Many people use the terms credit score and credit report interchangeably. Everyone from journalists to consumers often refer to a credit score when they mean credit report and vice versa. Credit reports and credit scores contain different information, are used for different purposes and are accessed by different companies.
What is the difference between a credit score and a credit report?
While many people use the two terms as if they have the same meaning, there is both a legal difference and a physical difference between what someone sees if they access each item.
"Credit reports are produced by one of the three credit reporting agencies and is the listing of your credit agencies," says Anthony A. Sprauve, FICO senior consumer credit specialist.
Sprauve says that a credit report includes information such as open accounts, payment history, monthly payment amounts, and accounts that have been charged off due to non-payment.
"Your credit score is separately requested and FICO generates the score by running the information in your credit report through our algorithm," says Sprauve. "This produces a three-digit number that reflects your likelihood to repay a future debt based on how you have managed your previous debt."
Not sure what your credit score is? WisePiggy.com (a partner of CardRatings.com) is among websites offering free credit score information to consumers.
Who can access your credit report?
In order to access your credit report, a business must have a permissible purpose for needing the information and you must also grant permission for access. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, businesses can access your credit report for the following reasons:
- Open or manage credit accounts
- Offers of credit
- Employment purposes
- Underwrite insurance
- A business transaction initiated by the consumer
- Court order or federal jury subpoena
- Valuation of risk of an investor
- Eligibility for government license
- Disclosure to consumer
"Employers access applicant's credit reports to ensure that they are not providing fraudulent information on their application and work history," says Maxine Sweet, Experian vice president of public education. "If you listed on your application that you worked in Dallas, but your credit report shows you lived in Atlanta and never lived in Texas then the company will investigate further."
Sweet also says that employers use this information as a character reference, especially for jobs involving security clearance or money management. Red flags include consistent late payments, bankruptcy and judgments.
"If you can't manage your own resources, then how can they be assured that you will responsibly manage the company's resources?" says Sweet.
However, many people assume that the credit check is only done as a pre-employment measure, says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for CreditSesame.com.
"Many companies regularly check employee's credit reports, especially for certain positions, to make sure that any areas of concern do not appear," Ulzheimer says. "If you stop paying bills and have negative information on your credit report, it can affect your continued employment even after you get the job."
Who can access your credit score?
When a business does pull your credit report, your credit score is not included. In order to get your credit score, the business must be lending you money and they must request your score.
"Anyone who accesses your score has to have a reason, and it has to be tested that the score will provide a true and predictable guide for a business decision," says Sweet.
The score provided for each inquiry is customized based on the type of request and the purpose, says Sweet.
"For example, insurance companies don't pull a regular score, but have a model that is targeted for insurance decisions since they have different needs for their decision than a credit card lender," she says.
All parties who are allowed access to credit reports are allowed to pull credit scores, except employers. It is a myth that employers pull applicant's credit score. Employers are only allowed to access the credit report.
"The score is intended to grant credit so only lenders that are trying to determine whether to give you credit are legally allowed to pull your credit score," says Sprauve. "Since an employer isn't looking at granting you credit, they are not legally allowed to pull your credit score."
While putting your best foot forward to businesses and lenders, making sure your credit report is at its best too is essential. It is also important to understand exactly how these tools are used and who can access your credit report and your credit score.