Who Can Access Your Credit Report?

Credit

Only certain persons and organizations are allowed by law to access your credit report for specific reasons. The rules that govern who can and cannot access your credit reports are set forth in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

woman on laptop

However, these rules aren’t always followed and you may be surprised to find out that unauthorized creditors or other companies have accessed your personal information.

In this article, we’ll explain where you can see the inquiries on your credit reports and how to know who should or should not have access.

Where can you see who pulled your credit report?

If you’re wondering how to find out who has been accessing your credit history, start by grabbing a copy of your free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Towards the end of your free credit report, you’ll see an ‘Inquiries’ section that lists all the credit checks that have been performed over the last two years.

Who can check your credit report?

Most of these should be familiar to you, but there might be some that stand out as red flags. Before you start disputing, read on to learn who exactly has the right to authorize your credit report. Here are some examples of cases in which inquiries are permitted by law.

Banks and Lending Institutions

If you’re seeking any kind of loan, auto loan lenders, mortgage lenders, student loan lenders, etc. will pull your credit report to determine what kind of risk you are and to assess your debt-to-income ratio. A good credit score will help you qualify, as well as give you the best interest rates.

If you’re shopping around for loans, multiple inquiries can appear on your credit report. The credit scoring system is supposed to prevent this from negatively affecting your credit score with a “buffer,” but it doesn’t always happen.

Credit Card Companies

Applications for credit cards will involve having your credit report pulled by credit card issuers. This includes credit cards associated with particular stores and special offers. Credit card companies are interested in your credit history and need to know if you’re likely to pay debts responsibly.

Again, interest rates will be based on risk levels. Although credit card issuers and lenders will usually ask for your permission before pulling your credit report, they are not always legally required to.

Insurance Companies

According to the FCRA, an insurance company may look at your credit history when you apply for insurance and they do not need permission from you.

Any time you get a new policy or renew coverage, they can view your credit report. Just like a loan, insurance policies are underwritten so it’s important for them to get an idea of your creditworthiness.

Prospective Employers

Potential employers can access credit reports whenever you apply for a job, but they must have written permission. They’ll check your credit information for evidence of irresponsibility, and may even use it to profile you in terms of how responsibly they think you will perform your job.

Unfortunately, if you refuse, they might not hire you. While this practice used to be geared solely towards people in the financial sector, it is becoming more and more common across the board.

Debt Collectors

Debt collection agencies will access your credit reports to find addresses and try to check up on you. They might try to evaluate your assets to see if they can sue you. The legality of this is different in different states and should always be questioned. Don’t assume that a collection agency automatically has this right.

Potential Landlords

Sometimes your credit score can affect your ability to rent a condo, house, or apartment. Landlords have a right to view your credit report as a measure of your ability to pay your rent.

You don’t necessarily have to be asked for permission, but often they will let you know. They’ll be looking at your financial responsibility, as well as your public records of evictions.

Utility Companies

Any utility company or service that has continual billing can make a credit inquiry on your credit report. Some of these will be hard inquiries, some not, and they might be worth trying to get removed.

This can include inquiries from internet, TV, and cell phone providers; property management companies; and gas, water, and electric utilities. Again, many of these might be just soft inquiries, but they’re worth investigating.

Government Agencies

If a government agency has a legitimate reason to access your credit report, they may do so. It could be to determine if you have unclaimed income or assets when you apply for public assistance. It could be to determine how much you can afford to pay for child support. Or it could just be for your contact information. Your credit report can also be accessed if an entity is given a court order to do so.

Pulling Your Own Credit Report

It’s important to pull your credit report from time to time to know where you stand. With identity theft more prevalent than ever, you need to know if someone has gotten a hold of your social security number and is opening credit accounts in your name.

You have the right to a copy of your free credit reports at least once a year from each of the major credit reporting agencies. Certain states allow you to pull it more than once. You can also sign up for a service that allows you to pull it every day. Pulling your own credit report won’t affect your credit score.

Do credit inquiries hurt your credit?

The short answer to this question is yes: credit inquiries do hurt your credit score. But a single inquiry only has a nominal effect, usually around five points. This isn’t enough to impact your credit scores in a major way, so in many cases, it’s not something to worry about.

If you’ve been shopping around for rates for a specific product, like a mortgage or car loan, those inquiries are typically treated as one as long as they happened within a few weeks of each other. But if you’ve been applying for loads of credit cards throughout the year, those small dings can add up.

Maybe you need access to credit, or perhaps you like to play the credit card signup bonus game. The point is, be cognizant of how those actions look on your credit report.

Each hard inquiry hurts your credit score for a year and remains listed there for a full two years. If you apply for ten credit cards a year, that can drop your credit score by as much as 50 points or more. That can make a big difference when it comes time to apply for a major loan.

What should you do if you don’t recognize a credit inquiry?

Unfortunately, in many cases, people can successfully pull your credit report when they shouldn’t be authorized to. The checks and balances sometimes fail, so it’s up to you to dispute the inquiry with each credit reporting agency reporting it.

Most of the time, when your credit report is pulled, companies are supposed to get your permission, so it’s worthwhile to note when a credit inquiry happens without this.

Lauren Ward
Meet the author

Lauren is a Crediful writer whose aim is to give readers the financial tools they need to reach their own goals in life. She has written on personal finance issues for over six years and holds a Bachelor's degree in Japanese from Georgetown University.