If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, mortgage or personal loan, you know how important it is to have a clean credit report and good credit score. Together, they help lenders assess your creditworthiness or your ability to pay back a loan on time. They can also affect your borrowing terms (like interest rates, down payment, etc.).
While your credit report and credit score are closely related, they’re actually not the same thing. And many people often conflate or confuse the two terms.
So let’s clear things up.
A credit report provides a look into your credit history and includes information like how you’ve used credit in the past and the current status of your credit accounts . A credit score, on the other hand, is typically a three-digit number calculated based on what’s in your credit report . In a way, you can think of your credit score as a numerical “grade” or rating of your credit history .
Now, with the basics out of the way, let’s take a closer look at some of the other key differences between a credit score and a credit report.
As we mentioned earlier, a credit report is a record of your financial and credit history, like your borrowing and repayment activities. And many lenders use it to help them decide whether to approve your credit or loan application.
Because the information in your credit reports can impact your ability to borrow, you’ll want to review them regularly to make sure your financial information is accurate and complete.
We say credit reports (yes, plural) because technically you have three different ones. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – the three national credit bureaus – can each compile and generate a credit report for you.
The details of your credit report from each bureau may vary slightly, but they generally contain information, such as:
Your credit reports may also include bankruptcies, foreclosures and charge-offs, which could stay on your record for up to 10 years.
While the three credit bureaus compete to provide lenders with the most comprehensive credit report, keep in mind that each bureau uses its own method of putting together your report. Because of this, you may find that some information is missing (or wrong) on one report and not the others. (Mistakes can happen!)
This is why it’s a good idea to request your credit report from each bureau and review them to ensure they’re accurate and up to date.
Good to know: By law, you can order a free copy (really, it’s free) of your credit report from all three bureaus once every 12 months. Visit annualcreditreport.com for more information – this is the official site, authorized by the federal government, where you can request your free credit reports.
You can order all three of your credit reports (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) at the same time. Or you can choose to space out your requests over a 12-month period.
Interested in learning more about credit reports? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Credit Reports.
Remember how we used to get report cards when we were in school?
If your credit report is like a detailed report card for your financial and credit history, then your credit score is like your GPA.
A credit score is a numerical grade calculated based on what’s in your credit report. It gives lenders a sense of how likely you are to pay your bills or repay your loans on time in the future. In other words, a credit score helps lenders assess the risk of lending money or extending credit to you.
Together, credit reports and credit scores can help lenders assess how responsible you are when it comes to using credit.
A credit score usually ranges anywhere between 300 and 850. But sometimes you may see scores as high as 990 – it all depends on the scoring model that’s being used. There are many different scoring models out there, including FICO, VantageScore and TransRisk. And each model uses a different methodology to calculate your score.
This is one reason why you can have different credit scores at any given time. It depends on which credit scoring system you’re looking at.
But in general, the idea is the same: the higher your score, the less risky (i.e. more creditworthy) you appear to lenders.
Keep in mind that your score can go up or down based on a number of factors such as your payment history, credit utilization rate and number of accounts.
Check out our credit score guide to learn more about what can affect your score and potential ways to improve it.
Good to know: You usually won’t find your credit score on your credit reports. But there are several ways to get it. You can get your score through the three national credit bureaus we mentioned earlier. You can also get it directly from a credit score provider like FICO or VantageScore. Your bank or credit card company may be an option, too. Visit consumerfinance.gov for more information.
While a credit report and credit score are closely related, they are two different, separate tools that lenders can use to determine your creditworthiness.
When someone runs a credit check – whether they’re looking at your credit report or score (or both) – they’re trying to gauge the risk of lending money to you. They’re essentially asking the question: “Will this person be able to pay us back on time?”
Both your credit history and credit score are important when applying for a loan. So it’s important to review your credit reports from time to time for any errors and correct them in a timely fashion.
Also, if your score isn’t where you want it to be, all is not lost. Consider taking these steps to help improve your credit score. It may take some time and discipline, but you got this!
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.