There’s a lot of power contained within a credit report. Crack open your current TransUnion or Equifax or Experian report and you’ll see all sorts of key facts about you and your financial history. Your credit report knows where you’ve lived, where you’ve worked, when you were born, and how much you have left to pay on your 2012 Toyota Corolla.
Which raises a fairly crucial question (that you may not have considered up until right this very minute): just exactly who is looking at your credit report?
We’ll get to that. But first, let’s examine the full breadth of information contained within your personal credit report.
What’s in your credit report?
There are three major categories of information in most credit reports (and keep in mind that you have multiple reports from different credit reporting agencies): personal information, credit inquiries, and credit account history.
Your personal information is used primarily to distinguish you from other consumers. It doesn’t have any bearing on your credit score. You should keep an eye on this info, however, and report errors.
Information shared on your credit report includes:
- Recent addresses
- Most recent employer (with address)
- Social Security number
Your credit report won’t include any information on your race, political affiliation, religion, or medical history.
Who’s looking at your credit report? Well, your credit report knows that, too.
An inquiry is a request to review your credit report. Your report should include a list of all the parties that have viewed your credit report (going back no further than seven years).
There are two types of inquiries, most typically referred to as hard and soft. A “hard pull” is usually the result of you trying to open a new credit card or loan account. A “soft pull” is basically every other inquiry. Too many hard pulls in a short period of time can potentially hurt your credit score (because that can be construed as you attempting to add more debt), while soft pulls don’t impact your score at all.
Credit account history
This is the biggest category of information on your credit report. It basically boils down to:
- Who you owe,
- How much you owe, and
- Whether or not you’ve been making payments on time.
For every credit card, personal loan, mortgage, and outstanding debt, there should be some combination of account number, date opened, starting balance/high credit, monthly minimum (usually on loans), date of last activity, current balance, missed payments, and reporting date (when the data on your credit report was submitted by the lender).
There should also be a separate section for collection accounts (which could include unpaid medical or utility bills) and public records (including any bankruptcies, judgments, or liens).
Who can get a copy of your credit report?
Not just anyone can request a copy of your credit report. It’s sensitive information, after all. For the most part, you’ll need to grant someone permission before they’ll be allowed to view your report. There is, however, one sizeable exception.
Most of your credit report views are coming from creditors. The big one is obvious: they’ll look at your credit report when deciding whether or not to give you a loan or a new credit card. And that’s not just a yes or no question – the information on your credit report will determine what kind of credit terms you’ll be eligible for, including interest rate, credit limit, and more.
Creditors will also periodically review your credit report for the purposes of pre-screening you for loan or credit card offers. If you’ve received an offer in the mail saying “You’re approved!” that usually means that a lender has reviewed the basics on your report. Random credit card company X doesn’t need your permission to do a soft pull in order to make these offers (and fortunately, these pulls have no negative impact for you).
A new employer may make a credit report check part of the onboarding process. This is usually to check for red flags (a long history of missed payments and defaulted accounts, for example), but you’ll need to give your permission before they can access your credit report.
Because a high credit score can be interpreted as a sign of financial security and trustworthiness (at the very least, it’s a good indicator that someone has been able to pay their bills consistently), some landlords may require a credit check as part of the application process for a rental property. There may be a credit score requirement or they may be willing to offer a waived or reduced security deposit for a higher credit score. Either way, you’ll need to provide your permission before they can look at your report.
An insurance company may want to review your credit report in order to determine the kinds of policy or premiums they’re willing to offer you. A high credit score with a strong history of making payments on time may net you a better offer than someone who’s been struggling to keep up. Again, you’ll need to provide your permission as part of the application process.
If you need a professional license for your job (police officer, nurse, real estate agent, etc.), the licensing organization may require a credit check as part of the process. As with employers, this is primarily to look for potential red flags and they’ll need your permission to proceed.
What if I don’t want anyone to look at my credit report?
As noted, for the most part people can’t see your credit report unless you let them. But there are instances where you might want to be a bit more cautious with your credit information. Specifically, if your sensitive information has been compromised and you suspect there’s a chance of someone trying to steal your identity.
If you’re worried about someone trying to open new credit accounts in your name, you can have your credit reports frozen. Essentially, this prevents creditors from viewing your reports, which means they can’t open a new account (for you or a potential scammer). It also means no one can view your credit report (including all the concerned parties listed above). If a legitimate source needs to view your reports, you’ll have to unfreeze them.
Freezing your credit report often comes with a fee and you’ll have to freeze each report separately, so it’s not recommended unless you really need the added security.
Concerned about your credit situation? Credit counseling is free and available 24/7! Let our nonprofit experts get you the help you need.