What You Need to Know About Your Credit Report

A credit report is a snapshot of your financial history and a tool that lenders use to decide whether or not to loan you money. It also plays a big role in determining how much you pay for your mortgage, car or other debt. credit reports are maintained by the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – and sold to creditors, insurers and other businesses that make decisions about you (like cable TV providers and cell phone companies).

To make their decisions, these businesses review your credit report and assign a credit score to you. You can also get a copy of your own report by requesting it from the credit bureaus or from the FTC’s website.

There are several key sections of your credit report that impact how lenders view you as a borrower: accounts, inquiries and public records. The accounts section summarizes your past and present credit card, retail, finance company and other revolving (credit card) accounts as well as your auto loans and mortgages. It shows the account number, name and address as well as the date the account was opened and closed and whether it is open or inactive. It also lists the current balances and highest balances on your accounts. The length of credit history – which makes up 15% of your credit score – is also shown in the account information section.

Creditors and lenders send updates to the credit reporting agencies on a regular basis, including the payment history of your accounts. The information is reviewed by the credit bureaus and is added to your report, along with a credit score that is assigned to you based on your record of how well you manage your credit. Lenders look at your credit report when you apply for a credit card, mortgage or other loan.

Other businesses check your report to help determine if you should be offered insurance or to rent an apartment, and may even check it to see how much you should pay for utility services or to buy a home. Inaccuracies in your report can be a problem, but you can correct them by disputing them with the credit bureau. By law, they must investigate your dispute and get back to you within 30 days.

A good credit report can help you get a lower interest rate on credit cards, loans and mortgages. It can also help you avoid paying security deposits for rental properties, utilities and other items that require a deposit. It can even raise your job application’s chances of being approved and increase your salary or employment prospects.

However, your credit report can also hurt you if it contains errors that can damage your credit rating. It’s a good idea to review your report regularly so you can catch and correct errors before they can be used against you. Here’s how to do it and what to know about the credit reporting process.