How to Read Your Credit Report

Man requesting his credit score online

Your credit report summarizes your credit history and helps lenders weigh your credit risk. Often your credit report is initiated when you apply for your first credit card. Over time it can help you reach your larger financial goals such as obtaining a rental agreement or mortgage. When you apply for a credit product, you may request your report to get one number—your credit score. But that detail is just one aspect among a long list of confusing text and alphanumeric codes. Credit reports can seem cryptic and hard for the average consumer to interpret. However, reading and understanding them is an essential part of maintaining good credit and healthy financial habits.

In Canada, consumers are allowed to request their credit report free of charge at least once a year from the two main credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion. Asking for your information from one reporting agency and then the other every six months can help you stay up to date with your credit report and ensure the information is accurate.

Here’s a quick guide to what your report contains and who is allowed to use it.

Your credit report

Although your credit report will look somewhat different from each bureau and may contain slightly different information depending on the details shared by creditors, the codes and ratings are the same. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has sample credit reports from Equifax and TransUnion to illustrate the information that typically appears on a credit report.

Every consumer’s credit report will vary because of personal details like employment and credit inquiries but will contain the following fundamentals.

Personal information

It is important to keep your personal information up to date.

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address (current and previous)
  • Contact details (current and previous phone numbers)
  • Social insurance number
  • Driver’s licence number
  • Employer and job title (current and previous)

Your credit score

This score will directly impact the interest rate you qualify for when applying for a loan. An algorithm calculates your credit score and reflects your creditworthiness, and the risk of delinquency you pose to a lender. Credit scores range between 300–900. Generally, scores above 760 are considered excellent, while those with scores below 600 may find it more challenging to get credit.

Financial information

Positive and negative information will appear on your credit report:

  • Non-sufficient funds payments (NSF)
  • Bad cheques
  • Bank accounts that have been closed due to amounts owing or fraud
  • Credit limits and balances on credit cards including retail store cards
  • Missed or late bill payments
  • Lines of credit
  • Loans
  • Debts sent to collections
  • Liens
  • Bankruptcy
  • Fraud alerts and consumer statements

Product details

Each credit product should show the finer details like when the account was opened, how much you owe, if you are in good standing, and if you have missed payments or went over your credit limit.

You will see the total number of accounts you have that are open, closed, or have been classified as delinquent, as well as the balances and number of payments you have made.

Codes

The codes have two parts, a letter depicting the type of credit, and a number showing the status of your payments.

Letter What it stands for   Definition
I Installment credit This type of credit is a loan that is paid regularly in fixed amounts for a set term. For example, financing a car is an installment loan.
O Open status Some bills, like a mobile phone account, are considered open status credit, since you borrow money when you need to, up to a specific limit.
R Revolving or recurring credit You may borrow money up to a set limit, on an ongoing basis, with fluctuating payments based on the balance. Your credit card is a revolving source of credit.
M Mortgage loan Generally, this is the type of loan used to buy a property.

According to the FCAC, any number code greater than one may hurt your credit.

Number Classification
0 This number can indicate credit that has been approved but may be too new to rate.
1 This number is the best rating and means that you have paid your bill within 30 days as agreed.
2 This number means you have a late payment between 31 to 59 days overdue.
3 This number means you have a late payment between 60 to 89 days overdue.
4 This number means you have a late payment between 90 to 119 days overdue.
5 This number means you have a late payment that is more than 120 days overdue but hasn’t been classified as a “9” yet.
6 It is unlikely that you’ll see this code as it isn’t used.
7 This number can indicate you are using a debt management strategy such as a consolidation order, a consumer proposal or a credit counselling agency.
8 This number can indicate a repossession.
9 This number can highlight bad financial habits and likely indicates an item written off as bad debt, has been sent to a collection agency or a bankruptcy.

If you have a credit card in good standing, you will see R1 on your credit report. If you forgot to pay your car loan within the 30-day window, you would see I2 on your report.

Who is allowed to use your credit report?

According to the FCAC, credit bureaus are required to follow guidelines regarding who can see your credit report and how they can use that information.

Businesses or individuals that are allowed to see your credit report include:

  • Banks and other financial institutions
  • Credit unions
  • Car leasing companies (dealerships)
  • Retailers (if you need to finance appliances for example)
  • Mobile phone companies
  • Insurance companies
  • Governments
  • Employers
  • Landlords

They are allowed to use the information on your credit report to make the following decisions about you:

  • Lend you money
  • Collect a debt
  • Consider you for a rental agreement
  • Consider hiring you for employment or offer you a promotion
  • Provide you with insurance
  • Offer you a credit increase

If one of these organizations pulls your credit report because you have applied for credit, it may result in a hard inquiry. Hard inquiries are necessary anytime a lender is weighing your eligibility for approval. You may experience a drop in your credit score if you have too many hard inquires in a short period, and it may raise a red flag to lenders. That is why it is important to seek credit only when you need it.

If you, a lender, or business checks your credit score for informational purposes, it typically won’t result in a hard inquiry and won’t impact your score. These types of requests are considered to be soft inquiries and aren’t visible to potential lenders.

Do credit bureaus approve credit applications?

Some consumers may believe that credit bureaus are the ones deciding whether to give or deny credit. That’s a common misconception. These agencies provide credit reports, but the lender decides to extend credit based on the information in the report. Generally, lenders use the data in combination with a formula of their own to rate your creditworthiness and approve or deny your application.

How to clean up your report

Improving your credit score and cleaning up your credit report isn’t as simple as paying missed bills and becoming debt-free—although that can help. Paying your bills on time and consistently, never missing a payment, holding various credit accounts, and apply for credit only when you need it, can increase your score.

Related read: It’s Time to Get Smart About Your Credit

However, poor credit choices and bad financial decisions can stay on your report for upwards of six years, if not longer. That is why starting on the right foot, with a good understanding of your credit report and how it can affect your future financial choices is vital for reaching your goals.

Reviewing your credit report at least once a year can help you catch and report errors. If you think an item on your report is an error, first, contact both Equifax and TransUnion and notify them of the mistake. If the error is in your personal information, you should ask that the details be corrected. If the item is suspected to be fraud, request an alert on your credit report. Also, inform the Canada Anti-fraud Centre.

Related Topics

Credit Card News / Credit Cards / Debt Repayment / Personal Finance / Personal Finance News / Your Credit Score

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