Credit Score

How Private Is Your Credit Score?

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Many of us may be oversharing on social media, but there are some things most people prefer to keep private;  you don’t see too many salaries posted, nor do you see credit scores.

Are your credit scores all that private though? Yes… and no.

A federal law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, places limits on who can receive your credit information, and some state laws include other restrictions. But as long as those guidelines are followed, your permission isn’t required before accessing your report or scores. Here are some of the people who can — and can’t — get your credit scores.

Who Sees Your Score

Lenders

You probably already know that a lender may get a credit score in order to evaluate your application for a loan. But did you know lenders may review credit scores periodically to see how your account is performing and perhaps to help them decide whether a credit line increase or decrease is in order?

In addition, some small-business lenders will order scores that take into account the owner’s personal credit scores as well as business credit scores.

Cellphone and Utility Companies

Whether you are getting a traditional landline (yes, some of us still have those!), a cellphone or utility service, a credit score may be used to evaluate your application, including to help determine whether you’ll be required to put up a deposit. After you get the service, credit scores may be obtained periodically to monitor your account.

Landlords

Many landlords check credit before renting to a tenant. Depending on which service they use to do that, they may get a score with the credit report they order. A word of caution: If you don’t wind up renting from them — or even if you do — you may want to confirm your data is being securely stored or has been destroyed.  You could be dealing with a landlord who has just a few properties and isn’t set up to protect your credit information they way he or she should.

Insurance Companies

Most auto insurance companies, and some offering homeowner insurance, will use credit-based insurance scores to help determine what you will pay for insurance. If your credit score is low, you may wind up paying a much higher premium than someone whose score is high.

Collection Agencies

If you fell behind on a debt, a collection agency may review your credit scores and/or your credit reports. “Credit scores are one of the tools collectors use to help prioritize collection accounts,” says Susan Henson, vice president, public relations for Experian. In fact, a collection agency could be looking at your credit before you even realized you have a debt placed for collection with them.

One-Offs

There are some other surprising circumstances when credit scores may be used. For example, if you want to become a conservator to a minor child in Livingston County, Mich., you may be required to get a surety bond, which may require a credit check. Any request to use your credit report or score that doesn’t involve insurance or credit (a term that’s fairly broad since it includes things like cellphone service) generally requires your written permission.

Who Doesn’t See Your Credit Score

There are at least a couple of common situations where people think credit scores may be used, but aren’t.

Your Boss

Employers get credit reports — not credit scores — though it appears to be a matter of convention rather than law in most cases. In 10 states, even the use of credit reports by employers is prohibited or restricted. Those states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Employers, by the way, are required to get your written permission before reviewing your credit report.

Your Partner or Ex

Your ex-spouse or ex-roommate should not be peeking at your credit reports or scores, unless he or she has your written permission to do so. (Even then, it’s not likely they would find a company willing to provide it to them.) Even your spouse doesn’t have a legal right to review your credit report or scores unless you say it’s OK.

But a word of caution is in order here; if they know enough about you to answer the security questions required to get a credit score, and they didn’t mind breaking the law, they could try. That’s why monitoring your credit reports and scores to look for unusual activity or inquiries from companies you don’t recognize is a good idea.

Who’s Looking At Your Credit?

The best way to find out who has obtained your credit data is by getting your credit reports. If you haven’t already done so, you can get your free credit reports once a year, then monitor your credit score for free using a tool like Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card. If someone accesses your credit data, an inquiry will be listed on the credit report that was used to supply that report or score.

Image: iStock

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