Credit reports are also referred to as credit files, credit histories, bureau files, or sometimes, credit ratings. Credit bureaus are sometimes called credit rating agencies David Mooney at Equifax says that technically consumers don’t have credit ratings.
He’s right. But sometimes when I’m referring to how your credit report may look to lenders, the words “credit report” just don’t quite work. So I’ll use “credit rating” from time to time, but keep in mind that you really don’t have a credit rating—you have a credit report that each lender will view differently. For major purchases lenders use a tri merge credit report and for smaller inquiries they will use a single file credit report.
There are two types of personal credit files: standard and investigative. A standard credit file contains a more or less complete outline of a consumer’s financial history. Chances are you won’t ever have to deal with anything besides a standard credit report.
Investigative reports are much more detailed and may contain information about a person’s lifestyle. Investigative reports are usually prepared for companies that want a really thorough investigation of a person’s background. For example, an investigative report may be prepared on someone trying to take out a million-dollar insurance policy, or an executive being considered for a high-level job, or someone applying for a job requiring a security clearance.
There are four parts to a standard credit report:
Your name, address, previous addresses for the past five to ten years, your date of birth, your Social Security number, your spouse’s name and Social Security number, the names and addresses of your previous and present employers, and your phone number can appear in the personal information section of a credit report.
A tradeline is industry lingo for a credit account. In this section, you will find a list of most of your credit accounts, the date each account was opened, whether you have paid each account on time, how much you still owe, whether you share your accounts with someone else, and any negative information about the account (for example, if it was included in a bankruptcy filing).
Public Record Information
Monetary judgments (if you were sued in court and lost, a judgment would order you to pay the person who won), state and federal tax liens, and bankruptcies appear on credit reports. Past-due child support may also be listed. Public record information is usually collected by companies that go to courthouses and gather financial public record information, and resell it to credit bureaus and other interested parties.
By the way, information in credit reports is reported in a factual and straightforward manner. For instance, if you filed bankruptcy, your file would list the date and court particulars of your bankruptcy filing, but it wouldn’t say you’re a “deadbeat.”
A listing of everyone who has seen your credit report recently will appear on your credit report. Each listing is called an inquiry. There are three kinds of inquiries:
One kind is usually generated when you apply for some type of credit, insurance, or a job. I’ll talk more about that in a minute because the fact is that a company that has a legally acceptable reason for getting your credit report doesn’t always have to get your permission to look at your file.
Another kind of inquiry is a promotional (sometimes listed as a “PRM”) inquiry. These are usually created when lenders ask the credit bureau for lists of people who fit a certain profile so they can mail them preapproved credit card offers. These companies don’t actually receive your report, only your name and address if you match their guidelines. (And they don’t actually get that either, since the names and addresses go to a mailing house that sends the solicitations.)
While you would receive the names of the companies that were involved in a promotional offer under the inquiry section, those types of inquiries are not included on the reports that are sent to credit granters and other companies that get a copy of your report.
An account review inquiry is created when lenders want to review the credit of some of their customers. Say, for example, your department-store card issuer wants to increase customers’ credit lines before the holidays. They may go to a credit bureau and ask them to run criteria through a certain group of customers’ credit reports to find out who meets their qualifications. Those who do will get credit-line increases. Again, this type of inquiry is not reported to lenders.
If you’ve ordered your own credit report recently, you may also see consumer inquiries. Those just indicate that you reviewed your own file. They aren’t sent to lenders, either.
The previous three types of inquiries—promotional, account review, and consumer—are called “soft” inquiries because they will appear only when you order your own report, not when a lender orders it for review.
In addition to these soft inquiries, there are several distinct types of “hard” inquiries that will appear on your credit report whether you order it or a lender does. Mortgage-related inquiries, auto-loan-related inquiries, credit inquiries, insurance company inquiries, and employer inquiries are examples of hard inquiries. Later in this chapter I’ll explain how these different types of inquiries may affect your credit.
Under the credit reporting law, employment inquiries are reported for two years, all others for one year.