- The Fair Credit Reporting Act protects your privacy when it comes to your credit report.
- Certain third parties can request and review your credit reports
- Your credit report and the information within it isn't accessible to the general public.
Your credit report is an important document that contains restricted information and sensitive details about your credit activity and present credit situation, including your history of paying debts and the status of your credit accounts. Federal and state laws prevent most people from accessing and viewing your credit report.
Who can access your credit report? Certain entities can, including lenders, creditors, utility companies, employers, landlords, and government agencies.
Who can access your credit report: 10 examples
It’s helpful to better understand eligible third parties who can view your credit report. Here are 10 possible instances.
Example #1: Creditors you apply with
Let’s say you complete an application for a new credit card, mortgage loan, auto loan, student loan, or another type of loan. This lender or creditor is allowed to review a copy of your credit report and examine your credit score. You give them permission to check your credit when you apply.
Example #2: Unsolicited lenders who want to offer credit
Maybe you didn’t apply for new credit, but a third party wants to prequalify/preapprove you for a credit card, loan, or insurance policy offer. This is allowed without your permission.
Example #3: Existing creditors
A company that already has an insurance or credit relationship with you can check your credit report. Case in point: Your credit card issuer may want to inspect your report to decide how your variable interest rate should adjust or whether to give you a credit limit increase. They don't need your permission.
Example #4: Banks
Imagine you want to open up a checking account at a local bank. That financial institution has the right to check your credit report in this instance. You give your permission when you apply.
Example #5: Landlords
Applying for a lease at a rental property? The landlord or rental company might check your credit report to learn whether you’ve ever been evicted or defaulted on a financial obligation. The landlord must get your permission, such as by asking you to sign an authorization form.
Example #6: Employers
If you appy for a job, that prospective employer may look over your credit report before they decide to hire you. An existing employer may also check your credit report periodically, such as to renew security credentials. In either case, they would need your explicit permission but you might have already provided it by signing an authorization form when you applied or were hired.
Certain states ban employers from accessing credit reports
Example #7: Utility companies
Preparing to rent a home or buy a house? You’re going to need utility services like electric, gas, telephone/cellular, and internet. Before creating your account, these utility providers may check your credit report to gauge your history of paying bills. Based on the information in your credit report, they may ask you to put down a deposit. If you have serious credit issues, they could even refuse to provide service.
Example #8: Government agencies
Some government agencies, including your state Medicaid office, can check your credit report under some circumstances.
If you apply for a government security clearance, you should expect the government to check your credit during the application process and occasionally thereafter.
Example #9: Courts
If a judge or court issues an order or a federal grand jury issues a subpoena for your credit report, the reporting agency will provide it. Law enforcement authorities can get your credit history if they obtain a court order.
Example #10: Debt collection companies
If you don’t pay your bills on time or at all, eventually a debt collection company will be in contact. Debt collectors can get access to your credit report so that they can better determine how to proceed with your file and retrieve what you owe.
Also, if you enroll in a debt resolution program, they can check your credit to help you figure out the best path forward.
How you can know who accessed your credit report
TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax must maintain a record of who accesses your credit reports and when. The names and dates are in the “inquiries” section of your credit report.
An inquiry is a request to review your credit file, and it typically falls into one of two types:
Hard inquiries, usually by lenders after you apply for credit. These inquiries affect your credit score. Most credit scoring models look at how recently and how frequently you apply for credit.
Soft inquiries, such as reviews by your current creditors, prescreenings, and self credit checks. Soft inquiries will not change your credit score.
Who cannot gain access to your credit report
Your credit report and the information within it cannot be given to anyone without a permissible purpose, as specified in the FCRA.
Also, the general public isn't allowed to access or view your credit report. Those who attempt to gain your credit report without your permission or a legally permissible purpose can be penalized and prosecuted. If you believe that an entity or person has been asking for or checking your credit report illegally, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
What is the FCRA?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law enacted in 1970 that aims to protect the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of the details within consumer credit files—meaning the credit reports issued by credit bureaus like Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. This law governs how and when credit reporting agencies can gather, access, employ, and share the data they collect on consumers like you and me. The FCRA also prevents your credit report from being accessed by third parties unless they have a legally permissible purpose.
The FCRA provides several important rights to consumers, among them:
You must be told if information in your credit report has been used against you, such as to deny you credit.
You have the right to know what is in your credit file and to have free access to your credit report.
You have the right to ask for a credit score.
You're entitled to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information in your credit report.
Consumer reporting agencies cannot report outdated information.
Access to your file is limited.
That last point is important. No one with a permissible purpose can legally look at your credit report.
Is it illegal to check someone else’s credit report?
Yes, for the general public and most third parties, it is against the law to gain access to and view a credit report. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a credit bureau is only allowed to provide information about you to certain outsiders that have a valid need (called “permissible purpose”). Here are some examples of permissible purposes:
Your credit card company wants to review your eligibility for a limit increase
A bank you don’t do business with wants to prescreen you for an offer
A landlord wants to check your credit when you apply to rent an apartment
You apply for a security clearance
You sign up for cable TV or open a new bank account
You apply for a loan
A new employer wants to check your credit as a condition of employment
A judge issues a court order for your credit report as part of a legal case
You default on a debt and the collection agency is trying to collect what you owe
Is your credit report public information?
No. Your credit report and the information within it aren't public information. In other words, the general public isn't permitted to access or view your credit report. Those who attempt to gain your credit report without your permission or a legally permissible purpose can be penalized and prosecuted.
Can someone do a credit check without your permission?
Certain entities are allowed legally to check your credit and view your credit report without your permission. These include third parties who demonstrate “permissible purpose” for checking your credit, including creditors and lenders you’ve applied for credit with; lenders who preapprove you for a loan, credit, or insurance; current creditors you already have a relationship with; landlords; some current or potential employers; debt collectors; utility companies; and some government agencies.