Guide to Credit Reports

By Dan Miller · March 15, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Guide to Credit Reports

If you’ve ever had a credit card, student loans, or other type of debt, you likely have a credit report. Credit reports serve as a record of how you have handled the repayment of any loan or debt that you’ve taken out. The items that are contained in your credit report primarily come from information collected by the three major credit bureaus.

Many lenders might look at your credit report when they are considering whether or not to extend you additional credit. Your credit score is also calculated in part from information that’s included on your credit report. These are two good reasons to regularly look at your credit report and make sure the information in it is accurate.

What Is a Credit Report?

At its simplest, a credit report is a compilation of information regarding past debts, loans, or credit card accounts that you’ve managed. Your credit report will contain basic information about you, as well as information on the various accounts you’ve had in the past. This might include the name of the creditor, the dates the account was open, the monthly payment amount, if applicable, and any current or outstanding balance.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due?

How Does a Credit Report Work?

The issuers of most credit cards, loans, or other forms of debt report information about that debt to the most popular credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Each credit bureau compiles its own information, though there is usually a lot of overlap between the information that appears on credit reports from different credit bureaus. Lenders typically send updated information to the credit bureaus each month, or if any information about your debt changes.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Credit Report Information and Your Credit Score

It’s important to understand the relationship between the information on your credit report and your credit score. While these two things are related, they are not the same thing. As information on your credit report changes, your credit score updates as well. This means that it’s possible for your credit score to change every month (or even more often).

Further, while the information on your credit report influences your credit score, you won’t find your credit report listed on your credit report. Rather, you’ll have to go to lenders or credit monitoring websites for that information, both of which can allow you to check your credit score without paying.

Information Provided By a Credit Report

In addition to information about your accounts, your credit report may include other information about you. As one example, a credit report from Experian consists of four sections:

•   Personal information: This includes details such as your name, address, employment information, and any past names you’ve used.

•   Accounts: You’ll see both open and recently closed accounts listed.

•   Inquiries: Both hard and soft credit checks will appear, though only hard pulls affect your credit score.

•   Public records: This is information about you gathered from public records, including bankruptcies.

How Is a Credit Report Made?

Each of the major credit bureaus has its own process for how it generates a credit report. It’s typical that the credit bureau will have an informational section with details about you, sourced from loan applications and/or public records.

Another section of most credit reports is a listing of your open and recently closed accounts. Lenders will often report to the credit bureaus information about the amount, payment history, and status of accounts you have with them.

Why Is a Credit Report Important?

Your credit report is important because it is one of the sources of information that’s used to calculate your credit score. And your credit score can help determine whether you are approved for other financial products, like a credit card. If your credit score is too low, you may not be able to be approved for a new credit card or loan, and if you are approved, you may have to pay a higher interest rate.

Additionally, your credit report matters because many lenders will often refer to it when determining whether to approve you and under what terms. Sometimes, they may look at what’s known as a tri-merge credit report, which combines the three credit reports from each of the major credit bureaus.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

How to Get a Credit Report

One good way to get your credit report is through . This is a website authorized by federal law and brought to you by the three major credit bureaus.

You are able to get a copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus every year. Note that you can only get your own credit report to review — checking someone else’s credit report isn’t an option.

When to Get a Credit Report

It is a good financial habit to regularly review your credit report. As mentioned, you can get a free copy of your credit report each year from each of the major credit bureaus.

By reading a credit report regularly, you can make sure that there’s no inaccurate information on your credit report. If you have incorrect information, it could have a negative impact on your credit score.

What to Look For in a Credit Report

As you regularly review your credit report, there are a few common credit report errors you’ll want to look out for. These include:

•   Typos or incorrect information

•   Information belonging to someone with a similar name

•   Closed accounts that are still marked as open

•   False late payment

•   Duplicate debts or accounts

Monitoring Your Credit Report

If there is any incorrect or erroneous information on your credit report, you’ll want to dispute that with the credit bureau. Disputing a credit report is a relatively straightforward process, and it’s an important one.

Generally, most credit report disputes must be submitted in writing, and it’s a good idea to send the letter via certified mail. That way, you have proof that the credit bureau received your letter.

The Takeaway

If you’ve been using credit cards, loans, or other financial products, it’s likely that you have a credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus. Your credit report contains identifying information about you as well as information about your open and recently closed credit accounts. Regularly monitoring your credit report and correcting any incorrect information is a good financial habit to have.

That’s because information from your credit report is used in the calculation of your credit score. Your credit score is used by potential lenders to decide whether they will approve you for new loans or credit cards. Having a good credit score makes it more likely that you’ll be approved for a new credit card, for example.

If you’re in the market for a new credit card, you might look at a rewards credit card like the SoFi Credit Card. With the SoFi Credit Card, you can earn cash-back rewards, which you can then use to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.


Can negative information remain on my credit report for long?

Yes, negative information can remain on your credit report, even after you have closed your account. Most negative information will stay on your credit report for seven years, though some information (like bankruptcies) can stay on your credit report even longer.

How do I get my credit report?

You can get your credit report through You’re able to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus every year.

Who is eligible to view my credit report?

You can view your own credit report, but in most cases, you will not be able to check someone else’s credit report. The only time someone else can view your credit report is if they have a legitimate reason. This might include a potential lender that’s viewing your credit report to determine whether they want to extend you additional credit.

What errors might be present in my credit report?

While the major credit bureaus make every attempt to ensure that all credit reports are completely accurate, errors have been known to happen. Possible errors might include typos, accounts from someone with a similar name, duplicate accounts, or false late payments, among other errors. This is why it’s a good idea to regularly review your credit report and dispute any incorrect information.

What is the most important thing on a credit report?

Arguably all of the information contained in your credit report is important and worth taking the time to review. Perhaps most important is information on your accounts, as the details reported there have the potential to impact your credit score, and thus your borrowing opportunities.

Photo credit: iStock/Deepak Sethi

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