Who Is Allowed to Access Your Credit Report?
Understanding who is able to review your credit report may help you make smart financial decisions.
Your credit report contains personal information about your financial history. Certain companies and financial institutions are able to check your credit report, but the information isn’t available to everyone.
It’s probably no surprise to you that banks and lenders check your credit report when you apply for a loan or in other situations. But other entities, like landlords, insurance companies, or prospective employers, may also review your credit report, or at least parts of it.
Let’s dive into who is able to access your credit information and the regulations protecting your information.
In many cases, people can’t view your credit report without your express permission.
Lenders, financial institutions, and individuals may check your credit report to make decisions on loans, extending credit, or rent applications.
Your credit report contains a variety of information, including types of credit accounts you have or had in the past, your payment history, and other personally identifiable information.
Credit Bureaus and Credit Reporting Agencies
Credit bureaus and credit reporting agencies compile and manage information regarding peoples’ credit scores and histories.¹ Lenders and businesses use this information to make certain decisions, such as approving a loan or credit card.²
There are three main credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian that each collect and analyze data differently. All three compile the data into a credit report detailing your credit history and behaviors, like whether you make payments on time or if you’ve defaulted on a loan in the past.
Why Do People Check Your Credit Information?
Your credit information may be pulled for a variety of reasons, such as a lender who is reviewing a loan application you’ve submitted or an insurance company deciding how much to charge for a policy.
When someone checks your credit report, they’re typically looking for positive or negative financial habits.
Positive habits are what most people consider good financial practices and may include:³
Making on-time payments
Maintaining a low credit utilization ratio
Having a long credit history
Having a history of positive habits may encourage companies to offer you lower rates or special offers.
Negative habits that a lender may look for include:⁴˒⁵
Paying less than the minimum
Having maxed out lines of credit
Debts sent to collections
Negative habits may result in an application being denied or companies offering lower limits, higher rates, or both.
What Information Can They See?
As we mentioned, your credit report contains a significant amount of information about your financial history, including:⁶
Personal Information. Your report includes Personal Identifying Information (PII), like addresses where you’ve lived, your Social Security Number, employment information, and your date of birth.
Credit accounts. Your report shows current and past lines of credit you have associated with your name and Social Security number. These may include personal loans, mortgages, auto loans, and credit cards. It also shows additional information, such as the loan amount or account’s limit, the balance, payment history, date it was opened and/or closed and name of the creditor.
Credit inquiries. Your report lists both hard and soft credit inquiries made in the last two years. Hard inquiries happen when you apply for a loan or credit card and are visible to you and any prospective lender. Soft inquiries are only visible to you when you pull your report. These often occur when a company checks your credit to preapprove you for an offer or when certain categories of people check your report, such as a potential employer.⁷
Public records. Your credit report also contains information from public records, such as liens, foreclosures, bankruptcies and civil suits or judgments.
Your credit report contains a lot of private financial information that you don’t want everyone to have access to. There are laws and rules that limit who may access and use this information, which we’ll discuss next.
Laws Protecting Your Credit Information
As previously mentioned, your credit report isn’t available to anyone who wants to see it and strict regulations govern who may check your credit and the information they’re allowed to see.
Some of the most common regulations you may hear about in connection with your credit report include:
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) restricts who may access your credit report.
The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) requires creditors to give individuals 60 days to challenge certain types of inaccurate charges.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) controls how creditors report debts to credit bureaus and how they appear on your credit report.
As part of the FCRA, lenders have a legal obligation to provide consumers with an adverse action notice if they deny you credit based on information in your consumer report. Additionally, if they give you credit but under less favorable terms, they have to provide a “risk-based pricing notice”.⁸
Lenders and businesses who want to view your credit report must adhere to the rules outlined in the above acts. Additionally, credit bureaus track who and when your credit report is accessed, so you’re able to see who has checked it.⁹
Who Can Request to See Your Credit Report?
Now that we’ve discussed your credit report and the rules for accessing it, let’s discuss who may access it.
In almost all cases where an entity wants to review your credit report, they must have a “permissible purpose”.¹⁰ A permissible purpose basically means they have to have a specific reason to pull your credit report.¹¹ In most cases, even if an entity has a permissible purpose, they still need your permission before doing so.¹²
Here are some examples of entities that typically need your permission to access your credit report. For several of these examples, the entity gets your permission as part of the application process.
Financial Institutions: Financial institutions like banks, credit unions, and lenders use your report to help make decisions such as approving a loan or credit card application. The information may impact how much they’re willing to lend you, as well as the rate on certain products.
Employers: Depending on the type of job you’re applying for, a potential employer may request a credit check as part of their hiring process, particularly in the financial or legal field.¹³
Credit Card Issuers: When you apply for a credit card, the issuer reviews your credit report as part of the application and decision process. Your report may impact their decision to approve or deny your application, as well as the rate and credit limit on your card. Credit card companies are an example of entities that may pull your credit without your express permission. Have you ever received a preapproved credit card offer in the mail? These usually happen when a credit card issuer performs a soft pull of your report.
Government Agencies: Government agencies may also check your credit report when making certain decisions. For example, government assistance programs may check your report to make sure your income and assets are below your area’s maximum levels. Courts may check your report to see how much you’re able to realistically pay in child support or alimony before making a decision in your case.
Debt Collection Agencies: Debt collection agencies may check your report for contact information to help them collect debts you owe. Debt collectors are one of the entities which have a “permissible purpose” to access your credit report without your express consent under the FCRA.¹⁴
Landlords and Rental Agencies: Landlords and rental agencies may pull your credit report as part of the application process for a home or apartment.¹⁵ Note that the FCRA requires landlords who deny your application because of information in your credit report to inform you.¹⁶
Other Third Parties: Third parties like insurance and utility companies may also check your credit report. For example, insurance providers may use the information to determine your premiums.¹⁷ Utility companies may use your report to see if you’re at risk of missing payments and may require a security deposit when setting up utility services.¹⁸
Who Can Check Your Credit Report Without Permission?
Though most organizations and individuals need your permission to run a credit check, there are specific situations where your report may be pulled without your permission.
Some examples of when this could occur include:¹⁹
In response to a court order or subpoena
When applying for a license or government benefit
In some child support decisions
Potential investors assessing the risk of a current obligation
Who Isn’t Allowed to Access Your Credit Report?
As we mentioned before, not everyone is allowed to view your credit report. If someone doesn’t fall into the above categories and doesn’t have a legitimate reason to access your report, they typically won’t be able to view your report unless you provide them with a copy of it.
How to Protect Your Credit Information
Just because most entities need your permission to access your credit report doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you could take to protect your information and potentially prevent identity theft.
Here are a few tips:²⁰
Check Your Credit Report. You’re able to request a copy of your credit report from each major credit bureau once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com. Even better, it’s free!
Report Errors Immediately. Minor errors could have a major impact on your credit score. Review your report and report those errors to the credit bureaus as soon as possible.
Monitor Your Score. Get in the habit of checking your credit score regularly. You may be able to access your credit score for free through a credit card issuer or financial institution.
File Complaints as Needed. If you think someone violated your privacy and received a copy of your report without authorization, you may file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Your credit report offers a comprehensive overview of many of your financial habits. The information is essential for many businesses, such as lenders, creditors, and financial institutions, in helping them decide if they want to issue you a loan or a new credit card.
While there are a few situations where your credit report may be accessed without your permission, a company or person almost always needs your express permission to request your report. To help protect your information, it’s important to regularly review the information in your report and correct any errors as soon as possible to reduce the risk of issues down the road.