What is a Credit Report?

A credit report is broadly defined as a document that contains information about who a person has borrowed money from, how well he pays his bills, and how much debt he owes.  There are three major credit reporting agencies that have a credit file on you:  Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.  They do not share information with each other and most lenders do not subscribe to the services of all three agencies.  Therefore, your credit report with each of the three agencies will differ as to completeness of information.  For example, perhaps the copy of your Trans Union credit report will consist only a few pages while your Experian credit report consists of 15 pages.

You will also be surprised to find that everything you assumed would be reported is not reported.  For example, most would assume their mortgage loan payment history is being reported. This is not always true.  Mortgage loans with small to medium-sized banks and credit unions may not be reported.  Other accounts that are not reported unless you default or the account is turned over to a debt collector are:  Checking and savings accounts; utility accounts (water, telephone, gas); medical and legal bills; monthly rental / lease payments; and insurance records.

Who does report?  Major credit card companies report, as do most finance and loan companies.  So do collection agencies and major retailers. Other items that may appear on your credit report are  liens, such as tax liens, a bankruptcy, judgments, child support obligations in default, and many student loans. Banks, leasing companies, lawyers, doctors and others might report an account if it becomes delinquent or is in default.

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Your creditors are not required by law to report your payment history to a credit reporting agency (although proposed legislation is currently under consideration to protect consumers from not having a credit history).

The federal law that regulates credit reporting agencies (CRAs) is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  It holds the credit bureaus (CRAs) and those reporting information to CRAs to reporting information accurately and fairly and to re-investigate information that a consumer disputes in a timely manner and make corrections, if necessary.

It is recommended that you order your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies and make sure that each is accurate and find out which of the three major CRAs your creditors report your information to. Reviewing your credit report is particularly important if you are planning to apply for a mortgage or auto loan soon.  Fixing mistakes found on a credit report can take as long as six months to complete, therefore, order your credit reports well in advance of applying for a loan to make sure they are accurate.