Finder makes money from featured partners, but editorial opinions are our own. Advertiser disclosure

Understanding your credit report

How to read this detailed record — and why it's important when applying for financial products.

Potential lenders and providers access your credit report after you apply for a new credit card, loan product to help decide whether to approve you. And understanding the information your credit report contains can increase your chances for credit or lending approval.

Our guide takes you through what’s in your credit report and how long you can expect information to remain in it. Also, learn how to get a copy of your own report and correct errors in it that may hold back your loan approval.

What is a credit report?

Your credit report is a detailed record of your borrowing history based on information collected from credit card providers, banks, loan providers and other institutions you’ve borrowed from.

Lenders and providers use the information in your credit report to assess your ability to manage loans and repay debt. They do this to protect themselves from giving credit to borrowers known to default on payments or people with bankruptcy or insolvency issues. Lenders may still choose to offer credit to such borrowers, but typically at a higher rate.

How do I order my credit reports?

You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report every week from the three nationwide credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Before you apply for a credit card or a loan, consider ordering a copy of your credit report and checking it for accuracy.

One way to get your free credit report is through You must provide your full name, contact information, Social Security number and date of birth to access your report.

Examine your report in detail. If it shows discrepancies like owing on an account you’ve already paid off or open credit cards you’ve never owned, dispute them with each of the credit bureaus. Even small errors and typos can affect how a lender scores your default risk.

Credit reports vs. credit scores

Your credit report is a detailed summary of your borrowing and repayment history that potential lenders and creditors look at to determine how likely you are to repay your credit cards and loans on time.

Whereas your credit score is a three-digit number, typically ranging anywhere from 300 to 850, that represents your credit rating and signifies your overall risk as a borrower. The higher the number, the less likely you are to default on credit and loan payments.

How are credit reports used?

Various corporations — including employers, insurance companies, landlords, lenders and telephone and utility companies — may study your report to evaluate how you manage your financial responsibilities. Your report shows your creditworthiness, which factors into determining your approval for loans and services, terms, rates and your employment and renting eligibility.

What information is in my credit report?

Your credit report lists applications you’ve made for all forms of credit — whether approved or not, your repayment history, any default details, your current debt and information on your open accounts.

Among the details contained in your credit report are:

  • Your personal information. Listed in your report are your full name, date of birth, phone number, address, Social Security number and employment information.
  • Consumer credit information. This includes:
      • Any credit applications you’ve made in the last two years.
      • The type of credit you have — revolving and installment accounts, for example.
      • The dates accounts were opened and closed.
      • Your credit limit or loan amounts.
      • The account balance at the time of the report.
      • Your payment history.
  • Collections. Unpaid debts and accounts that are default or in collections.
  • Credit inquiries. Your report includes any credit applications you’ve made in the last two years, whether or not you were approved.
  • Information that is public record. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion collect information held in the public record, including any bankruptcies, foreclosures, lawsuits, liens and judgments made against you.

Difference between a soft inquiry and a hard inquiry

A soft inquiry happens when an authorized party — bank, employer, lender, utility company and more — views limited information on your credit file to screen you to extend an offer, such as a preapproved credit card or loan or for insurance policy underwriting purposes. If you pull your own credit for review, it’s also considered a soft pull. While a soft pull shows up on your credit file, it has no negative impact on your credit score.

A hard pull happens when you apply for a credit or loan product, such as car loans, credit cards or mortgages. When lenders access your credit file to determine your creditworthiness, it will cause your credit rating to drop slightly — a minor negative impact that will lessen over time. But too many hard inquiries will hurt your credit rating and flag you as a risky borrower.

Both soft and hard credit inquiries will stay listed in your file for two years.

Get your credit score with your report

Toggle between tabs to find and compare providers to get your credit score or to find a credit repair company.

1 - 6 of 6
Name Product Starting price Trial period Credit scores Credit monitoring Credit reports Update frequency
SoFi Relay
SoFi Relay
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion Credit Report
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion credit score, monitoring and identity theft insurance.
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
Get quarterly access to your most widely used FICO® Scores and a 3-bureau credit report.
Equifax Small Business Credit Reporting
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
TransUnion, Equifax, Experian
Monitor your key business relationships to protect your company from losses.
7 days
$1 for a seven-day trial to get access to your credit score and credit report from TransUnion.
Credit Karma
TransUnion, Equifax
TransUnion, Equifax
1 - 4 of 4
Name Product Monthly Fee BBB Rating Customer Support Cancel Anytime call to action
Self Credit Builder Account
Phone, Email, Online Chat
Save money and build credit with a secured-installment loan that you can access after 12 or 24 months.
Credit Firm Professional Credit Repair
Credit Firm Professional Credit Repair
Phone, Email, Mail
Professional credit repair service that can help you create a step by step action plan. Cancel anytime.
The Credit People
Phone, Email, Mail
Professionals work with you to clean up your credit and raise your credit scores. Cancel anytime.

What should I check on my credit report?

Carefully — and regularly — review your credit history to ensure that lenders see only the most accurate picture of your financial health. Make sure that each of the following elements is correct and report any errors you find to the specific bureau — Equifax, Experian or TransUnion — for fixing.

