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Here Is Who Can (and Can’t) See Your Credit Score or Report
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You’ve mastered the art of accessing your credit report and keeping up with your credit score, but now you are wondering: Who else can see my credit score or report? My employer? My spouse? What about my bank and insurance company? Let’s break it down.
Who can access your credit score or report?
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) places strict limits on who can access your credit report and for what reasons. In general, the phrase to bear in mind is “legitimate business need.” Any of the following who can demonstrate such a need may see your credit report or score.
Applying for a new bank account often involves a credit report check. The bank is taking a risk in accepting you as a customer, so it needs to evaluate that risk. Banks will also check your credit report if they are considering giving you a loan, such as if you are planning to buy a car or a house.
If you’ve ever applied for a lease on an apartment, then you likely had to fill out a credit report application. Your future landlord is allowed to check your credit report because he or she is entering into a financial agreement with you. Most landlords do this in order to verify your identity and determine whether you are likely to pay your rent on time. A credit report check will likely be part of an overall background check.
Mortgage lenders are allowed to see your credit report before they grant your request for a loan.
Government authorities can access your credit report if you are applying for a license or other benefit that involves some financial responsibility, such as public assistance. Your credit report can also be accessed by anyone with a court order or a federal grand jury subpoena, or, sometimes, in relation to child support.
If you are applying for a new insurance policy, then the insurance company is likely going to look at your credit report. Your credit information will help the company decide whether to give you the policy and how to set your premiums.
Credit card issuers
Credit cards issuers need access to your credit report to decide whether to do business with you and to set your credit limit. Technically, credit card issuers are credit lenders, just like banks or mortgage companies, so they fall under the same FCRA rule that allows companies to look at your credit report.
Debt collection agencies are also allowed to access your credit report. The FCRA allows for anyone with a legitimate credit transaction, such as collecting or attempting to collect on an account, to review your credit report. Though you never sought to do business with the debt collection agency, it essentially inherits permission to check your report from the company that originally granted you the loan.
Phone and utility companies
Just like landlords, phone and utility companies are able to access your credit report to decide whether you can reasonably be expected to make your payments on time.
Who can’t access your credit score or report?
Employers (with exceptions)
There is a myth that your employer or a potential employer has access to your credit report. Technically, that’s not true. Employers can access your credit report, but only with your explicit, written consent. Some potential employers might request that you give them access to your credit report as part of your overall background check, but you are legally allowed to say no.
There are exceptions: If your employment creates a legitimate business need for an employer to check your credit, they may do so without your permission. This could be the case if you are applying for job with the Department of Justice, for example, or a position that gives you access to $10,000 or more in cash.
Spouse or family members
Being married or related to you is not a legitimate business need, so you can breathe safely that your spouse or family member can’t access your credit report. This is good news for anyone going through a difficult divorce, since it means that your soon-to-be-ex can’t use your records against you.
The general public
Unless you are posting your credit report or score on social media — which is something you should never do — then the general public does not have access to that information.
How to improve your credit score
If someone with a legitimate business need is going to access your credit score or report, you want it to be as spotless as possible. (You can focus on credit repair if needed, too.) If it’s not where you would like it to be, here are some steps you can take to improve it:
- Make sure that you are paying all of your bills on time.
- Pay down your credit cards, since your score is partly based on the ratio of what you owe to your overall credit limit.
- Don’t apply for new accounts too frequently, because multiple credit inquiries can drag down your score.
- Keep your debt-to-income ratio low, since lenders want to see a debt-to-income ratio that is 43% or less.
- Don’t close unused accounts. Instead, keep them open so that your available credit line is high.
Ultimately, the FCRA was created to protect you and your private information. No one can access your credit report unless they have a legitimate business need to do so. In most cases, a company will only access your credit report when you give it a reason to by asking for a loan, lease or line of credit. But it’s a good idea to always keep an eye on your credit score and make sure that you are in tip-top shape when that time comes.