6 Min Read | May 2, 2022

What Is Credit History? An Intro Guide

Credit history is the record of how you repay your credit cards, loans, and other debts. Learn what it takes to establish good credit with this intro to credit history.

This article contains general information and is not intended to provide information that is specific to American Express products and services. Similar products and services offered by different companies will have different features and you should always read about product details before acquiring any financial product.


Credit history is the recorded account of your ability to repay debt.

Lenders and creditors look at your credit history to determine your creditworthiness. 

Being credit-invisible – having no credit history – has similar implications to having “bad” credit.

Creditors need to get an idea of your financial responsibility before deciding whether to extend a lending hand. Since a signature alone won’t sufficiently satisfy their numbers-oriented need for reassurance, a record of your ability to repay and manage debt is required to assess your “creditworthiness.” That record is called your credit report, and it’s largely made up of your credit history.


On one hand, you might rest assured knowing a creditor’s decision will take into consideration your financial history. On the other hand, if you’ve never opened a credit card or taken out a loan, you might find yourself “credit invisible” – a situation that can be as unfavorable as having “bad” credit.


Let’s take a deeper dive into the concept of credit history, see why it’s important, and examine how building and maintaining a healthy credit history can give you an advantage in the eyes of potential lenders.

Definition of Credit History

Credit history is a record of one’s ability to manage the repayment of debt such as credit cards and loans. Assuming you’ve taken out credit at some point in your life, your credit history will appear in your credit report. Credit history includes historical data about:

  • How many credit-related accounts you’ve opened, such as loans and credit cards.
  • What types of accounts they are, such as installment or revolving credit.
  • Payment history, which shows whether payments have historically been made on time, late, or missed.
  • Outstanding balances, or how much you owe on each account.
  • Account ages, or how long since the account was opened.
  • Recent credit inquiries, such as a hard credit inquiry made by a lender after you apply for a loan.
  • “Derogatory” or negative marks, like bankruptcies and accounts in collections.

Credit History vs Credit Report vs Credit Score

Credit history is a key component of your credit report. Everyone has three different credit reports, generated individually by the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – after they collect relevant financial information from banks and lenders. In addition to credit history, credit reports usually include current and historical information on names, addresses, and employers. Lenders, employers, and sometimes landlords usually will receive a version of your credit report when they request a credit inquiry on your behalf.


Historically, individuals have been able to request a free copy of each credit report once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.1 In response to the pandemic, all three bureaus plan to offer free weekly credit reports through at least December 31, 2022.


Your credit history and credit report should not be confused with your credit score, a number based on your credit history, usually ranging from 300 to 850. Your credit scores are calculated by algorithms that analyze your credit habits, including payment history, credit utilization rate, account age, and more. Credit scores are used by lenders as a prediction of future delinquencies, can usually be checked for free at any time through your bank or credit card account, and offer a quick snapshot into your credit health. There are two main credit score providers, FICO and VantageScore – FICO generally being more commonly used by lenders.


The bottom line: Your credit history is used to determine your credit score. Both your credit history and credit score are included in your credit report.

Why Your Credit History Is Important

Potential creditors – credit card companies, mortgage lenders, student loan servicers, and the like – will use your credit history and credit score to determine whether to approve you for the desired account, loan, mortgage, or other credit product you’ve applied for. It’s also not uncommon for landlords to check your credit history before you rent an apartment.


If you’re approved for the desired credit, your credit history can then be used to determine factors such as your interest rate, loan terms, or even an apartment security deposit. In general, creditors consider a history of on-time payments and low credit usage as indicators of trust. This trust can encourage them to offer you more favorable terms than they would offer to individuals with adverse credit history. 


Beyond that, staying on top of your credit reports and analyzing your credit history can also help you recognize fraud or identity theft. For example, it’s a good idea to regularly check your credit reports to make sure all accounts are valid and credit inquiries are justified. Alternatively, a credit freeze is considered the most potent preventative against credit fraud and identity theft.

Good Credit History vs Bad Credit History vs No Credit History

Your credit history plays a major role in your ability to obtain financing and more favorable loan terms. But what does it actually mean to have good credit history, bad credit history, or no credit history?


Good credit history usually shows that you consistently repay debt on time, maintain a low credit utilization rate, and have few hard inquiries on your credit report. A FICO score of 670 and up typically reflects “good credit history,” but the higher the better – “exceptional” credit scores of 800+ can increase your chances of being approved for new accounts, leases, and loans with better terms and interest rates.


Bad credit history usually reflects missed payments, a high credit utilization rate, many hard inquiries, or adverse marks like bankruptcy or delinquencies. A FICO score under 580 typically reflects poor credit history and is read by creditors as a prediction of future delinquencies. Fortunately, bad credit history can be remedied with time and discipline – paying bills on time and reducing your credit usage without taking new credit could gradually boost your score.


No credit history can bring complications similar to those of bad credit, even if you’re exemplary with money. The issue? Potential creditors or landlords have no way of determining how much of a liability approving you for credit would be and, therefore, they might not approve loans or lease applications. The good news is that promising new DIY credit reporting tools could help individuals establish and build credit in nontraditional ways.

How to Establish – and Maintain – Good Credit History

Young adults or recent immigrants may find themselves in need of a loan, mortgage, or credit card – but have no credit history to prove creditworthiness. Taking a small personal loan, if available, and responsibly repaying the debt can be a good way to kickstart your credit history. Some banks may also offer secured credit cards, which allow borrowers to back their credit with cash collateral. 


Additionally, the major credit bureaus are working to help credit-invisible individuals establish a credit history in nontraditional ways. Experian, for example, is launching a program designed to help people link routine expenses, like cellphone and utility payments, to their credit history. The credit bureaus are also beginning to pay attention to buy now, pay later arrangements. For more, check out “Can Buy Now, Pay Later Improve My Credit?


Once credit is established, building and maintaining your ideal score requires good financial discipline – especially making on-time payments.

The Takeaway

Your credit history is an important part of your credit report. It can make or break creditors’ decisions when you apply for new credit. Healthy financial practices result in a healthy credit history, which can boost your credit score and greatly increase the chances of being approved for loans, credit cards, and mortgages – all with potentially better interest rates and terms. 

Megan Doyle

Megan Doyle is a business technology writer and researcher whose work focuses on financial services and cross-cultural diversity and inclusion.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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