PhotoSurveys have shown that there are significant knowledge gaps among consumers when it comes to credit reports. Yet these documents are very important to consumers when they want to finance a home or car, or even get insurance.

So it is very important to have at least a basic understanding of credit reports and how they work. With information provided by the Federal Reserve, here are five key questions consumers might have.

1. Where does the information in the report come from?

Your credit history is compiled into an ongoing report by three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. These companies get the information from other companies that have extended you credit.

That includes the obvious, like mortgage lenders and credit card companies. But it can also include your cell phone provider, the utility company, and many other companies that send you a monthly bill. The report lets these companies know if you pay your bills on time.

2. Who gets to see my credit report?

The information in your credit report is highly confidential, but there are a number of entities that, with your permission, may get access to it. Anyone extending you credit may see it, as can a prospective employer.

Insurance companies you are doing business with can also review your credit report, and so can some government agencies reviewing your financial status for benefits.

3. Can anything be done if there is incorrect information in my report?

Yes. If you are denied credit because of something in your credit report, you have a right to know what it is. If the information is incorrect, you may appeal to have it removed.

If you appeal within 60 days you can get a free copy of your credit report – in addition to the free report you can get annually – and review the information. If you find information you believe is erroneous, follow these steps to have it removed.

4. If the negative information is legitimate, how long does it remain?

In most cases, negative credit information will remain in your credit report for seven years. A personal bankruptcy filing will stay in your report for 10 years.

If you have been sued or there is an unpaid judgment against you, it can remain for either seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. If you have been convicted of a crime, that fact may stay on your credit report indefinitely.

5. Can I see a copy of my credit report?

Absolutely. The law allows you to obtain a copy from each of the three credit reporting agencies once a year, at no charge. This only includes the report, not your credit score – that costs extra.

To receive a free copy of your credit report, go to, or call (877) 322-8228.

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