What is a credit report?
It is basically a summary provided from a credit reporting company. There are three main companies in the US which provide these reports: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They all aggregate information from banks, insurance companies, other financial institutions and many other sources in order to provide a picture of an individual's creditworthiness.
How can I get a credit report?
Each of the three major credit report companies is required by Federal law to provide a free report every 12 months – you can find information here: https://www.annualcreditreport.com
What is a credit score?
This is a three digit number which reflects an individual's creditworthiness. The higher the number, the higher the creditworthiness. Your credit score is not something you have a right to request for free.
These scores are provided from five different companies: Equifax, Experian, FICO, TransUnion and VantageScore. They all calculate their scores in different ways and have different ranges, for example:
- Equifax: 300-850
- Experian: 340-830
- TransUnion: 400-925
- FICO: 300-850
- VantageScore: 501-900
Why is this important, I don't want credit?
It's not just credit-card providers who will look you up before they decide to do business with you. Employers and landlords often check credit records as part of their process to hire or let.
In addition, the increase in identity theft means that keeping an eye on your credit rating is a safe way to make sure that someone else has not adopted your identity for criminal purposes.
What can I do?
Be careful with your personal information and make regular checks with the different agencies is the basic action you can take. If you have just arrived in the US, you should open accounts to make sure you start a credit record.
There are a number of services which can automate the process of checking your records. A good example is the Top 10 credit report website. It provides a comparison of the different credit-checking services based on the different level of services and checks.
Apart from avoiding identity-theft, the most important thing you need to do is make sure you pay your bills on time and don't create a situation where your credit-rating gets damaged. That can make things very difficult, especially if you are a foreigner in the US.