Credit Reports and Credit Scores: What’s the Difference?

Learn about the difference between a credit report and a credit score.

A credit report consists of credit-related data that a credit reporting agency—like Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion—collects about you from different sources. A credit score, on the other hand, is a number that theoretically indicates your creditworthiness, that's calculated based on what’s in your credit report.

Read on to learn more about the difference between credit reports and credit scores.

Credit Reports Show Your Credit History

The Fair Credit Reporting Act—the federal law that governs credit reporting—defines a credit report as any written, oral, or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living. So what does this mean? Basically, a credit report is a communication, typically a written report, that contains information about where you live and work, how you pay your bills, whether you've been sued, have liens filed against you, or have declared bankruptcy, and so on.

What's in Your Credit Reports

Information in your credit report falls into five main categories:

  • personal information (like your name, address, and social security number)
  • creditor accounts that are reported monthly (such as mortgages and credit cards)
  • creditor accounts that are reported if you default on payments (for example, landlords and utility companies)
  • public records showing things like bankruptcies and foreclosures, and
  • inquiries (the names of creditors and others, such as a potential employer, who have requested a copy of your report).

Credit reports don’t contain information that doesn’t relate to credit, like your race, religious preference, medical history, or personal lifestyle. (Get more information about What’s in Your Credit Report.)

Getting Free Copies of Your Credit Reports

Under the FCRA, you’re entitled to get a free copy of your credit report from one, two, or all three nationwide credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) every 12 months. To get your free copy:

  • go to www.annualcreditreport.com
  • call 877-322-8228, or
  • mail a request to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 (or you can download a request form at www.annualcreditreport.com/gettingReports.action and mail in the form).

If one or more of your reports from the three major credit reporting agencies shows errors, you may file a dispute with the agency that made the report. The ability to challenge fraudulent and erroneous information in your report is especially important if you're the victim of identity theft.

Credit Scores: Based on Your Credit Report

Credit scoring companies—like FICO—and credit reporting agencies come up with credit scores based on information in your credit report using a mathematical calculation. This type of score is sometimes called a credit risk score because, in theory, it predicts the risk that the consumer will default on a loan or other type of credit in the future.

How Credit Scoring Companies Come Up With Credit Scores.

While FICO doesn’t divulge exactly how it mathematically calculates a credit score, the company considers the following factors (though not every category carries the same weight):

  • your payment history
  • how much you owe on your accounts
  • the length of your credit history
  • whether you’ve opened several new accounts in a short period of time, and
  • the different types of credit accounts that you have.

FICO scores usually range from 300 to 850. You may have several different scores based on which mathematical model the scoring company uses and which credit report underlies the score.

Another type of credit score is VantageScore. The three major credit reporting agencies came up with VantageScore to compete with FICO. VantageScores, like FICO scores, are calculated based on the information in your credit file.

How Credit Scores Affect Your Ability to Get Credit

The higher your credit score, the more likely it is that people and businesses will lend money or extend credit to you. It also might mean you’ll get better interest rates and payment terms. (Learn more about credit scores in Your Credit Score: What It Is and Why It Matters.)

When to Talk to a Lawyer

If a credit reporting agency refuses to correct your credit report after you file a dispute, or you're a victim of identity theft, consider talking to a consumer protection lawyer who can help you enforce your rights. You have the right to sue an agency that violates your rights under the FCRA, including continuing to report incorrect information.

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