Personal Credit Services


What is a credit report?

You are the source of great interest, and profit, of many national companies. These companies, known as “consumer reporting agencies” under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, gather financial and other information about you and millions of other consumers across the country. They use this information to make a profit – that’s right, they sell your information to make a buck.

The FCRA defines a consumer reporting agency as: any person which, for monetary fees, dues, or on a cooperative nonprofit basis, regularly engages in whole or in part in the practice ofassembling or evaluating customer credit information or other information on consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties, and which uses any means or facility ofinterstate commerce for the purpose of preparing or furnishing consumer reports. These consumer reporting agencies sell your information to businesses and individuals with a “legitimate” need toknow something about you. Most often, these businesses are creditors that want to lend you money or otherwise provide you with credit. But, the consumer reporting agencies have many customers thatare eager for your information, including prospective employers, landlords, and insurance companies – see the box.

All of these businesses and individuals are trying to decide whether you’re a “good risk” for whatever it is they’re offering to you. If your credit report contains mostly “good” information, then you’ll probably receive the loan or service. But, if your credit report contains mostly “bad” information, then you’re probably not going to get the loan or service. We’re going to closely examine the information that’s contained in your credit reports in a moment, and then we’re going to talk about how to fix that information – because we guarantee that some of it is wrong.

But for now, let’s take a close look at the major consumer reporting agencies. (As with the term “credit report,” the term “credit bureau” never appears in the FCRA. All of the companies that we typically think of and call “credit bureaus” are in fact consumer reporting agencies. As with the term “credit report,” a “credit bureau” is really a sub-set of consumer reporting agencies that primarily collect, maintain, and sell credit information to third parties, as opposed to information regarding medical or insurance claim histories, for example. For our purposes, we’ll refer to the major consumer reporting agencies as “credit bureaus,” because that is the generally accepted term for them.)


What's Included in Your Credit Report

Accounts/Trade lines: This includes credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, real estate, installment loans and revolving debt like department store cards. The report will include information on the accounts such as the balance, payment history, terms, and account status such as whether the account was put into bankruptcy, charged off, or repossessed.

Collection Accounts: Collections are accounts that are seriously past due and have been transferred to a collection agency or creditor's internal collection department. Collections can appear to be paid and unpaid (and, yes this makes a difference when disputing…more on this later). Any type of collection whether it is paid or unpaid it is negative.

One thing you may encounter is multiple listings on credit reports for the same debt. This happens as the debt collection agencies sell the debt to other agencies. As debt is transferred between different agencies, there may be several records on the credit report for the same debt. Only one record should be marked as open at a time on the credit report.

Public Records: The public information section of the credit report includes publicly available information about legal matters affecting your client’s credit. This could include judgments in civil actions, state or federal tax liens and bankruptcies. All court records, including satisfactions, are considered negative by all credit grantors. Because some public record information is accessible only by visiting courthouses and other government buildings in person, the credit bureaus have to send people to the courthouse to gather the records.

Inquiries: Every time credit is applied for, a credit report is pulled. The inquiry section of a credit report includes records of businesses that have checked your credit in the last two years. When creditors and lenders review clients’ credit data for the purpose of an application, a hard inquiry is listed on the credit report. Too many hard inquiries can harm a credit score. The reason being is that credit grantors get nervous that they are not managing credit “responsibly.”


What's Not Included In Your Credit Reports

Contrary to popular belief, your credit report does not contain information about your checking or savings accounts, or your race, religion, gender, political affiliation, or personal lifestyle. Your credit report also does not contain medical history or criminal records.

(But, remember, your credit report is only one type of consumer report. As we've seen, there are specialized consumer reporting agencies that DO collect, maintain, and report some of this information. In addition, there are companies that provide what the FCRA calls an “investigative consumer report” which it defines as:

A consumer report or portion thereof in which information on a consumer's character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living is obtained through personal interviews with neighbors, friends, or associates of the consumer reported on or with others with whom he is acquainted or who may have knowledge concerning any such items of information.

Fortunately, the FCRA requires that these companies notify you if they prepare an investigative consumer report about you. Although this is something to certainly worry about, let's stay focused on credit reports for now. Just remember that credit reports and investigative consumer reports are different.)

Finally, your credit report may also not contain information from all of your creditors. As we talked about above, some of your creditors may not report to all of the credit bureaus, and some may not report to any credit bureau. Therefore, parts of your credit accounts and history may appear in different credit reports, or not at all.