You may have heard of it, you know that your financial choices can affect it, but in concrete terms, what is a credit report all about? And where does the credit score fit in? Learn everything you need to know and find out tips on how to keep your credit report in good order.
What is a credit report?
First, it’s important to know that your credit report reflects your financial behaviour. It summarizes your credit history—a bit like a financial résumé—and it indicates your ability to meet your financial commitments. It includes:
- The amount of your loans (e.g., credit card, personal loan)
- The repayment of your debts and bill payments (e.g., student loan, phone and electricity bills)
- Repayment habits (e.g., telecommunication accounts like cellphones)
In more concrete terms, your report sets out the information that lenders rely on to get an idea of your financial reputation in order to make decisions. It’s a way for you to show them that they can trust you. However, engaging in certain behaviours could hurt you. Here are a few examples:
- Late payments and payment defaults
- NSF cheques
- Unpaid fines
- Accumulating credit applications (cards, loans, etc.)
- Unpaid debts or credit card balances, including balances on retailers’ credit cards
- Lines of credit, loans, bankruptcies and debts transferred to a collection agency
What to watch for in your credit report?
Incorrect information or unexplained activity in these sections is a sign that your identity may have been stolen.
Personal information: Unknown or old address, unknown or old telephone number, old job. Either your information hasn’t been updated or someone has stolen old information from your file to apply for credit using your identity.
Requests for information (queries): Institution or company that you don’t do business with, dates that don’t match any credit requests you made. Queries may also come from Credit Karma or Borrowell, which are services that let you open an account to view your TransUnion or Equifax credit report. If you don’t have a Credit Karma or Borrowell account, someone who uses their services could have accessed your information and created a fake profile in your name to try to get more information about you.
Accounts: An unknown account could be an indication that a fraudulent account was created using your identity.
Public records:1 If an account was opened without your knowledge, you may find it listed here if it was sent to a collection agency for non-payment.
How often should you check your credit report?
Make sure to check your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports regularly to confirm that all the information is accurate. If your identity was stolen in the past, you should check your credit report more often so that you can detect changes as quickly as possible.
How to check your credit report?
To get a copy of your credit report, you can either contact Equifax and TransUnion or check their respective websites. Alternatively, caisse members in Quebec and credit union members in Ontario can view their TransUnion credit report online on AccèsD.
Who should you contact if you have concerns?
Desjardins can answer your questions and guide you through the process. For assistance, call 1-800-CAISSES (1-800-224-7737). You can also contact Equifax and TransUnion directly to ask questions or request clarifications about your report.
Why is it important to have a good credit report?
We asked Annie-Pier Larouche, an advisor at Desjardins’s Université Laval branch, to explain the importance of a good report: “If credit is available, a bad report will make it difficult to borrow large amounts of money, for example, to purchase a car or home.”
She added, “Everything gets easier with a good credit report. It prevents you from having to use a guarantor (what we call an endorser) to buy your car, for example.” To highlight the importance of having a good report, here’s who can review it:
- Banks, cooperatives and other financial institutions
- Credit card issuers
- Car rental companies
- Retailers (chains and superstores)
- Cellphone companies
- Insurance companies
- Apartment building owners
How do you build your credit report?
Your credit report is created when you borrow for the first time, often using your first credit card. So, the advice is the same for everyone, young or old: It’s best to use it only if you’re able to repay your expenses at the end of the month to avoid interest, penalties and black marks on your credit history.
If your card balance is always at the limit, the credit bureau views you as a risk. It’s therefore recommended that you use no more than 30% of your credit limit. For example, $600 out of a possible $2,000.
This is a private company that collects, stores and communicates information about how you use your credit to organizations that request it. Some examples are mentioned in the previous paragraphs. There are 2 main credit bureaus in Canada: Equifax and TransUnion. The information they collect is based solely on your credit history in Canada.
Practising sound financial habits will help you build a good credit report but failing to do so can have the opposite effect. For example, paying your bills on time works in your favour. If you delay payment of a bill, it could have a negative impact on your credit score.
6 tips for building a good credit report
- Pay your bills, loans and fines on time (a single non-payment can affect your report)
- Borrow according to your ability to pay
- Use only a portion of your available credit
- Write cheques only if you have enough money in your account
- Consider using a credit card if you can pay the balance on time
- Limit the number of times you apply for credit or increase your credit
What is a credit score?
A credit score is a rating that’s calculated and awarded based on a number of factors. It’s a 3-digit score between 300 and 900, which can be compared to a score given to you in school, for example (900 being A+). Your credit information and your score are updated every month.
How is the credit score calculated?
Factors that may affect your credit score include:
- How long you’ve had credit
- How long each credit has been in your report
- Whether you carry a balance on your credit card
- Being close to, at or above your credit card limit
- Your payment habits (e.g., late payment)
- The number of recent credit applications
- The amount of your outstanding debts
- The type of credit you use
What is a good credit score?
As soon as an institution decides to grant you credit, it refers to a company that has your credit history (report) and score, such as TransUnion and Equifax. According to Equifax, a “good” score is usually between 660 and 724. Between 725 and 759, the score is considered very good and a score above 760 is considered excellent. If your score is below 560, it will be perceived as lower. Although the score is important, it’s one of several pieces of information that will be used to determine your creditworthiness.
If you’re curious about your credit score, Desjardins offers a credit score tool. You can access it in your AccèsD anytime.
Some final tips?
- Be patient, save and be less impulsive in your purchases.
- Take the time to shop suppliers before buying (telecommunications, phone, insurance, etc.). In some cases, this research will help you lower your payments and meet your financial commitments.
- Limit how many cards you have and, above all, use them according to your ability to pay and repay.
Sound use of your credit will help you keep your personal finances in good order for the future. It will be your best ally in making important decisions, like buying your first home.
1. Reported by Canadian government offices, courts and legal suppliers and may include bankruptcy and related activity, as well as court judgments. Collections are reported by collection agencies. Public records and collections may have a negative impact on your credit standing. Source: Equifax