Credit Report: What It Is and Why It’s Important

By Upstart Content Team | Updated November 22, 2022
reading time 4 min read
Young man using a laptop to research what a credit report is.

Key takeaways: 

  • A credit report is a complete summary of your credit history and activity.
  • Credit reports usually include four main sections: personal information, credit accounts, inquiries, and public records.
  • Under federal law, you are entitled to 1 free copy of your credit report per year from each major credit bureau (3 in total).

A credit report is a financial statement that contains information about your credit activity and the status of your credit situation. In the simplest terms, it helps lenders understand your creditworthiness, and why your credit score is what it is.

To make the most of your credit report, read on to understand what your credit report is, what’s in it, and how to access it.

What is a credit report?

Credit reports are a summary of your credit profile. This type of report includes details about your personal information, credit accounts, personal records, and inquiries. 

Credit reporting agencies collect financial information about you to compile your credit report. 

Pro tip: Credit reporting agencies are frequently called “credit bureaus” or “consumer reporting agencies.” Three of the major credit bureaus include Equifax®, Experian™, and TransUnion®. 

The bureaus receive your information from creditors, such as lenders, credit card companies, and other financial institutions. Most people have more than one credit report because creditors usually report your information to more than one bureau. 

However, it’s important to note that creditors aren’t obligated to report your information to each credit reporting companyso you may have just one or two.

Why should you check your credit report?

Creditors use your credit report to help determine if they’ll grant you a loan and what terms you may qualify for. If they see red flags, like significant debt in collections or maxed-out credit cards, it may hurt your chances of getting approved for a loan. 

What is a credit report used for?

Your credit report may be used to decide if:

  • A lender will offer you a loan or mortgage
  • A business will offer you insurance
  • A person will let you rent their home or apartment
  • A company will provide you with cable TV, internet, or a cell phone plan
  • An employer will hire you

That’s why you should try to review your credit report(s) periodically and make sure your information is up-to-date and error-free. If there are any issues or errors, take steps to resolve them as soon as possible. 

What is in a credit report?

The information in your credit report may vary depending on the credit bureau it comes from. Typically, credit reports include four sections: personal information, credit accounts, public records, and inquiries.

Personal information

The personal information portion of your report is usually at the top and will include details about you, such as:

  • Your full name and any nickname you’ve used with a credit account
  • Current and past addresses
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Phone numbers
  • Current and past employment information
  • The name of anyone you have jointly applied for credit with 

Credit accounts

In the next section of your credit report, you’ll find data about your credit accounts, as well as your borrowing and repayment history. This section may include: 

  • Current and past credit accounts, as well as the type of account (such as a mortgage, installment loan, revolving line of credit)
  • Name of your lender(s)
  • Credit limit and/or loan amount
  • Account balance
  • Account payment history
  • The date your account(s) opened and closed

Pro tip: Some credit bureaus may include information about accounts that have past due payments, have been charged-off, or have been sent to a collection agency in this section.

Public records

Further down on your credit report, the public records section displays information about any major financial transactions, including:

  • Tax liens
  • Foreclosures
  • Bankruptcies
  • Civil suits and court judgments
  • Overdue child support

Credit inquiries

There are two types of inquiries that appear on a credit report: a hard credit inquiry and a soft credit inquiry. 

Hard credit inquiries: This type of inquiry impacts your credit score and can appear on your report for several years. A lender may perform a hard credit inquiry when you:

  • Apply to get a credit card
  • Make a request to get a credit line increase
  • Apply for a personal loan
  • Apply for a mortgage
  • Apply to rent a house and/or apartment
  • Make an account to get phone, cable, or internet service

Soft credit inquiries: Unlike a hard credit inquiry, this type of inquiry doesn’t impact your credit score or appear on the version of your credit report that lenders see. A soft credit inquiry may be performed when you:

  • Review your credit report
  • Request a quote from insurance companies
  • Apply for a job that performs background checks
  • Get pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card 

How to get a free credit report

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three major bureaus every 12 months. To help make it accessible, the bureaus have a central website, toll-free phone number, and address you can use to access your report. The details are: 

Annual Credit Report Request Service

P.O. Box 105281

Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

If you’ve already accessed your free copies, you can request additional copies for a fee through each bureau’s website.

Next steps to take with your credit report

Besides your personal information and soft inquiries, every other detail on your credit report can impact your credit score. Creditors typically prefer to see a balance of well-managed accounts and a mix of different types of credit.

When you’re ready, get a free copy of each report and review them to understand your financial health and potential areas for improvement. If your report isn’t up to par, remember you can take steps to fix mistakes and improve your credit score.

This content is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only. Upstart is not a financial advisor and does not offer financial planning services. This content may contain references to products and services offered through Upstart’s credit marketplace.

About the Author

Upstart Content Team

The Upstart Content Team shares industry insights, practical tips, and borrower success stories to help people better understand the important “money moments” of their lives.

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