Part of being financially savvy is knowing the difference between a credit report and your credit score. They are related, but it can be easy to confuse the two, their purpose and their effects on your financial health and goals.
Your credit report contains information detailing your credit history. This information can come from a number of sources, including lenders, utility companies and landlords. The data is compiled by one of three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and includes:
- Name, address and Social Security number;
- Types of credit you use;
- When you opened a loan or line of credit;
- The balances and available credit on your credit cards and other lines of credit;
- Information about whether you pay your bills on time;
- Information about any accounts passed to a collections agency;
- How much new credit you’ve opened recently; and
- Records related to bankruptcy, tax liens or court judgments.
You should check your credit report at least once a year to be sure it’s error-free. You’re entitled to at least one free report a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. This article provides tips on how to read the report.
Your credit report does NOT include your three-digit credit score. Your credit score is the numerical value assigned to the information in your credit report. While there are numerous credit-scoring formulas, FICO is the most-widely known and used. Your FICO score can range from 300 to 850, with under 400 being undesirable and 700-plus as healthy. Your credit score is meant to show potential lenders whether you are a financial risk.
Unlike your credit report, you can’t always get your credit score for free. When you order a free credit report, you’ll usually have an option to buy your numerical credit score for $7 to $12. There are services, such as Credit Karma, that will provide you with a credit score for free, but this number is only an estimate. It’s not necessarily the credit score FICO and other agencies may have.
Why is this so important? Your credit report and credit score can affect whether you qualify for a home or car loan, the interest rate you receive on credit cards, how much you’re charged for auto insurance, whether a landlord will take you on as a renter, and more. Even potential employers can check your credit report (with your permission).
The bottom line is to make all your payments on time, avoid maxing out your credit cards, and to regularly check your credit report for errors.