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What Is a Credit Report?

Andrea Coombes

Written by Andrea Coombes
Fact-checked by Dayana Yochim
Edited by Carolyn Kimball

March 13, 2024

A credit report is a detailed list of your financial life past and present, including your payment history on loans such as credit cards and student loans, plus information on any unpaid debts or bankruptcies. Credit scores are based on the information in our credit reports.

Quick take: Your credit reports list all of your loans and credit lines, including the type of loan, how much you owe, and a history of your payments (specifically, whether or not you paid on time). Credit reports also include your name, current and previous addresses, Social Security number and birthdate, and possibly the names of current and previous employers. Your income isn’t included. Also not included? Details on what you bought. There's no transaction history to see here.

Tell me more! Here’s how credit reports work:

  • For all of your loans and credit cards, your lenders report your payment activity to one, two or all three of the big credit-reporting companies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Those companies use that information to build your credit reports.
  • When you apply for new credit — such as a mortgage, credit card or car loan — that lender will pull your credit reports (and the credit scores derived from those reports) to try to gauge whether you’re a “good” credit risk. That is, are you likely to pay back the loan on time, or not?
  • It’s not only lenders who tap credit reports. Credit reports are also used by landlords, insurance companies, and utility and cell phone companies to screen applicants. A cell phone company, for example, might require a security deposit if a person’s credit looks a little shaky.
  • If you've never had any debt or credit lines, your credit report will say something to the effect of "insufficient information." Check out how to build your credit from scratch.

One more thing: You’ll want to monitor your credit reports to dispute any errors that might creep in. Doing so can also help you foil identity theft that might otherwise be hard to detect. If someone opens a credit card using your name but their address, the entry on your credit report might be the only way to catch it. Luckily for all of us, consumer advocates in the early 2000s fought for and won the right for all of us to access our credit reports for free. Go to to pull your own report.

Bottom line: Because credit reports and scores are now an integral part of the financial system and a key part of our financial health, it's important to monitor your reports to make sure no errors have crept in — the system is far from perfect and mistakes are common. You can check your credit reports for free at this government-mandated website:

live_help Real talk about that website

We here at love Before that website existed, it was really hard for a person to know what was going on with their credit. But, truth be told, it’s not the most user-friendly website ever made. Some tips to make your annual “check credit report” to-do item a little smoother:

  • Be patient. You have to request each of your three credit reports (one each from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) one at a time, with security questions for each one.
  • Be prepared for some seriously challenging security queries based on info in your credit report. Some of the questions may have you wracking your brain, trying to remember the name of your car lender from eight years ago.
  • These reports can be looooong. The main goal is to scan to make sure you recognize all of the accounts and that any negative info, such as late payments, is accurate.
  • Be sure to save each of your three reports to your computer, or print them out, before you hop away from the page. Otherwise, you’ll have do the security rigmarole again.

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About the Editorial Team

Andrea Coombes
Andrea Coombes

Andrea Coombes has 20+ years of experience helping people reach their financial goals. Her personal finance articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, MarketWatch, Forbes, and other publications, and she's shared her expertise on CBS, NPR, "Marketplace," and more. She's been a financial coach and certified consumer credit counselor, and is working on becoming a Certified Financial Planner. She knows that owning pets isn't necessarily the best financial decision; her dog and two cats would argue this point.

Dayana Yochim
Dayana Yochim

Dayana Yochim has been writing (articles, books, podcasts, stirring speeches) about personal finance and investing for more than two decades, focusing on bringing clarity and the occasional comedic aside to what is often a murky, humorless topic. She’s written for NerdWallet, The Motley Fool,, Woman’s Day, Forbes, Newsweek and others, and been a guest expert on "Today," "Good Morning America," CNN, NPR and wherever they’ll hand her a mic.

Carolyn Kimball
Carolyn Kimball

Carolyn Kimball is Managing Editor for Reink Media Group and the lead editor for content on Carolyn has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at major media outlets including NerdWallet, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News. She specializes in coverage of personal financial products and services, wielding her editing skills to clarify complex (some might say befuddling) topics to help consumers make informed decisions about their money.

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