debtor to pay back debts owed.

By the middle part of the 19th century, the first agencies had evolved which obtained and centralized this information on a national scale. In the modern era, credit is an indispensable part of life and facilitates major aspects of personal and professional growth. This ranges from obvious practices such as obtaining equity loans, mortgages and lines of credit to unsecured loans such as credit cards and student loans.

There are other instances where the financial reliability implied by ones credit report is also of interest to other people. A landlord, for example can access your credit report in order to determine if you are worth taking on as a tenant. In general, the following varieties of third parties are allowed to view your credit report:

  • Banks, credit unions and other lending institutions who are considering granting you credit.
  • Legitimate, authorized parties whose association with you involves a taking of financial risk, such as a landlord.
  • Insurance companies with whom you have policy or ones looking to offer you a policy.
  • Employers, present or prospective, who need to make a decision on whether to hire you or to consider you for certain positions or promotion.
What's In Your Credit Report?
In short, a credit report is a formal statement of your credit history. As such it contains identifying information about you and records of relevant past financial transactions you've undertaken or actions taken against you.

The identifying information on your report include your:

  • Full Name
  • Birth date
  • Social security number
  • Present and former addresses and the periods over which you resided at these.
  • Present and past employers including when you became associated with them.
The identifying information is not directly used to evaluate your credit rating or score. The information relevant to these shows up in credit reports as:
  1. Your Credit Burden: this includes lines of credit and loans that have been extended to you. It also includes credit cards, merchant retail cards, records from utility companies and other creditors. The specifics of your offers, loan amounts, credit limits, payment terms, payment histories and so on are all contained here.
  2. Requests for Your Report: Potential creditors want to know how often other parties have requested a look at your history. This gives them an idea how often you've been accepted or rejected for credit in the recent past and how prudent you've been in seeking such services.
  3. Information in the Public Record: This is usually negative information which may include overdue debts (reported by collection agencies), liens, bankruptcies, lawsuits and other judgments.
The information above is variously reported to the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Trans Union and Experian, by entities you have financial dealings with. Given the complexity of the reporting system and the numerous sources and personel and sources of information which may be involved in processing and reporting this information, it is common for errors to occur. Consumer organizations have reported that as many as 79% of credit reports contain some factual error. In fairness, only about 25% of reports contain errors which are serious enough to prevent a consumer from obtaining credit. However, even this is a significant figure. It illustrates the importance of checking ones credit report and promptly correcting all errors found thereing. The Federal Trade Commission provides an excellent manual on how to Fix Your Credit Report on your own at its website. Consumers are encouraged to avoid credit repair companies, given the questionable practices many engage in and the fact that the legitimate services they provide can be performed by consumers themselves.

All consumers are entitled to receive one free copy of their credit report annually. You can obtain a copy directly from

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