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Get the information you need about your credit history

When it comes to achieving your financial goals, credit can be a useful tool. It can help you purchase a car or a house — or even fund your children’s college education. But without a high credit score, these purchases can cost much more than their original value, due to high interest rates and other variables.

By checking your credit report, you'll have access to information about your own credit history — and gain added awareness if you need to improve your credit habits to get your score to the desired range.

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Obtain a free credit report

Under federal law, consumers are entitled to a free annual credit report1 from each of the three main credit reporting agencies. Do not contact the three credit bureaus individually for your free credit report.

What is a credit report?

A credit report is a record of your past credit activity, prepared by a credit bureau and used by a lender (such as a landlord or insurance company) to determine your credit worthiness. For example, a credit report helps a lender decide whether to approve a loan, credit card or mortgage application or whether to provide a specific rate on a product or service.

What information is included in your report?

Based on this information, credit-reporting agencies use a mathematical formula to determine your credit score. This score is sometimes referred to as a FICO score (because the agencies obtain your score using software provided by Fair Isaac Corporation) or BEACON score.

What is the role of a credit-reporting agency?

There are three credit-reporting agencies (sometimes referred to as credit bureaus) in the United States: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Credit reporting agencies do not approve or deny credit. They simply provide banks and other lenders with a record of your past credit activity so that the lender can evaluate your ability to repay debt.

What's a good credit score?

Credit scores range from the low 300s to the mid-800s. The better your credit history, the higher your score will be. There is no set number for what constitutes a "good" credit score, but as a general rule, try to keep your credit score above 700.

If you have a high score, you will have better chances of being approved for future credit and you will be able to receive better interest rates and other loan conditions. On the other hand, if your score is low, lenders will consider you a higher credit risk, which means you may be denied credit or you will have to pay higher rates and fees.

How often should you check your credit report?

Each year, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency. (If you wish to review your credit report more often, you will have to pay a fee.) However, you do not have to access your reports from all three bureaus at the same time. You could, for example, access a report from a different credit reporting agency every four months. A good time to check your report is when you are considering a major credit decision — purchasing a new home or car, opening a new credit card or applying for a loan.

When you receive your free credit report, you will not receive your credit score. Free credit reports only entitle you to the information used to obtain a score, not the score itself. However, you can purchase your credit scores from the individual credit bureaus.

What if you find mistakes on your credit report?

Once you have received your reports, review them well to make sure all of the information is accurate. Check for account fraud, such as accounts you didn't open or charges you didn't make. Because lenders can use information from one or all of these main credit bureaus to evaluate your credit risk, you should carefully review a credit report from each.

If you notice any discrepancies, immediately contact the appropriate credit bureau — Equifax1, Experian1 or TransUnion1 — and be sure to follow up with them to make sure the mistakes have been corrected. Because each bureau handles millions of credit reports, it is easy for mistakes to happen, and an uncaught error can significantly impact your credit eligibility.

Understand your credit historyOrder your credit report1

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