Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.
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Your credit report contains a wealth of information on your history of debt accounts and payments—but it does not include your credit score. Your credit score is based on information found in a credit report, and the good news is you can get all of this information for free when you want to see where your credit stands.
Here's a rundown on the differences between credit reports and credit scores, and how they're related to one another.
Credit Report vs. Credit Score
Credit scores are not on your credit report because they represent different information regarding your credit. Credit reports reflect your credit activity, while credit scores represent a calculation of that activity. You may be able to get your credit score from your bank or credit card issuer, but your credit report only comes from credit bureaus.
Credit reports are records of your borrowing and repayment history with loans and credit card debt. In the U.S., credit reports are compiled by the three national credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Each bureau formats its reports slightly differently, but all three maintain records that include:
- Your total outstanding debt
- Your history of securing and paying off debts
- Your history of making monthly payments on those debts, including whether payments were made on time, late or missed altogether
Credit reports are updated continually as lenders report your credit usage and borrowing activity to the credit bureaus.
In addition to your borrowing and payment history, credit reports may also reflect other information about your financial history, including:
- Bankruptcies filed
- Charge-offs incurred when any of your loans or accounts were written off as bad debt by one of your creditors
- Foreclosures or vehicle repossessions because you failed to pay a debt
These negative entries can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years. Lenders typically view them as red flags and may consider them grounds for declining a loan application.
Credit scores are three-digit numbers, derived from the data in one of your credit reports, that reflect the statistical likelihood you will default on a loan (go 90 days without making a payment) in the next 24 months. Credit scores are calculated using complex statistical analysis of your credit report information.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of credit scoring systems lenders use today. The most widely used credit scoring system, the FICO® Score☉ , assigns scores on a scale of 300 to 850, as do the most recent versions of its main competitor, the VantageScore® system.
Each credit scoring system calculates scores in its own way, but in every system, higher scores indicate greater creditworthiness (or lower likelihood of defaulting on a loan).
Every credit scoring model also emphasizes the same positive credit management habits. FICO lists these as the top factors that influence its score:
- Payment history: Paying your bills on time is the single biggest positive influence on your credit score, and even one missed payment can have a negative impact on your score. Payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO® Score.
- Credit utilization: Your credit utilization ratio is the percentage of your total borrowing limit represented by the sum of all your outstanding credit card balance. Using more than 30% of your available credit can lower your credit score. Credit utilization accounts for 30% of your FICO® Score.
- Length of your credit history: All other factors being equal, your credit score will tend to increase as your credit history gets longer. There's not much you can do to help this except avoid making mistakes that hurt your credit as you accumulate credit experience. How long you've held credit accounts makes up 15% of your FICO® Score.
- Credit mix: People with top credit scores often carry a diverse portfolio of credit accounts, such as car loans, one or more credit cards, a student loan, mortgage or other credit products. With positive payment history, a broad credit mix is seen as evidence of good credit management experience. Credit mix accounts for 10% of your FICO® Score.
- New credit: The number of credit accounts you've recently opened, as well as the number of hard inquiries lenders make when you apply for credit, accounts for 10% of your FICO® Score. Too many accounts or inquiries can indicate increased risk and can hurt your credit score.
What Is My Real Credit Score?
When evaluating loan applications, lenders choose the scoring system(s) that best suit their needs. They may use one or more commercial scoring systems (such as the FICO® Score and VantageScore) or even employ their own custom scoring tools. Lenders may choose to base scores from those systems on data from one, two or all three national credit bureaus.
Since different lenders use different scoring methods, you do not have a single definitive credit score. As a result, the credit score that matters most for you is whichever one a lender is considering in connection with your loan application.
If your credit application is ever denied based on a credit score, or if a score leads a lender to offer you credit with interest charges higher than its best available rate, the lender must inform you which scoring system was used and what score you received.
Because all credit scoring systems respond similarly to good credit habits, however, steps that bring an increase any one credit score will typically lead to improvement across all credit scoring systems.
How Can I Get My Credit Report and Score?
You should always check your credit report and credit score before applying for new credit. It's also a great way to start taking control of your credit and taking steps to improve it.
You can get a credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus free once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. Experian also offers a free credit report every 30 days when you sign in to your account.
Once you get your credit reports, check them carefully for accuracy, and look for signs of activity that could be hurting your credit scores.
You can also check and monitor your FICO® Score based on Experian credit data for free so you can see where you stand and track progress toward score improvements.