In Nova Scotia, the Consumer Reporting Act establishes a consumer's rights related to consumer or credit reports. By law, companies that collect and distribute consumer credit information must ensure the information they hold is accurate, must only share the information with authorized recipients, and must provide consumers with access to the information held in the file. All of these rights are important, because the information in a consumer's credit file can have a great impact on their ability to qualify for a loan, rent an apartment, or in some cases, get a job.
A credit report is a snapshot of your credit history. It is started when you first apply for a loan or credit card and tracks the details of your financial transactions. Information is submitted to organizations called credit bureaus by companies who have lent money to consumers.
Other companies then use these records to assess the risks of lending you money in the future, or to evaluate your financial behaviour.
Your credit report will show a list of the loans or credit accounts you have and a rating of your behaviour with regards to your bills. A good rating means that you pay bills on time, and a poor one that you pay them late, or not at all.
These records can then be combined to assign you a credit score.
While the law requires credit bureaus to hold and distribute only accurate information about consumer's credit, it is often up to the consumer to make sure this is the case.
Credit bureaus must give you access to the information in the file. It is good practice to request a copy of your credit report from both Equifax and TransUnion once a year. Credit Bureaus are required to give you a free copy of this report if you request it by mail or in person.
You may also request a copy online and receive it more quickly. There is usually a charge for this service. You may be able to request your credit score when you purchase an online report. You may be able to use this information to get a better rate of interest on loans.
There is no particular benefit to checking your credit report more frequently than once a year, unless you suspect you may be a victim of identity theft. Frequent credit checks may actually lower your rating or score.
While it is important to hold some credit in order to have a rating registered with credit bureaus, it is even more important to make sure your rating is good.
The best way to have a good credit rating is to always pay your bills on time. Whenever you can, make more than the minimum payment, or pay the full amount owing.
Contact the credit bureau promptly to correct any errors you see on your report.
For more information on credit reports, as well as a guide to the ratings and scores used by the main credit bureaus, visit Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs.