Credit Reports and Credit Scores - What's the Difference?

Credit Reports versus Credit Scores

Let’s face it, for most people the world of credit can be a very confusing place. If you can’t explain the difference between a credit report and a credit score, you are not alone. People often use the terms “credit reports” and “credit scores” as if they were interchangeable. However, credit reports and credit scores are two totally different animals. Here is a crash course in credit terminology to help you make sense of this confusing topic and turn you into the super savvy consumer you always wanted to be.

Credit Reports

There is not merely one, but rather three major credit bureaus who compile data from lenders, credit card companies, collection agencies, public records, etc.  The credit bureaus are Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian. The data is compiled into credit files which are then used to generate credit reports (basically user friendly versions of the credit files themselves). In fact, the credit bureaus compile credit data about millions of consumers and sell credit reports to lenders and directly to consumers themselves.

If you have not checked your credit reports in a while, it is a good idea to do so right away. After all, it is ultimately your responsibility to monitor your credit reports for errors and for fraud. You can access a free copy of each of your credit reports (NOT your credit scores) each year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Credit reports do not exist to judge your credit management history, but rather to simply lay out the facts regarding how well you manage your debts.

Credit Scores

Contrary to popular belief, the credit bureaus themselves do not calculate your credit scores. Where a credit report simply lists a record of your credit management history, a credit score actually exists to evaluate and rate that data into an easy to understand number for lenders. A low number indicates that the consumer has a history of poor credit management. A high number indicates the opposite.

The original and most popular credit scoring model by a huge margin is FICO. In 1989 FICO partnered with Equifax to introduce the first credit bureau FICO risk score. The purpose of a FICO credit score is to predict risk – specifically the risk of the consumer going 90 days late on any account within the next 24 months. Today, FICO builds credit scoring software and installs it on the mainframe of each of the 3 major credit bureaus. The credit bureaus will use FICO’s software to calculate their own credit data and then sells the credit reports with credit scores to lenders. FICO receives a royalty from the credit bureaus for the use of the software.

FICO credit scores range from 300 to 850. If a consumer has a low credit score then the data in the consumer’s credit report indicates that there is a high risk involved with loaning money to that consumer. If a consumer has a high credit score then there is a low risk involved with loaning money to that consumer.

As mentioned above, consumers are currently not entitled via federal law to receive free copies of their creditscores annually. (Note: if you apply for a mortgage then mortgage lenders are required by law to show you all 3 of your credit scores that were pulled for the mortgage application.) Still, there are several places online where you can receive free educational credit scores (not the same scores as the ones used by lenders) or a free score from one of the bureaus individually. You can also view your credit scores, often initially for free, as a benefit of signing up for monthly credit monitoring services. Beware, many monitoring services will only all you to see your credit score from one and not all three of the credit bureaus. CLICK HERE to access a great comparison site where you can check out the benefits of several different credit monitoring services before deciding which option is right for you.


Michelle Black is a leading credit expert with over a decade of experience. She has written numerous publications regarding credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Facebook here