Credit reports and credit scores are an important part of your financial history. While they may sound synonymous and the information on each is closely related, there are many differences between the two.
Before you use these terms interchangeably, here are the important distinctions between a credit report and a credit score.
What’s a credit report?
Your credit report, as it sounds, is a lengthy document containing your credit history. This includes credit information that’s less than seven years old with a few exceptions, like bankruptcy, which can stay on your report up to 10 years.
A credit report contains lots of different information, and can be quite long depending on how many accounts you have open or have closed in recent years.
A credit report includes:
- Personal information, like your name, Social Security number, and address(es)
- Active accounts for credit cards, installment loans, and other credit-related accounts
- Accounts closed within the last seven years
- Dates for accounts, including when they were opened, closed, delinquent, etc.
- Information on payments, including amounts and dates
- Information about on-time payments, delinquency, and defaults
- Total credit available from revolving sources
- Inquiries made, including any time you’ve applied for a loan or credit line
- Judgments, including bankruptcies
All this information is packed into a document that can be many pages long.
What’s a credit score?
A credit score is really just a single number that’s based off your credit report that represents your credit risk. It’s basically a summary of the information you’d find on a credit report, and the score assigned reflects many different aspects of your credit history that’s deemed significant to determine your creditworthiness.
Credit scores, like the FICO score, typically range from 300 to 850, and the higher, the better.
Your credit score is based on several different credit-related factors, with approximate proportions for each as follows:
- Payment history (35%), including if you’ve ever made late payments, are or have been delinquent on accounts, or defaulted on loans in the last seven years
- Amounts owed (30%), including what’s outstanding now and how much of your available credit you’re using
- Length of credit history (15%), including how old the accounts are on your report, what the average age of open accounts are, and more
- New credit (10%), including if you’ve opened several new accounts recently
- Types of credit used (10%), including the mix of installment and revolving loans
Keep in mind that these are all just estimated percentages for how a credit score is calculated.
As you can see, your credit score and credit report are entirely different. Here are more key differences.
Getting your credit report and credit score
By law, your credit report is available for free once a year from each of the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). It’s as easy as logging on to AnnualCreditReport.com and requesting your free copies.
The same isn’t true for your credit score, as it’s not offered for free from the same resource as credit reports. You’ll often have to pay to receive your credit score, but there are ways to get your credit score for free.
Accessing either of these won’t affect your credit, despite what you may have heard.
Dealing with fraud
Both your credit report and credit score can be affected by fraud and identity theft. If someone illegally applies for credit using your information, accounts will show up on your credit report and your credit score can be lowered.
A credit report is much more useful for finding fraud or identity theft. While your credit score may take a hit when these things happen, you’ll have to go to your credit report to find the problems and get them fixed.
Credit reports may contain errors, which is why it’s important to check your credit report once a year or more frequently. If you do find errors, these can and should be reported as they may affect your credit score.
Which is more important?
This is a bit of a trick question. Both matter, and you should keep track of each, especially when you’re getting ready to apply for a loan. Your credit score may have a bigger impact on the interest rates you’ll receive, but it’s the information on your credit report that will tell you how you can work to increase your credit score.