There are quite a few businesses and entities, beyond the usual credit card issuers and other lenders, who are allowed to order your credit report.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) (15 U.S.C. §§ 1681 and following) and state credit reporting laws restrict who can access your credit report and how it can be used. According to the FRCA, the following people and entities can request your credit report:
Creditors and potential creditors (including credit card issuers and car loan lenders). These people and businesses can review your report when you apply for credit or to monitor your credit once they have given you a loan or credit. There are some restrictions. For example, for a new transaction, you must have made an offer or otherwise initiated a credit transaction before the creditor can look at your report.
Mortgage lenders. If you are seeking to borrow $150,000 or more, mortgage lenders can see some information (in particular, older information) that wouldn’t be provided to other creditors.
Landlords. Landlords might get a report from a specialty consumer reporting agency that tracks rental histories, including evictions.
Utility companies. However, there are often state rules that prevent utility companies from denying you service in many circumstances, even if you have bad credit. To learn more, see these articles on Utility Disconnections.
Student loan lenders. As of July 1, 2010, federal loans are made directly by the government—they are not offered by private lenders. Generally, you cannot be denied a direct federal student loan based on your credit worthiness. But credit will be checked for parents applying for PLUS loans. Also, you cannot get a new federal loan if you are in default on another federal loan unless you have made satisfactory arrangements to repay it. (To learn more about these payment arrangements, see our Student Loan Debt area.) However, lenders of private student loans (those not offered by the government) can use credit reports in connection with making loans or monitoring existing loans.
Insurance companies. These companies can look at your report if you apply for a policy. Usually, they are not interested in your credit history but instead may ask about your medical history or about any insurance claims you have filed. A credit reporting agency cannot provide an insurance company a credit report that contains medical information unless you consent. If you are seeking life insurance for $150,000 or more, the life insurance company is entitled to see older information that wouldn’t otherwise be included in your credit report.
Car insurance companies. These companies often use credit information to help determine how much to charge when offering a new policy.
Employers. Tens of thousands of employers review credit reports as part of evaluating job candidates. Employers use this information to judge financial honesty and integrity, as well as the risk of bribery of people with a lot of debt. And, once you’re hired, employers can use the report for just about anything related to the job, including promotion and reassignment decisions. (To learn more, see Can Prospective Employers Check Your Credit Report?)
Government agencies. Government agencies can request your credit report for a number of reasons:
- To determine whether you are eligible for public assistance (to look for hidden income or assets).
- To help determine whether, and how much, you can pay in child support. The agencies must give you 10-days advance notice.
- To consider your financial status in determining eligibility for a government-issued license.
- To investigate international terrorism.
- Government agencies can also get identifying information about you, such as name, address, former addresses, places of employment, or former places of employment from credit reporting agencies, even if they don’t have a purpose related to credit, eligibility for services, or child support.
Collection agencies. Collectors mainly look at your report to locate you or learn more about your assets.
Judgment creditors. Judgment creditors who are trying to collect a debt based on a credit transaction involving a regular creditor are allowed to look at credit reports in order to decide whether to begin collection efforts against you. They can also use reports to locate you or your assets. At least one court has said that individuals who do not regularly offer credit cannot get credit reports to attempt to collect a judgment, but other courts disagree. This means that in some districts, individuals may also be able to get a credit report to collect on a judgment (for example, a judgment for alimony or child support).
Entities that have a court order. Even if a person, agency, or business does not have another permissible reason to get your report, if it can get a court order (not easy to do), it can get your report. For example, the IRS might get a summons that allows access to your credit report. Generally, you would have notice and a chance to oppose the request for a court order.
Who Cannot Look at Your Credit Report
Apart from those listed above, most other people and businesses cannot legally request a copy of your credit report. For example, your credit report may not be used in divorce, child custody, immigration, and other legal proceedings. Nor can district attorneys look at your report to investigate civil or criminal cases.
Detecting Unauthorized Users
It’s not always easy to find out if someone who should not have access to your credit report has requested and received one anyway. One way to detect unauthorized users is to order your credit report and look for unfamiliar names or businesses in the list of inquiries. (Learn how to order your credit report.)
If someone has requested your report illegally, you may be able to sue for violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act -- you’ll probably need the help of a lawyer to do this. You should also complain to state and federal government agencies.
To learn more about your credit report and credit score, and how to get them, see our Credit Reports & Credit Scores area.
This is an excerpt from Credit Repair, by Margaret Reiter and Robin Leonard (Nolo).