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Credit reports and scores key terms

Credit inquiry

An inquiry refers to a request to look at your credit file, and it generally falls into one of two types.

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Credit invisible

In 2015, we published a report finding that 26 million Americans are "credit invisible." This figure indicates that one in every ten adults does not have any credit history with one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. An additional 19 million consumers have “unscorable” credit files, which means that their file is thin and has an insufficient credit history (9.9 million) or they have stale files and lack any recent credit history (9.6 million). In sum, there are 45 million consumers who may be denied access to credit because they do not have credit records that can be scored. People who are credit invisible or unscorable generally do not have access to quality credit and may face a range of issues, from trying to obtain credit to leasing an apartment.

Credit monitoring service

A credit monitoring service is a commercial service that charges you a fee to watch your credit reports and alert you to changes to the accounts listed on your credit report. 

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Credit report

A credit report is a statement that has information about your credit activity and current credit situation such as loan paying history and the status of your credit accounts.

Credit reporting company

Credit reporting companies, also known as credit bureaus or consumer reporting agencies, are companies that compile and sell credit reports.

Credit score

A credit score predicts how likely you are to pay back a loan on time. Companies use a mathematical formula—called a scoring model—to create your credit score from the information in your credit report. It is important to know that you do not have just “one” credit score and there are many credit scores available to you as well as to lenders. Any credit score depends on the data used to calculate it, and may differ depending on the scoring model, the source of your credit history, the type of loan product, and even the day when it was calculated.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of consumer reporting agencies. There are many types of consumer reporting agencies, including credit bureaus and specialty agencies (such as agencies that sell information about check writing histories, medical records, and rental history records). Learn more about your major rights under the FCRA .

FICO score

A FICO® score is a particular brand of credit score. 

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Fraud alert

A fraud alert requires creditors who check your credit report to take steps to verify your identity before opening a new account, issuing an additional card, or increasing the credit limit on an existing account based on a consumer’s request. When you place a fraud alert on your credit report at one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, it must notify the others. There are two main types of fraud alerts: initial fraud alerts and extended alerts.

Free credit report

You have the right to request one free copy of your credit report each year from each of the three major consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) by visiting . When you visit , you may see steps to view your updated credit reports at no cost, online. Once you’ve received your annual free credit report, you can still request additional reports. By law, a credit reporting company can charge no more than $14.50 for a credit report.

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Identity monitoring or identity theft proection

Identity theft services monitor personally identifiable information in credit applications, public records, websites, and other places for any unusual activity that could be signs of identity theft.

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Identity theft

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your identity to commit fraud. Stealing your identity could mean using personal information without your permission, such as:

  • Your name
  • Social Security number
  • Credit card number
Military active duty alert

Members of the military (such as members of the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard) can request an active duty alert. When you place an active duty alert on your credit report, creditors must take reasonable steps to make sure the person making the request is actually you before opening an account, issuing an additional credit card on an existing account, or increasing the credit limit on your existing account. Active duty alerts last for 12 months. Your name also will be removed from the nationwide credit reporting companies' pre-screen marketing lists for credit offers and insurance for two years.

Security freeze

A "security freeze" on your credit report prevents new creditors from accessing your credit file and others from opening accounts in your name until you lift the freeze. Because most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking your credit report, a freeze can stop identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.

Specialty consumer reporting company

Specialty consumer reporting companies collect and share information about your employment history, transaction history with a business or repayment history for a specific product or service.

Tenant screening report

A report used by landlords to help make decisions on possible tenants. A tenant screening report may contain information from many sources including your rental history and credit reports.

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Thin credit file / No credit file

A thin credit file or no credit file means that a person does not have a credit history or not enough current credit history to produce a credit score. See: Credit invisible