Credit report and credit score are synonymous, right? Not so fast. A credit report is not the same thing as a credit score, and a credit score is not the same thing as a credit report. It’s not even close.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) clearly defines credit report and credit score as two different items. A consumer report, of which a credit report is an example, is defined by the FCRA as “any communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency indicating a consumer’s creditworthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for credit or insurance to be used primarily for personal, family, or household employment purposes, or other permissible purposes.”
A credit score is defined by the FCRA as “a numerical value or a categorization derived from a statistical tool or modeling system used by a person who makes or arranges a loan to predict the likelihood of certain credit behaviors, including default.”
Think of a credit report as information, and the credit score as a grade on that information. Credit reporting agencies can provide a credit report without a credit score, but they cannot provide a credit score without first compiling a consumer’s credit report.
Unfortunately, these two terms are often used interchangeably and incorrectly. The confusion of the terms often leads to myths, such as “credit scores are used by employers,” which is not true. Credit scores are not used by employers, but certain types of abbreviated credit reports can be used for employment screening.
One final distinction: Federal law entitles you to obtain a free copy of each of your credit reports — one from each of the three major credit reporting companies (CRCs), Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. There is no corresponding right to a free credit score. Nevertheless, a variety of websites, including Credit.com, CreditKarma.com and Quizzle.com, can provide you with a VantageScore credit score at no cost.