To get a glimpse of your financial future, many businesses look at your financial past. This history is contained in your credit report. Your credit report determines everything from whether you qualify for a loan and the rate you'll pay on that loan, to renting an apartment and obtaining car insurance.
What Is a Credit History?
Your credit history is a financial profile. It lets lenders, landlords and employers know how you have managed money in the past and helps them decide whether or not to do business with you. This history is contained in a credit report that is kept on file by the three independent credit bureaus listed below. It may include such information as:
- How promptly you have paid off credit cards and loans
- How well you have handled paying other bills, such as rent and utilities
- Your total outstanding debts
- How much available credit you have on credit cards and home equity loans
Who Can See Your Credit Report?
Your credit report can and most likely will be reviewed by anyone planning to give you a loan or credit, such as banks and credit unions, credit card issuers, auto financing companies, and insurance companies. Your report also may be checked by landlords and potential employers. Some lenders may also use the details in your report to determine how much credit they are willing to offer you and at what rate. Anyone with a legitimate business need can access your credit report, though an employer (or prospective employer) typically requires your written consent to do so.
Beware of "Fast Fixes" For Accurate Credit Problems
If you've had any late payments, foreclosures, or repossessions, this information stays in your credit report for up to seven years. If you've filed for bankruptcy, this information can stay in your report for up to 10 years.
Some companies claim they can "fix" such problems for a fee. However, it is legally impossible to alter an accurate credit history. If you find yourself in financial trouble, contact a member agency of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), the nation's largest national nonprofit credit counseling network, by calling 1-800-388-2227 or visiting www.nfcc.org.
Credit Bureau Contact Information
Once a year, it's a good idea to check your credit report for accuracy, and you can do so for free through the three major credit bureaus. Get your reports at www.annualcreditreport.com or by contacting the bureaus directly:
Report Order: 1.800.685.1111
Fraud Hotline: 1.888.766.0008
Report Order: 1.888.397.3742
Fraud Hotline: 1.888.397.3742
Report Order: 1.877.322.8228
Fraud Hotline: 1.800.680.7289