Understanding your credit file

  1. What is a credit file?
  2. What is a credit score?
  3. What to do to get a good credit score
  4. What not to do
  5. Access to your credit report

There are many reasons you may need to rely on credit: pay for unforeseen expenses, buy goods and necessities right away, pay for school, make investments, etc.

On the other hand, credit is a tool that must be used wisely and in moderation to ensure you maintain an excellent credit report. Getting a full understanding of your credit file and knowing exactly what it contains will help you make sound decisions.

Your credit file is opened the moment you borrow money for the first time. From that date on, each time you take out a loan or get a credit card, financial institutions, finance companies and retailers forward specific information about the transactions you've made with them to credit-reporting agencies.

Your credit file includes information such as whether you make your payments on time, have missed any payments, and how much you've borrowed. This allows lenders to determine your creditworthiness, or ability to repay your debts.

Specifically, your credit file includes:

  • personal information: name, address and date of birth
  • employment history: employer name, position, length of time employed, income
  • credit history: late payments, unpaid debts, available credit
  • public record information: unpaid taxes, bankruptcies, judgements against you
  • a list of everyone who has inquired about your credit

Find out more

Discover the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada guide entitled Understanding Your Credit Report and Credit Score.

A credit score is like a grade given to you by credit-reporting agencies to describe your loan payment history. The more you make your payments on time, the higher your credit score.

The advantage of having a good credit rating

A good credit score ensures you'll have a good reputation with financial institutions. When you're ready to borrow a large amount, for a car or a home, for example, having a good financial reputation will make getting a loan from a financial institution easier.

The reverse is also true. If you have a bad credit rating or a low credit score, a lender may refuse to give you a loan or charge you a higher interest rate. A bad credit rating can also hurt your chances of getting a job.

Make it a point to always do the following:

  • Pay your bills as quickly as you can.
  • Pay the balance due on your credit card on time each month.
  • Borrow only what you need and are able to repay.
  • Repay your loans on time and as quickly as possible. You not only get a good credit rating but save in interest costs too.

Late payments and loan defaults are not the only things that can damage your current and future financial reputation. Other factors that may seem insignificant to you can also hurt your credit file.

Even unpaid library fines and parking tickets may be considered by credit-reporting agencies to be a sign of bad money management.

Don't write cheques if your account balance can't cover them. A single cheque returned for non-sufficient funds damages your credit report.

Asking for an increase in your credit limit several times in the same year can also negatively impact your credit score.

Who can request to see your credit report?

Any person or organization who wants to see how reliable you are in making payments on time, such as:

  • financial institutions you've approached for a loan
  • retailers, before selling you something on credit
  • landlords, when deciding whether or not to rent you an apartment
  • employers, before giving you a job
  • yourself, to see if the information it contains is accurate

Credit-reporting agencies will only give out information from your credit report if you've given persons or organizations permission to request it. When you apply for a loan or a credit card, you are usually giving the lending institution permission to check your credit history.

Credit-reporting agencies keep the information for 6 to 7 years

How to get a copy of your credit report

You can request a copy of your credit report from a credit-reporting agency:

  • online: you receive the report almost instantaneously, but credit-reporting agencies charge a fee for the service
  • by mail: it takes a little longer but the service is free

You'll have to give the credit-reporting agency proof of your identity. Contact the agency directly to find out what documents are required to get a copy of your credit report.

How to correct an error in your credit report

Contact the credit-reporting organization to request the correction. You can also contact a consumer protection organization such as Option consommateurs.