Understanding Your Credit Report and Score

By Julie Ford

A good credit score provides opportunities to invest in the things you love – your family, work, hobbies, and dreams. Here’s a breakdown of the essentials of credit.

Your Credit Report

What is it: A history of all your credit accounts and how good you are at paying them off. Things like student loans, credit cards, and mortgages show up on it. 

Tell me more: Every relationship with a lender – past and present – is captured in your credit report. Details like when the account was opened, credit limit, payment history, current standing (past due, closed, good standing, etc.) all contribute to your score. Personal information such as history of addresses, phone numbers and employment are also included. Additionally, your report will show you who has requested to look at your report, which happens when you apply for a new line of credit, submit a rental application, and sometimes during the hiring process with a new job.

Your Credit Score

What is it: Your credit report boiled down to a number.

Tell me more: Each of the three credit reporting agencies gives you a number based on the information in your report.  (Yes, each agency gives you a separate score.) The number serves as an indicator to future potential creditors of your reliability as a borrower. The higher your score, the more attractive you are to lenders. A higher score also means you’ll qualify for lower interest rates. Your score is constantly changing as new information about you hits your report. 

Here’s a general guideline of what’s “good” or “bad” with credit scores (though each lender you deal with will have their own internal standards of creditworthiness):

760 – 850: Excellent
720 – 760: Very good
680 – 720: Average – very good
620 – 680: Fair – poor
Below 620: Poor

What Is Behind My Score?

Here are the five categories that make up your score: 

Components of Your Credit Score


Accessing Your Report and Score

Federal law entitles everyone to one free credit report (which doesn't include a score) every twelve months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). A lot of websites claim to offer free credit reports, but you can trust Annual Credit Report actually does! Credit.com will show you your score for free.


Still Have Questions?

In an upcoming post I’ll lay out some ground rules for using credit, including how to improve your score. For now, here are some great resources on credit:

Credit.com: This is a great place to start. They offer plenty of educational resources and tools. You can also check your credit score for free.

Credit Info Center: Check out this site for useful information about credit repair and debt, including resources and tips for communicating with collection agencies.

CLARO NYC: Fellow New Yorkers, CLARO NYC provides free legal advice to unrepresented debtors in New York City. If you have a judgment on your credit report or have been sued by a creditor, CLARO can help you navigate the legal system. They have office hours in all five boroughs.