Credit Report vs. Credit Score - What’s the Difference?
By Saphia Lanier
Reviewed by Lauren Bringle, AFC®
Confused about credit scores and credit reports? You're not alone.
A large portion of the American population is dealing with misconceptions about credit. For example, 11% of people thought you started off with a perfect credit score
. And nearly half of those surveyed didn't know bad credit
limited your access to cell phone services.
While you don't need to be a credit expert to establish and/or improve your credit health, you should have a basic understanding. So in this article, we're going to discuss what a credit report is and how it relates to your credit score.
Is there a difference between a credit report vs score?
The simple answer -- yes. The two may play a major role in determining your credit-worthiness, but these roles are entirely separate.
So what is the difference between a credit report and credit score
? Here's a simple breakdown:
- Credit Report: A historical record of your ability to manage debt created by the three credit bureaus (Transunion, Equifax, and Experian).
- Credit Score: A three-digit number that identifies how well you're able to manage your credit accounts (the higher the score, the better).
What's included in a credit report?
There are three major credit bureaus used to collect data about Americans' ability to repay debts. You can pull your personal credit report from any one of the credit bureaus, which will show things like:
- List of open accounts (credit cards, loans, etc.)
- List of closed accounts (those in good standing and those with a balance)
- Payment history on all your accounts (includes payments you made and missed)
- Recent hard credit inquiries (shows which creditors pulled your credit recently)
- Negative financial information (bankruptcies, evictions, liens, repossessions, etc.)
- Employment history
- Address history
This data is then used to determine your personal credit score. That’s why it’s important to ask questions about what’s on your credit report. Understanding the factors that impact your credit report is crucial to maintaining healthy credit. Read here to learn how to read your credit report
so you can work toward better credit.
Closed and delinquent accounts remain on your credit report for 7 to 10 years. After this point, they are removed from your credit report, unless reopened again by the creditor (for collection).
What's included in your credit score?
Not to make the topic any more confusing, but there are several credit scoring models lenders use to identify your credit rating. For example, you have FICO® Score 8, VantageScore, and several others. So, if you’re wondering, how often does your credit score update
, the answer often depends on the credit scoring model.
But they all use the same information from your credit report when calculating your credit score. The difference is in how each model weighs each of the factors. Here's a look at FICO's credit scoring model:
- Payment history (35%) - How well you make on-time payments.
- Amounts owed (30%) - How much you owe on each account.
- Length of credit history (15%) - The average age of your accounts (adding together each account age, divided by the number of accounts)
- Types of credit used (10%) - (Mix of account types you have, such as installment loans, credit cards, mortgage, etc.)
- New credit (10%) - Recent credit inquiries (applications) and new account opened.
You're able to see this information on all three of your credit reports (Transunion, Equifax, and Experian), but you won't find a credit score. Each credit scoring model has different ranges and ratings. For example, FICO measures your score from 350 to 850
- 300 to 579: Very Poor
- 580 to 669: Fair
- 670 to 739: Good
- 740 to 799: Very Good
- 800 to 850: Exceptional
Credit scores and credit reports are not the same. Credit reports collect your debt and payment history, while your score is a calculation (or grade) of how great your credit report is.
What to consider when building your credit
Based on the factors above, you may have a better understanding of how your credit rating is calculated. The key is to improve all areas of your credit report to obtain the highest score possible.
When you first start out, you won't have a credit score, which means you'll need to start from scratch. If a lender were to pull your credit report, they'd get a notice stating your credit file is too thin (meaning there's little to nothing on it). And because of this, you won't have a score yet.
Here's a look at some of the things you can do to build your new credit:
- Open a credit card with a low spending limit (if you have credit established).
- Apply for a secured credit card (if you don't have credit established).
- Open a joint account with someone with established credit or become an authorized user on their credit card.
- Ask for a credit limit increase on your credit card.
- Pay your loans and credit card bills on time each month.
- Apply for an installment loan (i.e., auto loan, personal loan, etc.) if you need one and make your payments on time each month.
- Get a secured loan or credit builder loan.
- Report your rent and utility payments to the credit bureaus (services offer this for a fee).
Learn how to build your credit health
How can you get your credit report and score?
Knowing how to access your credit report and credit score is critical to establishing and building your credit. You'll need to keep an eye on what's been reported on your personal credit report and how it's affecting your score.
This should lead you to ask important questions like “what factors affect credit score?” or “can you get late payments removed from credit reports?
” Understanding how these impact your credit report and score will be critical in building up your credit.
Your credit score can change several times throughout the month, based on your credit activities (payments, new account opens, credit inquiries, etc.). Viewing your credit report is also necessary to find errors, such as accounts that don't belong to you.
If you do find errors upon running a credit check, you'll need to dispute them for removal or correction.
So how can you access your credit report and credit score?
Well, you have an opportunity to view your credit report for free by requesting them from each of the credit bureaus. You can access your free credit report once a year with Experian
, and Equifax
. To do this, visit annualcreditreport.com.
You can also use services that allow you to check your credit report more regularly. But, as opposed to an annual credit report, you may have to pay a fee to view your file more frequently.
But what about your credit score?
If you want to access your credit score, you'll have to either:
- Use a free credit score service like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame (uses VantageScore)
- Check with your credit card company or lender (some have apps that display at least one of your scores)
- Pay a service provider to obtain your FICO score (what most lenders and creditors use)
As you begin (or continue) your journey to better credit, be sure to conduct research. By empowering yourself with credit knowledge, you'll be on track to improving your score and one day financing a home, car, or that dream vacation you always wanted.
__Need to build your credit? Self provides a step-by-step credit building process that could help. Learn more at Self.inc
- NBC News. "Many Americans are Still Totally Confused About Credit Scores" https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/many-americans-are-still-totally-confused-about-credit-scores-n764121 - Accessed April 8, 2021
- Experian. "What is a Good Credit Score?" https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-education/score-basics/what-is-a-good-credit-score/ - Accessed April 8, 2021
About the author
Saphia Lanier is a content writer with 14 years of experience writing on topics relating to SaaS, marketing, SMBs, and business/personal finance. See her on Linkedin
About the reviewer
Lauren Bringle is an Accredited Financial Counselor®
with Self Financial– a financial technology company with a mission to help people build credit and savings. See Lauren on Linkedin