Equifax (EFX), Experian (EXPN) and TransUnion, we know them well. They’re the generally recognized credit reporting agencies that house your credit file. There are actually more than just those three but for simplicity we’ll leave it at them. These companies house well over 200,000,000 credit files on U.S credit users.
It’s commonly known and generally accepted that banks, credit card issuers, auto lenders, credit unions and finance companies see your credit reports when you apply for a credit benefit. And, depending on your relationship with your lender, many of them can pull your credit reports and scores as often as they want as part of their ongoing account management practices.
But what many people don’t realize is that other entities have the ability to see your credit reports and do so enjoying the protection of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Were you aware that collection agencies are allowed to pull, score and review your credit reports? And, they’re allowed to do so without your permission as long as they’re trying to collect a debt from you. That’s right, a collection agency can pull your credit reports without you knowing or giving permission. So, what are they looking for? Simple, they’re looking for YOU. Your credit report likely contains your current address, which is golden to debt collectors because they can send you collection notices and even have you served if they choose to sue you for the debt. Further, they can also see if you have open credit cards with available credit and, thus, the ability to charge the payment for the collection.
We already know that employers can review your credit reports, in most states, as part of their employment screening processes. I wrote about it a few weeks ago here. They have to disclose to you, in writing, before they access your credit. Employers are looking for signs of irresponsibility and a heavy burden of debt, which might tempt your evil side. And, of course, scores are not returned with employment screening credit reports.
Insurance companies? Yes, insurance companies can review your credit as part of their underwriting processes. However, some states are trying to eliminate the practice or otherwise limit what can be used from your credit report to determine your insurance risk. In addition, and as a supplement to your credit report, insurance companies can also use your insurance credit score to determine not only your risk of filing a claim but also as a way to measuring how profitable you’d be as a customer.
Is the use of insurance credit scoring valuable to insurance companies? Absolutely. In fact, according to Lamont Boyd, Director of Insurance Market for FICO (FICO), “Most states understand the value of credit-based insurance scoring to the insurance industry and to consumers alike, allowing for more accurate underwriting and pricing decisions for new applications and existing policies.”
What he’s saying is simple, insurance scoring, which is based in part on your credit report, allows insurance companies to properly price policies based on risk, which is great for consumers who have good credit because they’ll generally pay less than consumers with bad credit.
Have you ever wondered how a utility provider determines whether or not they’re going to assess a deposit on a new account? You guess it; it’s based in part on your credit report and your utility credit score. The good news, if you’ve got good credit it’s unlikely you’ll have to pay a deposit for utilities. The best news, utility inquiries don’t count in your FICO credit scores (and neither do insurance inquiries).
Landlords also have the ability to review your credit reports before they hand over the keys. You probably already knew that. And some states can review your credit prior to granting a professional license. It’s tough to escape the influence of your credit on you ability to do just about anything. This is why it’s always important to maintain solid credit and solid credit scores. They’re important for many reasons that have nothing to do with interest rates and loan approvals.
John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and the author of the “credit history” definition on Wikipedia. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has served as a credit expert witness in more than 70 cases and has been qualified to testify in both Federal and State court on the topic of consumer credit.