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What is a credit report?

A credit report gives you a breakdown of your credit score and helps you get a glimpse of your creditworthiness.

Credit reports keep a detailed record of your credit history and they’re used by lenders to gauge your creditworthiness. The information on your credit report can help you determine your chances for credit or lending approval, how much you might pay in insurance premiums, and whether a potential landlord will approve your rental application.

What is a credit report?

A credit report is a detailed record of your financial history, specifically your borrowing habits. A report card of sorts, lenders and other financial institutions use the information in your credit report to assess your ability to manage loans and repay debt. This information helps them make informed decisions about whether to extend you credit.

Everyone who opens a credit account has a personal credit file that documents their financial history over time. And so long as you continue to use credit in any of its various forms, your credit file will stay open and active.

What information is on a credit report?

Your credit report includes the following information:

  • Revolving credit accounts. Revolving credit includes accounts with a credit limit that require a monthly payment, such as credit cards.
  • Loans. Mortgages and installment accounts such as personal loans, auto loans and student loans are types of loans that appear on your credit report.
  • Other accounts. These include accounts that fall outside revolving credit and loans, such as child support obligations, charge cards or rental agreements.
  • Credit inquiries. Your credit report details all the requests for your credit history and are categorized as soft inquiries and hard inquiries. Checking your credit score yourself, screening for credit preapproval offers and background checks are all examples of activities that generate soft inquiries, and they have no impact on your credit score. Hard inquiries occur when you apply for credit and may impact your credit score.
  • Public records. Bankruptcy history and lawsuit records are examples of public records that may appear on your credit report. Bankruptcies stay on your credit report for up to 10 years.
  • Collections. These are accounts with outstanding debt that a creditor placed with a collections agency.

What is a charge off on a credit report?

A charge off is when a lender or creditor deems your account a total loss and closes the account to future charges. A creditor may charge off an account if you’re delinquent on your payments for a certain time, selling your debt to a debt buyer or collection agency. You’re still legally obligated to pay the debt and this negative status can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

How long does the information on a credit report remain?

Closed accounts can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years, while negative information such as late payments or collections can stay on your credit report for up to seven years. The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits the time a credit reporting agency can report negative items in your credit file(1). Neutral or positive items can appear on your report indefinitely if the account remains open and active.

The exact amount of time that specific types of credit information can remain on your credit history varies by the type of listing(2)(3)(4).

Type of listingHow long it can remain on your report
Payment historyUp to 7 years for negative history, including late payments

Positive payment history can remain indefinitely if the account is open and active, while closed accounts with positive activity can remain for up to 10 years

Credit inquiriesUp to 2 years for hard inquiries
Court judgmentsUp to 7 years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer
Bankruptcy10 years from date filed for Chapter 7 or 11

7 years from date filed for Chapter 13

Collection accounts7 years from first date past due

Importance of a credit report

Credit reports are important measures of your reliability as a borrower. Creditors and lenders access your credit file to determine whether it’s a good idea to extend you credit. Insurance companies use it to assess your financial risk and set your policy rates. Potential employers may pull your credit report, with your consent, as a part of the hiring process, while potential landlords and property managers may use it to screen tenants.

It’s important to review your credit report at least once a year for inaccuracies, outdated information and to help you better understand your current credit standing. According to a study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission, one in five people have an error on at least one of their credit reports. Something as simple as removing outdated collections from your credit report could improve your credit score and ability to get new lines of credit.

Your credit file is a lifelong record so long as you continue to use credit, so take the time to understand it and to keep it clear of errors. A healthy credit report leads to a better credit score and thus more favorable rates and terms.

Who has access to your credit report?

Aside from yourself, the Fair Credit Reporting Act stipulates that a consumer reporting agency may provide information about you only to people with “a legally permissible purpose to obtain a report”(5).

The following individuals and organizations can pull your credit report for legally permissible reasons:

    • Banks and credit card companies. Financial institutions may pull your credit report when they extend and review your credit.
    • Potential employers. With your permission, potential employers may pull your credit report to verify your identity and learn how you handle your finances. Poor credit scores could signal financial troubles that may potentially increase the risk of mismanaging company funds, fraud or theft.
    • Insurance companies. Underwriters pull your report to assess financial risk and to set your rates when drawing up your policy.
    • Credit monitoring services. These are companies that act on your behalf to alert you when your credit profile has changed.
    • Government agencies. The government can access your report for numerous reasons, including licensing, identification, government benefits eligibility or to determine child support payments.
    • Debt collectors. Collection agencies check your credit report as a means of attempting to locate you to recoup a loss from a credit transaction.
    • Landlords. A property owner or manager can check an applicant’s credit report to assess whether the potential tenant would be able to make timely rent payments or has a history of missed payments.

How to get a copy of your credit report

While you can get an official credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can also get a free credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com by providing your full name, contact information, Social Security number and date of birth.

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