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Can Anyone Look at My Credit Report at Any Time?

Dear Experian,

Who can access my credit report? Other than me, can anyone just look at my report anytime they want, or do they have to have my permission? Is there anything you can do to prevent someone from accessing my credit report?

- NNH

Dear NNH,

No, not just anyone can look at your credit report. To access your report, an organization must have what's called "permissible purpose."

When Can Someone Check My Report?

Federal law allows businesses to check your credit references, in the form of a credit report, before they agree to do business with you. However, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) strictly limits who can access your credit report and under what circumstances. In addition to providing you the ability to get a free copy of your own credit report, the FCRA lists the specific reasons others may get a copy of your credit report:

  • When you apply for credit or insurance
  • In connection with a business transaction initiated by you
  • To extend a "preapproved" offer of credit or insurance
  • When you apply for services such as utilities or cellphone accounts
  • When a business has an existing credit or insurance relationship with you
  • For employment purposes, with your written permission (employers do not get to see your credit scores)
  • For the purposes of a potential investor assessing the risk of a current obligation
  • When you apply for a license or other benefit granted by the government
  • In connection with a child support determination
  • In response to a court order or federal grand jury subpoena

Do I Have to Give Them My Permission First?

Anytime you apply for an account, such as a credit card, loan, apartment or utility service, your application itself grants permission for the business you are applying with to access your credit report as part of their approval process. Your express permission is not required in every instance.

When applying for a home or car loan, for example, a financing professional at the business you're working with may send your application to several different lenders in an attempt to find you the lowest rate and best terms. Each of these lenders will appear on your credit report as a separate inquiry, but you don't need to give specific permission to each one.

And, as long as they occurred within a certain time period (usually 14 to 45 days) most credit scoring models will count these inquiries as one—minimizing the damage they'll do to your credit.

Lenders you already do business with can also access your credit reports periodically without your express permission as part of their account review or account monitoring process, but their inquiries have no impact on credit scores.

In most cases, a notice that your credit history will be accessed usually is provided with credit applications, often indicating that by signing the application you are giving the lender permission to access your credit history.

In fact, the only time explicit, written permission is required is when your credit is checked for employment purposes.

Can I "Opt Out" of Preapproved Offers?

When a lender sends you a preapproved offer for credit, its name will appear on your report as an inquiry as well, but they appear in a section that lists what are called soft inquiries. This section lists the name of the creditor, when it viewed your credit report, and an address or phone number you can use to contact the lender. Soft inquiries won't impact your credit scores and will drop off your report entirely after 25 months.

If you don't want to receive such offers, you can "opt out" by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com or calling 1-888-567-8688 (1-888-5-OPTOUT). Doing so will remove your name from preapproved offer mailing lists compiled by the national credit reporting companies.

Give careful thought to opting out, though. When you opt out of receiving preapproved credit offers, you essentially are removing yourself from the credit marketplace. That can significantly reduce your access to credit services you may want or need in the future, including lower interest rates or incentive offers you might like to have but don't need right now.

Thanks for asking.

Jennifer White, Consumer Education Specialist

This question came from a recent Periscope session we hosted.

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