Although each credit bureau uses slightly different terminology, the information contained in their reports is essentially the same and include these general categories:
- Personal profile – information about the person, including his or her name, previous name(s), social security number(s), current and former address, current employer, and previous employers.
- Current credit accounts – the report includes all credit and loan accounts, also known as “trade lines,” opened by the consumer. Information provided includes the type of loan, when it was opened, the current balance, payment history, and the current status, i.e., whether it is still active, paid in full, defaulted, or closed.
- Credit inquires– when borrowers authorize lenders’ review of their credit report when processing a loan request, referred to in the industry as a “hard inquiry,” it is documented in the credit report and, if there are a high number of inquiries, it can affect the credit score. A “soft inquiry” is one that was not authorized by the consumer, and it does not affect the credit score. Soft inquiries are typically from credit card companies that are marketing pre-approved card offers.
- Public records & collections – the results of collection efforts by creditors are reported, including collection accounts, bankruptcies, tax liens, foreclosures, wage garnishments, lawsuits, and judgments awarded.
- Credit Score – the credit scores calculated by credit bureaus are included in the credit reports they offer for sale, but the bureaus are not required to provide that proprietary information in the free annual reports available to consumers under federal law.
There is also specific personal information that the credit report cannot contain, including:
- Race, ethnicity, or national origin
- Political affiliation
- Religious beliefs or preference
- Checking or savings account information (although specialty bureaus can report accounts that were closed in default with money owed)
- Hard inquires older than two (2) years
- Debt accounts subject to seven (7) year limit
- Bankruptcy filings older than ten (10) years
- Medical condition or a debt account incurred from a hospital bill
Legally restricted personal information can mistakenly appear in a credit report. A typical scenario is the indirect disclosure of a healthcare debt when the account is sold by the hospital to a collection agency. While the debt account may only be noted as a “medical collection” in the report, the hospital’s name (Dr. Smith’s Cancer Treatment, Williams Diabetes Center, etc.) can lead to an assumption about the consumer’s medical condition.