Credit Scores and Credit Reports: How do They Differ?


We support reforms to the financial marketplace that protect consumers from unscrupulous banks and lenders.

By Consumers Union on Friday, March 29th, 2013

Consumers Union is conducting a “Know Your Score” campaign in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s and Rep. Steve Cohen’s proposed Fair Access to Credit Scores Act, which was introduced in Congress earlier this month. This bill directs the three major consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, to provide consumers with the credit score most used by lenders, for free.

Some of our supporters have been surprised to learn that they don’t already have the right to a free credit score. While it’s true that current law entitles you to a free annual credit report from each of the CRAs through, you must pay a fee to get a credit score with your credit report. And even then, it may not be the one that lenders see.

Credit reports are produced by many different credit reporting agencies, but the most commonly used reports are produced by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. These credit reports list information such as your address and past addresses, any lines of credit such as credit cards or loans, and your payment history. Public records, such as bankruptcies or foreclosures, are included as well. Most information about your credit stays on your report for seven years, though under certain circumstances it can stay on your record for much longer than that. According to the FTC, bankruptcies can be reported for ten years.

Credit reports may be viewed by potential lenders, including credit card companies who may want to pre-approve you for a card, as well as landlords and insurance companies. Potential and current employers may also request to view your credit report, though they have to receive your permission first. In some states, according to the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), insurance companies require your permission to use your credit report in their underwriting processes.

Credit scores are produced by the CRAs and by the Fair Isaac Corp., which sells the FICO score. These companies have developed algorithms that process information from your credit report to come up with a score that indicates the likelihood that you will pay your debts. While there are many different types of scores available to lenders for purchase, the FICO score is used most often.

More and more businesses are using credit scores to make a speedy lending decision about a consumer. The NCLC notes that mortgage lenders as well as credit card companies particularly rely on the scores, as at least 90% of them view credit scores when evaluating applicants. Potential employers commonly ask for the right to view your credit report when you apply for a job, though the nationwide CRAs claim that they don’t sell your credit score to them.

While lenders are required to show you the score they used in evaluating your application if they have denied you credit or a prime interest rate, Consumers Union believes that you should have the right to see your free score before you apply for a loan. Click here to contact your Senators now and demand a free credit score!

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