Credit Report

Your credit report is the way that you appear to creditors, land lords and anyone else who inquires about how credit-worthy you are. It includes information about when and where you've borrowed money over the years as well as how timely you are about paying your bills.

What Is a Credit Report?

A credit report is a comprehensive history of your financial life. It will include your current and former addresses, your history of taking out loans, your history of paying them off and whether or not you’ve paid your bills on time.

Whenever you’re about to enter into a financial agreement, the other party will most likely want to order a credit report to get a better sense of who they’re about to go into business with. They stand to lose a lot if you end up shirking your financial responsibilities, so it’s important that they be able to get a sense of what they’re getting into.

It’s important to have a good sense of where your credit stands, so regularly getting credit reports can be an important part of keeping your financial life in good working order. When the time comes that you need to apply for a big loan or take out a mortgage, you should go into the shopping process aware of what you can expect.

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Credit Score vs. Credit Report

Your score is the three-digit number that gives a very basic sense of how credit-worthy you look based on your history. Your credit report, meanwhile, is a review of the actual data that goes into that score. It’s the context for your credit score that will help you understand why you have the score you do.

Even though it’s not hard to find your credit score, you won’t necessarily be able to understand it without a full credit report. If you’ve been dogged by a persistently low credit score, getting a credit report might provide you with the background data you need to know what’s behind it. In many cases, once you have identified the issue, you can take action to remedy the problem or even get something removed from your credit history and see your credit score rise as a result.

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How to Get a Free Credit Report

Fortunately for you, you’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the competing national credit reporting companies. It’s a legal requirement as outlined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, so you can hit up Equifax, Experian, and Transunion each yearly.

Given that getting three copies of three different credit reports will cost you nothing, it’s probably a good idea to be sure that you do, possibly even staggering the different agencies so that you can get continual updates on your credit throughout the year. Not only will this keep you appraised of where your current credit score is, but it will also give you a chance to check for any changes that could indicate someone has stolen your identity.

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Where to Get a Free Credit Report

There are a number of different ways for you to access your free yearly credit report. Many website like GOFreeCredit provide an easy portal to a wide variety of credit reporting and monitoring services that will put you in touch with the services you need in addition to giving you a look at the scores of each rating agency. This can be a great introduction to the rating agencies as well as an easy way to order your report.

Differences in Credit Reports

Whether you decide to get an Equifax credit report, Experian credit report or Transunion credit report will actually make a difference in your results. That’s because, while most of the process of building a credit report is the same, there are subtle differences between how the agencies approach things.

Transunion, for instance, offers a more thorough employment data section in your personal history than the other two agencies, so it’s worth comparing the options provided by the three agencies to determine which one is best for you.

About the Author

Joel Anderson is a business and finance writer with over a decade of experience writing about the wide world of finance. Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in writing about the financial markets, stocks, macroeconomic concepts and focuses on helping make complex financial concepts digestible for the retail investor. You can also catch him in the series “Invested” on the GOBankingRates YouTube channel.

Joel Anderson holds shares in Ford, Walmart, Verizon, AT&T, the Guggenheim Solar ETF, the United States Oil ETF and various other broad stock ETFs. Read more.