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What Is a Credit Report and Why Does it Matter?

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A credit report is a comprehensive summary of your current borrowing status and past credit history. It’s a window into how you handle borrowed money as well as your overall financial wellness. Your credit report includes your revolving accounts — such as credit cards and home equity lines of credit — as well as non-revolving accounts like school and car loans. Credit reports also note any missed payments, the length of your credit history, and your utilization rate on each account. On the whole, the report acts as a central location for measuring your current credit health in detail.

This vital collection of data gathered by a credit bureau helps calculate your credit score and inform potential lenders, landlords, and even employers about your financial wellness, habits, and routines. Your credit report is also a place to keep yourself on track. View your borrowing habits at a glance, make adjustments to possibly raise your credit score, or even catch fraudulent activity. Overall, understanding your credit report is a crucial step in gaining financial confidence.

What Information Is Included in a Credit Report?

You may still be wondering: what is a credit report exactly and how much data does it include? Credit bureaus collect a range of information, from basic, personal data to detailed borrowing history in order to paint a picture of your credit habits. Identification details clarify who you are, where you’ve lived, and a bit about your life. They will list your full name and any alternately used names, your birthday, current and former addresses, social security numbers, and your phone number.

The meat of the credit report includes your account history including the types of credit accounts, how long they’ve been open, and their credit limits. Each month, your balance will rise or fall on your report based on payments or charges. This in turn affects the utilization rate on each card as well. Each account will also note your payment history, noting any late payments for up to around seven years. Your credit report will also include the number of recent hard inquiries, which usually occur when you apply for a new credit card or loan.

Certain public records and legal details — such as lawsuits — may also be listed on your report. It also lists if you’ve filed for bankruptcy, received a tax lien or had a bill sent to a collection agency. Though specifics vary, the majority of these details are wiped from your report after seven years, so there are often ways to improve your credit standing over time.

How Does Information Get on Your Credit Report?

A credit bureau, also known as a credit reporting agency, gathers this information in one place so you don’t have to. Though there are hundreds throughout the world, the three main U.S. reporting agencies are TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. They receive information via lending companies, courts, and local government to build your credit record. Every month, an assortment of data transfers from these locations to the credit bureau database.

If you open a new credit card, make a purchase on your store card, or pay down a balance, this data is sent to update your report. The agency organizes the data and displays information on your credit report in a clear layout for you or a potential lender to view. This constantly updating system means that your credit score may fluctuate at times. It also allows you to take immediate action on any troublesome accounts or in the case of identity theft.

Why Is It Important to Get a Credit Report?

Credit reports are an excellent tool for guiding large financial decisions. Say you’re looking to purchase a home in the next five years. Your report allows you to fully assess how to raise your score and which credit accounts most strongly affect your overall financial balance. Your report is also a glimpse into why your credit score has remained low or stagnant. It could be helpful to request a report before applying for a new credit card or transitioning to a new phase in life like graduate school.

Checking your credit report at least once a year, even if you are not planning any large financial changes, is often suggested for several reasons. Credit reports allow you to catch any discrepancies either in how your data was reported or if someone attempted to open an account under your name.

Where can you get a free credit report? Free credit report programs, like Turbo, can give you a glimpse into your score and history. If you’re looking to improve your credit score, these tools may be useful for frequent tracking and do not count against your credit as a hard inquiry.

How Does Your Credit Report Impact You?

Potential lenders and employers may check your credit report for the same reason you check in on yourself. Your credit report may signal that you can be trusted to make timely payments and prioritize your financial health. Employers have been known to check credit reports in order to confirm you’re able to stick to contracts and agreements.

Credit reports are most commonly used to determine approval for loans, credit limits, and interest rates. If you have some troubling details on your account, lenders may protect themselves by offering higher interest or lower credit limits until you’ve proven a strong history of payments. On a higher level, credit reports affect your mortgage interest rate or simply your likelihood of being approved for the mortgage in the first place.

In some cases, your credit report could also affect your insurance rates and other monthly bills. Some utility companies and cell phone companies determine offers and down payments based on your credit score. Overall, the healthier your credit report, the more chances you’ll have to practice good borrowing habits with a range of accounts.

A credit report is a detailed tracking tool of your borrowing and repayment history. The greater you understand your credit report, the more it can act as a tool for financial growth. Feeling confident about borrowing and managing debt comes over time, and your credit report is there to help track your progress along the way.

Sources: Consumer Finance | The Balance | Business Insider

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