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Financial Education 101

What's on a credit report

5 minute read

When lenders, creditors, and other businesses want to know how you manage your finances, they request your credit report. Your credit report lists your personally identifiable information, outstanding credit, other inquiries about your credit, and delinquencies or failures to pay bills on time. Potential lenders and creditors use your credit report as a snapshot of your credit history to help them make decisions about whether to extend credit to you.1

What's on a credit report?

A credit report includes the following four areas:

  1. PII, or personally identifiable information
  2. Trade lines
  3. Credit inquiries
  4. Public records and collections

PII – Personally Identifiable Information

PII includes your name, address, date of birth, some or all of your Social Security number, and possibly your employment history.2 Your PII is your financial fingerprint; it distinguishes you from everyone else. As such, it is a prime target for identity thieves. Your PII breaks down into two categories:

  • Sensitive information — which should always be encrypted—includes Social Security numbers and banking information, like account numbers.
  • Nonsensitive information. This is PII that can be obtained from public records or online without any special authority.3 It can still include personal details, such as your birth date, address, sexual orientation, phone numbers, and employment history.4

What is a trade line?

A trade line is a credit account listed on your credit report. It tells how much you owe, how much you have borrowed, and how well you have paid it back. Each trade line lists a creditor, the simplified terms of the credit agreement, and your payment history. Your payment history includes late payments (30, 60, or 90 days late) and charge-offs, which are debts the creditor has decided can’t be collected or have been placed in bankruptcy.

The trade line section of your credit report will show the payment status of each of your loans, including your credit card balances. Your credit health—in other words, whether your credit is good or bad—is affected by the number of trade lines, the type, the length each has been open, and the payment history.5

What are credit inquiries?

Credit inquiries are requests for your credit report from one or more of the three major credit agencies—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—within the last two years. Businesses that may be able to look at your credit report include creditors and potential creditors, landlords, insurance companies, utility companies, employers, government agencies, collections agencies, and entities with a court order. Such inquiries may or may not affect your credit rating. “Voluntary” inquiries show up on your credit report, and therefore affect your credit rating; “involuntary” inquiries do not:

  • Voluntary credit inquiries happen when you apply for credit, such as when you apply for a mortgage, car loan, or new credit card. This type of inquiry can affect your credit score.
  • Involuntary credit inquiries happen when you are not requesting credit. For example, checking your own credit report is an involuntary inquiry. Involuntary inquiries also include businesses who check your credit in order to offer you promotions, such as preapproved credit cards, or checks from lenders with whom you already have credit. Involuntary inquiries are also known as soft inquiries. They do not affect your credit score.7

What is public record and collections information?

Public record and collections information is a list of judgments, liens, and bankruptcies filed with federal, state, and local entities. Some public records don’t show up in your credit report, like divorce decrees. Others, like bankruptcy, can appear in your credit report for seven to ten years, depending on the type of bankruptcy you filed. In some states, unpaid tax liens can be reported for up to fifteen years. Generally speaking, as these records get older, they affect your credit less.8

What is the FCRA?

FCRA is the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a federal law that regulates the process of credit reporting. Under the act, consumers have several rights regarding their credit report:

  • The right to know what information a creditor used against you, such as when you are denied credit, including information outside of your credit report.
  • The right to receive a complete copy of all the information about you maintained by a consumer credit reporting agency. This must be provided free to you under certain circumstances.
  • The right to ask for a credit score, which is a numerical description of your creditworthiness.
  • The right to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information and to have that information corrected or deleted, if the credit reporting bureau finds it to be inaccurate.
  • The right to place a security freeze on your credit report with consumer agencies and credit bureaus. A security or credit freeze limits access to your credit report, which makes it harder for identity thieves to open accounts falsely in your name.9
  • The right to seek damages against people and companies that violate FRCA rules.

Certain parties, such as active duty military and victims of identity theft, have additional rights set out in the act. Some states enforce only the FRCA, while other states grant additional rights concerning credit reporting.10

Your credit report is an important part of your overall financial picture. Understanding what information is included in your credit report, and your rights to inspect and monitor it, will help you maintain the most accurate picture of your history as a borrower.

Sources:
1 “What Is a Credit Report and What Does It Include?” Equifax, https://www.equifax.com/personal/education/credit/report/what-is-a-credit-report-and-what-does-it-include/
2 Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “Credit Reports and Credit Scores.” [PDF]
3 “What Is a Credit Report and What Does It Include?” Equifax, https://www.equifax.com/personal/education/credit/report/what-is-a-credit-report-and-what-does-it-include/
4 Poremba, Sue. May 31, 2018. “What Is Personally Identifiable Information.“ Experian.com https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/what-is-personally-identifiable-information/, last accessed 8/15/18.
5 Kagan, Julia. Feb. 13, 2018. “Trade Line.” Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/trade-line.asp
6 “What Are Inquiries and How Do They Affect My FICO Score?” myFICO.com. https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/faq/credit/how-do-inquiries-impact-credit-scores
7 Devaney, Tim. December 4, 2018. “Hard and Soft Credit Inquiries: What They Are and Why They Matter.” Credit Karma. https://www.creditkarma.com/advice/i/hard-credit-inquiries-and-soft-credit-inquiries/
8 Irby, Latoya. September 9, 2018. “Public Records and Your Credit Report.” The Balance. https://www.thebalance.com/public-records-and-your-credit-report-960740
9 “Credit Freeze FAQs.” Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs
10 Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act” [PDF], https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0096-fair-credit-reporting-act.pdf
This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other advisors with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, (collectively, “Synchrony”) makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions
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