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Credit Reports & Credit Scores

 

What is a credit report?

A credit report is a record of how you have borrowed and repaid credit.  Whenever you get credit, that lender reports information about your account to credit reporting agencies.  This information is used to create your report.

Who issues credit reports?

There are three major credit reporting agencies and many other small ones.  Most lenders pull your credit report from one or more of the "Big Three" agencies:  Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

What information is in my credit report?

  • Personal identification information (such as your name, birthdate, Social Security Number, recent home addresses, and recent employers).
  • Payment history on your credit accounts.
  • A list of creditors who have recently requested copies of your report

  • Public records, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, and court judgments (including housing court judgments for nonpayment of rent).

What information is NOT in my credit report?

  • Personal comments from creditors or debt collection agencies
  • Payment history on non-credit accounts, such as rent or utilities - unless a bill went to collection
  • Your income
  • Medical conditions
  • Criminal records are usually not included

How long can information stay on my credit report?

  • Paid debts and judgments can stay on your report for five years, counting from the date your account was charged off or sent to collection.
  • Unpaid debts and other negative information can stay on your report for seven years, counting from the date your account was charged off or sent to collection, except:
    • Bankruptcy can stay on your report for ten years
    • Some student loan information can stay on your report for more than seven years
    • Unpaid judgments can stay on your report for up to twenty years.
  • Positive information can stay on your report indefinitely.

Do credit reports contain mistakes?

Yes.  A survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that 25% of credit reports contained serious errors that could result in the denial of credit, and 79% of credit reports contained a mistake of some kind.  For advice on how to correct these errors, see Correcting Your Credit Report.

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a number that is supposed to measure how likely you are to repay a loan.  Your score is developed by comparing information about you with others who have a similar profile.  Credit scores are usually between 300 and 850.

There are many different credit scoring formulas, but the most common is called the "FICO score," developed by Fair Isaac and Company (FICO).  FICO scores claim to be based only on information in your credit report.  If your FICO score is above 700, lenders generally consider you a good credit risk and might make you better credit offers.  If your FICO score is below 600, lenders tend to consider you a high credit risk, and they may charge you higher rates or reject your application.

What information affects my FICO score?

  • Your payment history on credit accounts (35% of score)
  • Amounts owed (30% of score)
  • Length of credit history (15% of score)
  • Types of credit used (10% of score)
  • Recent inquiries and accounts (10% of score)

What does NOT affect my FICO score?

  • Your race, religion, sex, or marital status (prohibited by federal law)
  • Your age
  • Employment information
  • Any items reported as child family support payments
  • Inquiries on your credit report from you, employers, lenders making "promotional" offers, or lenders reviewing your current accounts.

Can other information affect my credit score?

YES.  Many lenders use their own credit scoring formulas, which may consider your age, education level, income, whether you are a homeowner or renter, and other information.

Who can see my credit report and score?

  • Lenders
  • Insurance Companies
  • Government Agencies, including those trying to collect child support and those considering your eligibility for public assistance.  (Agencies considering your public assistance eligibility do not look at your record of bill payments or debts, but only to see if you have hidden assets.)
  • Landlords
  • Employers (must ask your permission)

 

Know Your Rights!

It is against the law for creditors to base their credit decisions on your sex, age, race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, receipt of public income or assistance, or the exercising of your rights under the credit laws.  If you believe you have been denied credit for one or a combination of these reasons, call the NYC Financial Justice Hotline at 212-925-4929.

If you are denied credit because of information from a credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the creditor to give you the name, address, and phone number of the credit reporting agency that supplied the information.  You should contact that agency to get a copy of your report, so you can see the negative information for yourself.  You can get your report for free if you request it within 60 days of being turned down for credit.

Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, you have a right to request a free copy of your credit report every twelve months, even if you have not been denied credit.

 

More Information

Ordering Your Credit Report

Reading Your Credit Report (PDF)

Correcting Your Credit Report

Housing Court Records and Your Credit Report

Improving Your Credit Report

 

Useful Links and Resources

Federal Trade Commission: Information about Credit Reports for Consumers

U.S. PIRG, Mistakes Do Happen:  A Look at Errors in Consumer Credit Reports

Complete text of The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) (PDF)

Complete text of The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA)

Equal Credit Opportunity Act - Regulation B:  Regulations implementing the ECOA

National Consumer Law Center, Guide to Surviving Debt:  A useful resource for consumers, available at bookstores or your local library.

 

Sources:  Federal Trade Commission, www.myfico.com, New Economy Project, U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Disclaimer:  This site provides general information for consumers and links to other sources of information.  This site does not provide legal advice, which you can only get from an attorney.  New Economy Project has no control over the information on linked sites.

Copyright ©2006 by the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, Inc.

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