Who’s allowed to check my credit?

If you apply for a credit card or loan, you know the bank will check your credit and is permitted to do so. But who else can take a peek? I asked John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com and president of the Ulzheimer group, about who’s allowed to see your credit reports – and whether their inquiries cause any credit damage.

Family and significant others

Can they? No

Type of inquiry: N/A

No matter how nosey they are, your loved ones can’t check your credit reports.
Who’s allowed to check is outlined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Someone who wants to pull your credit reports must have what the FCRA calls a “permissible purpose” (Go here for the full list). credit report

“A family member wanting to see your credit report is not one of the permissible purposes,” Ulzheimer says.

What if your future spouse wants to do some sleuthing? They can certainly try, Ulzheimer says. But when they go to AnnualCreditReport.com and try to pull your reports, they have to get through the verification questions.

“They’re supposed to be something only the consumer in question can answer,” Ulzheimer says. “If you answer them incorrectly, the system assumes it’s not you, so it’s going to slam the door.”

Of course your spouse (or someone you share finances with) might know enough to answer those questions correctly. But if they try, that’s fraud.

“If I went to AnnualCreditReport.com and tried to pull your credit report, and you caught wind of it, if I were you, the first call I’d make would be the police,” Ulzheimer says.

Landlords

Can they? Yes

Type of inquiry: Hard

Landlord credit checks are hard inquiries because, technically, the landlord is extending you credit in the form of housing. The landlord doesn’t know when you sign the lease if you’ll wreck the place and skip town.

“Or you may refuse to pay your rent,” Ulzheimer says. “It’s an extension of credit under anyone’s definition.”

That’s not to say bad credit will leave you homeless; the landlord may simply charge you a higher deposit if you’re deemed a credit risk.

Landlords get to see your entire credit report, “and if they want a score they can see a score,” Ulzheimer says. “They see exactly the same thing Bank of America or Wells Fargo sees.”
Apartment hunting and applying to multiple places won’t necessarily cause extra credit score damage, however. Inquiries related to housing (and that includes rental housing, according to FICO), fall under rate-shopping when it comes to credit scores. All those inquiries, if done within a 45-day period, will count as one single inquiry in FICO’s eyes.

Employers

Can they? Yes

Type of inquiry: Soft

While the FCRA permits employers to pull your credit reports (which they do via third-party employee-screening services), there are key differences between employer inquiries and lender and landlord inquiries:

  • Applicants must give the employer overt written permission. That permission must come in the form of a signed statement in a stand-alone disclosure.

    “So you can’t just give someone 20 pages of documents to review, and then the microprint in one of them talks about pulling your credit report,” Ulzheimer says. “It has to actually be its own unique disclosure.”

  • It’s a soft pull. You’re not requesting credit, so an employment-related credit inquiry “never has any influence on your credit score,” says Ulzheimer.
  • The type of report pulled is different.

    “This is where there’s massive confusion, Ulzheimer says.who can check my credit report pull quote 1

    Employers do not see the same report as lenders and landlords. The report pulled by an employer does not contain your birth date, for example, and the report does not include “and never has” included a credit score, Ulzheimer says. So if your credit score is low due to a thin credit history, fear not. Employers aren’t looking at your score anyway. They’re looking for evidence that you’re an employment risk. For example, would-be accountants might run into trouble if they have a history of late payments, Ulzheimer says. The TSA wants to see potential hires’ reports because debt problems might mean temptation to steal.

    “If your credit report costs you a job, then have negative information on your credit report,” Ulzheimer says. “It has nothing to do with your score. You might coincidentally have a low credit score. But that’s not something the employer considers or even has access to.”

You have several rights when employers pull your credit. The FTC outlines them here. In short, if the employer is checking, you’re entitled to a free credit report, whether you’re denied employment or not. If you are denied, the employer must explain that in writing and give you instructions for getting a free report.

Utility companies

Can they? Yes

Type of inquiry: Soft

While utility companies can see the same report and scores lenders see, they can’t deny you service because of what’s on your credit report. If you’re deemed risky, though, expect to put some money down.

“These credit checks are a matter of ‘do we charge this guy a deposit or not?'” Ulzheimer says.

Insurance companies

Can they? Yes

Type of inquiry: Soft

Auto and home insurance companies can see both your credit report and your score. But why do they care?

Insurers have crunched the numbers time and time again, according to the Insurance Information Institute, and found that people with bad credit are more likely to file more claims. Claims cost the insurance company money, so they’ll use your credit report to decide if they want to cover you and what premium to charge you.

“They’re making an investment, and they’re only going to invest in things that give them a good return,” Ulzheimer says.

There are differences, however, between the report and score insurance companies see and what lenders see, Ulzheimer says. Industry rules restrict the disclosure of medical information to insurance companies. Because medical debt on your credit report might reveal some of that sensitive data, the reports insurers view can’t contain medical debt information. The credit score insurers see is also different. Instead of a FICO score, they’re checking your Attract score (customized for either property or auto insurance), which combines credit data as well as claims history.

Debt collectors

Can they? Yes

Type of inquiry: Hard or soft (depends how they’re set up with the credit bureaus, according to Ulzheimer.)

The FCRA allows debt collectors to pull your credit report,and they can see your scores, too.who can check my credit report pull quote 2

“They don’t need your permission, and you cannot tell them not to do it,” Ulzheimer says.

Debt collectors want your reports for two reasons. First, the address on your report will help them locate you. Second, your report will help them determine your ability to pay up. If you say you can’t afford a $1,000 collection, collectors might push back if they know you have plenty of credit cards with high limits and zero balances. Scoping out your reports can also come in handy if you try to negotiate a payment plan.

“If you’ve got a horrible score, why would they want to set up a payment plan that you’re probably not going to follow through with?” says Ulzheimer.

Unhappy that you could rack up hard inquiries as debt collectors pass your debt around? You’re not alone.

“People get angry about employment credit checks, and they get angry about insurance credit checks,” Ulzheimer says. “But they get furious about collection agency credit checks.”

 
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