Credit FILE versus Credit REPORT, Fun with Credit Semantics

This question certainly isn’t on the SAT or ACT…what’s the difference between a credit FILE and a credit REPORT?  And while many use the terms interchangeably, they are hardly interchangeable.  A credit file is not the same as a credit report and a credit report is not the same as a credit file.

One of the assumptions we make about the storage of our credit information is that it exists, physically, in some sort of filing cabinet inside a manila folder with our name at the top.  This is not the case.

A credit file is the complete set of information in a credit bureau’s database associated with a particular consumer.  Think of it this way…it’s all of your information floating around in a pool, with no structure, alongside the information belonging to over 200 million other consumers.

A credit report is the product of the credit bureaus compiling all of YOUR information from that pool, perhaps with an electronic net.  When a lender asks for your credit report the credit bureaus compile it, score it, and then deliver it.  It’s not a credit file at that point any longer.   All of your data is still in the pool, waiting to be updated next month with new information about your credit management.

Additionally, there are no scores on your credit file or in the metaphorical pool of information.  Credit scores are NOT a permanent part of your credit files, which is why the credit bureaus don’t have to give away free scores annually like they have to give away free credit reports.  When your file is turned into a report that’s when the score is calculated, attached, delivered…and then forgotten.

John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at, the credit contributor for, and the author of the “credit rating” definition on Wikipedia.  He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and, 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.

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