Your credit report is not the same as your credit score. In fact, your credit report won't even have your credit score on it. You have to request that separately. You credit score is like your GPA in that it's one number designed to capture your academic standing. Your credit report, on the other hand, is like your official school transcript that shows every class you took, what semester and years you took them, which ones you took pass/fail, which ones you took a grade for, etc. Both reflect you, but just in different forms.
Many credit card companies offer credit score services and will show you your credit score when you log into your account online, but credit reports can only be obtained if you request it from one of the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
The number one reason to request your credit report is to make sure all the information in the report is correct, since your credit score is based off all that information. Roughly 8-9 years ago, I noticed a material drop in my credit score. Did I forget to make a payment on a card? Did my previous apartment complex say I still owed them something? Did my identity get stolen? I got really worried and requested a credit report from all three agencies and soon learned what the issue was. There was another person who had the SAME first and last name as me, went to the SAME college as me (she was one year younger - yes, I FB stalked), and ended up moving to Houston literally 3 miles from where I was living at that time. I knew all this based on the "Personal Information" section that lists all your previous addresses and social security number. Somehow our credit files got merged together! Thankfully, I was able to get the issue fixed and my credit score returned to where it was prior to the confusion.
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), each of these agencies is required (at your request) to provide you with a FREE copy of your credit report once every 12 months. I highly recommend going to annualcreditreport.com to request one copy, or all three. It takes no more than 3 minutes to fill in the information, and it's ready instantaneously via PDF.
Within each credit report, you'll be able to see:
- All your current cards (past and current), balances, credit limit, and payment history
- Mortgage accounts
- Installment loans (car loan, etc.)
- Personal information (names you use, previous addresses, social security number)
- Inquiries - Hard and Soft
- Bankruptcies, Judgments, Liens
- Collections Outstanding
Q: If you request a credit report, won't that hurt your credit score?
A: No, as long as you are within the "every 12 months" time frame, your request will show up as a soft inquiry, which doesn't impact your credit score.
Bottom line: It's free to request a credit report, it won't hurt your credit score, and you could potentially find an error that could improve your credit score.