This is a column by regular contributor Clark.
What is a credit report and credit score?
A credit report is the record of a consumer or organization’s borrowing and repaying history including applications to open an account (bank, credit card, mortgage, etc.), late payments and bankruptcy. It contains details about the institutions that have inquired (checked) about the person’s creditworthiness. A credit score is a dynamic number based on statistical analysis of the consumer’s credit report information; the higher the credit score, the better the creditworthiness of that person.
How do credit bureaus get details about your finances?
When a person opens a bank account, submits a credit card application or signs up for a new phone connection, the company the applicant is dealing with sends the personal information (name, address, date of birth, social insurance number if available, etc.) to the credit bureaus. The credit bureau matches this information with that on its file and updates its record by adding the recent entry. If a file does not exist in the name, then it is created and that establishes a starting point for the applicant’s credit history. Institutions where one maintains a regular debt connection because of their credit card or mortgage (whether payment is made in full by the due date or not) report to the credit bureaus on an ongoing basis about the present status of the account i.e., the payment history and whether the account is up-to-date, late or closed.
Why do they collect this information?
The reporting of the opening of accounts, application for other services and payment history helps the credit bureaus maintain a credit profile of the consumer. Future applications for credit of any kind are decided based upon past evidence. Also, phone companies, landlords and some employers (I hear!) utilize the information contained on the applicant’s credit file to make a decision. Regular payments made on or before due dates are accorded higher value than consistent late payments, since it underscores the ability of the consumer to meet their financial obligations. It should be noted that the credit reporting agencies do not make the decision whether an applicant should be granted credit and it is at the discretion of the organization doing the credit check. Soft credit checks do not affect the credit score while hard checks do. So, it is prudent to keep the number of hard credit checks to a minimum, especially before applying for a loan, financing a car or mortgage.
Who are the credit bureaus of Canada?
There are two credit bureaus that collect information and maintain the credit files of consumers in Canada, namely Equifax and TransUnion. There used to be a third agency, Experian, that carried out similar services but they have ceased their Canadian consumer credit bureau operations since April 2009.
Equifax retains a consumer’s credit history for 6 years from the date of last activity and banking information for 6 years from the date of registration after which they are automatically purged from the system. TransUnion’s policy is to keep all information for the maximum time allowed (6 to 7 years) by credit reporting legislation and may vary depending on the province.
Can the consumer get to see their credit file?
Yes, both credit reporting agencies allow every consumer to order their credit report for free once each year as mandated by credit reporting legislation. However, the credit score is not included as part of this free credit report but can be viewed by paying a fee. Two photocopies of valid identification must be included for verification purposes (details in the links below). The consumer ordering their credit report every year does not impact the credit score. So, I think that it is a worthwhile exercise for every consumer to view their free credit report once a year and correct errors, if any.
Equifax: Can be ordered by phone, mail or fax; the phone number and link for the form are on the right hand side of the page. They will send a “Consumer Credit Report Update Form” along with the credit report, which can then be filled and returned to correct any errors on file.
TransUnion: Mail only; they will send an “Investigation Request Form” to dispute information found on the credit file.
Have you ordered your credit report lately? Found anything off? (My report had the name and employer misspelled!)
About the Author: Clark is a twenty-something Saskatchewan resident employed in the manufacturing sector. He repaid around $20,000 in student loans and has been working to build his investment portfolio as a DIY investor (not trader) while nurturing plans to retire early. He loves reading (and using the lessons learned) about personal finance, technology and minimalism.