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What is a credit report?

Your credit reports are a record of your credit history that is maintained by a credit reporting agency, or credit bureau.

Whenever you apply for credit or financing, a credit report is typically pulled from at least one of the three major credit bureaus. While there are many smaller credit bureaus around the country, virtually every credit bureau is affiliated with Experian, TransUnion or Equifax.

Although these credit bureaus collect and maintain information on the vast majority of Americans, they are not affiliated with the government in any way. The credit bureaus are for-profit companies whose principal work product is the compilation of information known as a "credit report." The credit bureaus generate their profits by selling the personal information in your credit reports to credit grantors, potential employers and even back to you.

The credit bureaus receive your personal information through the same lenders who grant you credit. They have agreements with each of these credit grantors that require the credit grantor to inform the credit bureaus of everything that occurs in your relationship with the credit grantor. If you make a payment late, the negative credit listing is quickly reported to at least one of the three major credit bureaus and is added to your credit history.

The credit bureaus collect this information, list it on your credit report, and then sell it to other credit grantors who wish to see your credit history before they decide to lend you money. The credit grantors who review your credit are especially interested in any negative credit. If you have shown any tendency to pay late, or to disregard your financial commitments in the past, the creditors will likely reject your application or charge a higher interest rate.

It is important to note that your credit reports are not just a record of how you are currently managing your credit accounts. Credit reports are histories of everything you are doing with your credit now and what you have done in the past seven to ten years.

Just like a high school report card can determine whether you will get accepted to the college of your choice, your credit report is your financial report card to the world that can determine whether you will get the loan, insurance, apartment or even job of your choice.

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