  • Your personal information. Ensure that your name, Social Security number and employment history are correct. If you find a mistake, report it immediately to limit any chance of identity theft.
  • Open accounts. If your report shows that you owe on an account you’ve fully repaid or closed, or credit or store cards you’ve never used, call the credit reporting bureau first and then call the provider to find out how to resolve the issue.
  • Incorrectly listed payments or defaults. You may find negative information that’s reported incorrectly on your report, such as late or missed payments. Highlight anything you believe is erroneous and dispute it with the reporting bureau and the creditor or institution that provided the information.
  • Duplicate listings. Are any of your accounts listed more than once? Especially with collections, make sure accounts aren’t listed multiple times throughout your report.
  • Cosigner information. If you find that you’re listed as a cosigner on a loan that you didn’t authorize, contact the reporting bureau immediately.
  • Mix of credit. The different types of credit you have contribute to your credit score, so it’s recommended to have a healthy blend of revolving and installment credit.
  • Credit utilization ratio. Lenders often look at how much of your available credit you use compared to your credit limit. When your credit utilization ratio is over 30%, your credit score could take a few dings.

How long is information held on my file?

Luckily, the Fair Credit Report Act limits the time a credit reporting agency can report negative items in your credit report. Neutral or positive items can appear on your report indefinitely.

The exact time period that specific types of credit information can remain on your credit history varies by the type of listing.

Type of listingHow long it can remain on your report
Payment history
  • Up to 7 years for negative history, including late payments
  • Up to 10 for positive history, including revolving and installment debt
Credit inquiries
  • 1–2 years for most states, whether approved or not
  • Up to 5 years in New York
  • Up to 7 years in California
Tax liens
  • 7 years for paid liens
  • Indefinitely for unpaid liens
Court judgments
  • 7 years whether satisfied or not, or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer
  • 10 years from date filed for Chapter 7 or 11
  • 7 years from date filed for Chapter 13
Collection accounts
  • 7 years from first date past due

How can I find and dispute errors on my credit reports?

Once you access your report, you’ll see all the items there for you to review. To correct errors in your credit report, contact both the credit reporting bureau and the institution — either the bank, credit card provider or lender — who reported it.

  1. Contact the credit reporting bureau. By speaking with a representative, you may be able to remove the error or convince the bureau to contact the credit provider on your behalf to remove it.
  2. File a dispute online. Each of the credit reporting agencies offers the ability to dispute errors in your credit report online.
  3. Contact the credit provider. The provider or lender should have a dispute resolution team or process in place to fix incorrect listings.
  4. Contact the CFPB. If you’re not able to resolve the issue on your own, submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent federal agency built to protect consumers.

When you take agency over your credit file and ensure all the information is correct, you’re taking one step closer to improving your credit score. Frequently reviewing your profile, especially as you pay off credit cards or loan products or take on new credit items, will ensure your credit rating stays in top shape.

Who can pull my credit report?

Aside from yourself, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the following individuals and organizations can pull your credit report for legitimate business reasons.

  • Banks and credit card companies. Credit reports help financial institutions evaluate your creditworthiness when you apply for a product or service.
  • Potential employers. Some hiring companies ask permission from potential employees to pull a credit report to learn how they handle their finances. Poor credit scores could signal financial troubles that may potentially increase the risk of mismanaging company funds, fraud or theft.
  • Insurance companies. Underwriters will pull your report to assess financial risk and to set your rates when drawing up your policy.
  • Credit monitoring services. These are hired 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.

Most of the time, these credit reports are only available with your permission. However, there may be a clause in the fine print that states a company or individual can view your credit report once you sign up or use its product.

Always ask if a credit check is required to protect yourself from any unnecessary or unauthorized pulls on your credit file. Remember: Your credit file is a lifelong record, so take the time to understand it and to keep it clear of errors. A healthy credit report will lead to a better credit score and better products with attractive rates and terms.

Frequently asked questions

I’ve never applied for a loan or credit card. Do I have a credit report?

Even if you’ve never applied for a credit product with a bank or lender, you may still have a credit report. You may have had interest-free store finance, which is a type of credit card and listed on your credit report. The only way you can know is to check your credit report.

How does paying my bills late affect my credit report?

Unpaid or overdue bills can be listed on your credit report and hurt your credit score.

How will a rejected application affect my credit report?

Lenders may consider any denied applications a red flag. To avoid creating roadblocks to approval, try to wait six months between credit applications.

How many hard pulls on my credit file are “too many?”

More than five inquiries within 12 months is considered too many. But multiple inquiries for the same loan type over a short period — car loans, mortgages — will get lumped together as one inquiry.

More guides on Finder

  • How to build credit

    See our list of 7 ways to build credit, no matter your credit history or score, including secured cards, rent reporting services and more.

Ask an Expert provides guides and information on a range of products and services. Because our content is not financial advice, we suggest talking with a professional before you make any decision.

By submitting your comment or question, you agree to our Privacy and Cookies Policy and Terms of Use.

Questions and responses on are not provided, paid for or otherwise endorsed by any bank or brand. These banks and brands are not responsible for ensuring that comments are answered or accurate.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Go to site