By Allan Halcrow | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
6 Min Read | January 29, 2021 in Credit
Credit reports offer lenders a detailed look at what you’ve borrowed and how well you’ve repaid it.
Other information about your finances, such as income and cash flow, is not included. Neither, typically, is your credit score.
Other financial commitments you have, such as rent or utility bills, usually show up on your report only if you fall behind and they’re sent to a collection agency. But ways are emerging to get positive repayment history reported on these, too.
Your credit report gives creditors and others who review it a complete picture of your financial situation, right? Actually, it doesn’t. Instead, what shows up on a credit report is a deep dive into just one element of your finances: how much you’ve borrowed and how well you’ve repaid it. So what does a credit report show?
Because credit reports are focused on your debt history, they include:
That may sound like a lot of information. And if you have a long credit history, your report may be several pages. Still, there’s a lot of information about your financial health that is not on your credit report, and it helps to know what is – and isn’t – helping you build a positive credit history.
Creditors use your report to determine how risky it would be to lend you money, and having money is no guarantee you’ll use it to pay your bills on time. Therefore, your credit report does not include your:
While we’re talking about assets, we shouldn’t ignore cash – even though credit reports typically do. The logic is that credit reports are focused on money that you borrow and repay, not money that you already have. Therefore, your credit report does not include:
There are a couple of exceptions to note. First, some banks that offer overdraft protection for checking accounts consider the protection a line of credit and may report it as such. If you have overdraft protection, experts suggest that you check with your bank to find out whether they report it to the credit bureaus. Second, FICO has recently dipped its toe in the water to begin tracking cash flow. Ultra FICO, which was announced earlier this year, is an optional program that allows consumers with marginal credit scores or minimal credit history to use a pattern of responsible cash flow management to boost their scores. Cash-related activity will continue to be invisible to those who do not opt in.
You pay your rent and utilities on time every month. That shows you’re responsible with your money so you ought to see the benefits on your credit report, right? Unfortunately, you typically won’t. That’s because, again, credit reports distinguish between financial commitments and money borrowed. Generally, your credit report will not show payments toward your:
Unfortunately, if you fall behind on payments for any of the above, that bad news might show up on your credit report. That’s because collection agencies are members of the credit reporting bureaus and report to the bureaus on the accounts they handle.
There are some ways, though, to get your responsible payment history on these items reported for your benefit. Assuming that your landlord cooperates by verifying your rent, rent-reporting services can arrange to have your rent payments reported to the credit agencies. Some such services are free, while others charge more than $100 a year, so it’s a good idea to do a bit of research before choosing one. In addition, Experian Boost is an opt-in program that grants Experian access to your bank account so that your utility and cell phone payments can be included in your credit report.1 It’s a proprietary program, so even if you opt in to use it, those payments will not show on your Equifax or TransUnion credit reports.
A final point on the tradelines: Because the report is intended to guide lenders, it focuses on money you owe lenders. Other money that you owe typically does not get reported. For example, a loan from your 401(k) – money that, in effect, you borrow from yourself – will not show up. And medical debt will not be reported either, unless it is assigned to a collection agency.
Credit reports include enough identifying information to ensure there’s no mistake about whose report it is. Beyond that, most personal information stays personal. For example, your marital status is not on your credit report. If you and your spouse have several joint accounts, lenders will see the names of both account holders and might make an educated guess that you’re married. Even then, they won’t see any information on accounts belonging only to your spouse. If you don’t have any joint accounts, it’s unlikely a lender can tell from your credit report whether you’re married. Other personal information lenders won’t find on your report include your:
The final item typically not included in your credit report may surprise you: your credit score. That’s because from a lender’s perspective, your report and your score are different tools used for different purposes. Your credit report is a detailed summary of your credit activity, and your score is a numerical analysis of that activity, often used for quick reference.
Credit reports are intended to help lenders make lending decisions. Therefore, they focus on debt and how those debts are repaid. However, financial commitments not typically included may be reported if you fall behind on payments and they’re turned over to a collection agency. Managing your money with those principles in mind can help you maintain a healthy credit report.