Taking charge of your credit report

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True or false: The most important factor in your credit score is your payment history.
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Your credit report shows your history of paying bills and borrowing money. It's used to calculate your credit score. Banks, businesses, and others look at your credit report and credit score to decide whether to hire you, lend you money, or do business with you. It's a good idea to review your credit report regularly.

Five key things to know about your credit report

Where your credit report and credit score come from

You’re a month late paying a utility bill. You max out a line of credit. You get a new loyalty card

What do these experiences have in common? For all of them, the bank or business you’re dealing with likely reports that information to a credit reporting agency

There are two main credit reporting agencies in Canada, Equifax and TransUnion. They gather your credit information into a credit report. (You’re entitled to a free copy of yours.) 

The agencies also use mathematical formulas to convert that credit information into a credit score. Your credit score, which is sometimes called your credit rating, can range from 300 to 900. A high score is good. It means you’re seen as likely to pay your bills on time, or pay back money you’ve borrowed. 

Your credit report includes credit information

Your credit report includes your history of paying bills and borrowing and paying back money. 

The moment you get your first credit card or take out your first loan, the credit reporting agency opens a credit file on you. It adds information to your file as you do business with banks and companies. These “creditors” regularly report details about you to the credit reporting agencies. For example:

  • when you opened an account with them 

  • how much you owe 

  • whether you make your payments on time 

  • whether you miss payments 

  • what your credit limit is 

  • whether you’ve ever gone over your limit

This credit information appears as part of your credit report.

What else counts as “credit information”?

The law in BC defines “credit information” broadly. It includes your history of paying bills and borrowing and paying back money. But it also includes:

  • your name and age

  • where you live now and where you’ve lived in the past

  • where you work and roughly how much you earn

  • your education and work qualifications

  • your spouse’s name and age

  • whether you’re married or in a common-law relationship

Any of these details can appear in your credit report

Any information the credit reporting agencies collect from public records, such as court and marriage documents, can also be in your report. This might include:

  • an unpaid court judgment against you 

  • any court judgment against you in the last six years

  • whether you’ve declared bankruptcy in the last six years

  • whether you’ve been convicted of a crime in the last six years

What can’t be in your credit report

Under the law in BC, some information can’t be part of your credit report:

  • information about any member of your family other than your spouse 

  • your race, religious beliefs, skin colour, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or political views

  • criminal convictions that have been discharged or pardoned

  • criminal charges that were withdrawn or dismissed

As well, some information can’t be part of your credit report if it’s more than six years old:

  • a court judgment against you (unless you still haven’t paid the debt off) 

  • a criminal conviction 

  • bankruptcy (unless you’ve been bankrupt more than once)

  • any other negative information about you

If you spot something on your credit report that shouldn’t be there, see our guidance on fixing a mistake on your credit report

Getting your credit score can help you understand your credit report

"I like to shop, and I was big on loyalty cards. I signed up for a lot of them, because I thought the discounts were worth it. I was shocked to find out that having so many cards led to my poor credit score. Apparently, every time I got a new loyalty card, my credit score dropped a few points." 

– Julia, Richmond

Each credit reporting agency uses a mathematical formula to turn the information they have about you into a credit score. Banks, businesses, and others look at your credit score to decide whether to lend you money. Generally, someone with a credit score below 650 may have a hard time borrowing money. 

Getting your credit score

Your credit score won’t appear on your credit report. But you can order it from one of the two main credit reporting agencies:

There are also companies that provide your credit score for free.

How knowing your credit score can help

Getting your credit score can help you learn what to pay attention to on your credit report. 

The credit reporting agencies are secretive about how they calculate credit scores. Among the factors they look at are:

  • your payment history 

  • the balances on your credit accounts

  • how old your accounts are 

  • your mix of accounts 

  • how often you apply for credit

Many lenders use their own methods to calculate your credit score. As a result, your credit score might be slightly different depending on the credit reporting agency or lender providing the score.

Watch for red flags

A sudden large drop in your credit score may be caused by an error in your credit report. Or it may be a sign of fraud. When you review your credit report, keep an eye out for anything you can’t explain. See our guidance on fixing a mistake on your credit report.

Tip to improve your credit score

Your credit score can have a major impact on your life. Learn tips to improve your credit score.

  • Reviewed in February 2020
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Casey Harris, Digby Leigh & Co.; Wendy Andersen, Digby Leigh & Co. ; and Robert Rogers, Hamilton Duncan

Casey Harris
Wendy Andersen
Robert Rogers

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