Guess who has the keys to your credit file? You already know that banks, credit card companies, mortgage lenders, and car financiers size you up by your credit record. But they aren't the only ones taking a peek.

The scope of "permissible purposes" and "legitimate business needs" (legal-speak for "yeah, you can have access to this sensitive data") is growing. Absent further legislation to more specifically restrict the uses of your credit report, anyone who can legally make a case for needing to can size up your borrowing ways.

More and more companies are finding a permissible purpose to access your credit file:

  • Employers can do an investigative report to see whether you have a criminal record or other transgressions that might speak ill of your character. If you have significant responsibilities when it comes to handling corporate funds, an employer can deny you employment based on your credit history.

  • Landlords and potential landlords are also allowed to check your credit history and can deny you a rental if they aren't comfortable with you as a credit risk.

  • Insurers also use your credit report as a determining factor in assessing your risk as a driver and homeowner, which has a direct effect on your insurance premiums.

  • Utilities, cable companies, and ISPs are getting in on the action, too. Their rationale is that they are fronting you the first month's worth of service and are therefore extending you credit. This allows them to check your report and score to see whether you'll be a good risk and possibly deny you service or charge you premiums if your credit scores are too low.

The good news is that you can check the checkers. Your credit file contains a list of any entity that has made an inquiry into your credit record. For a complete list of prying eyes, you need to access reports from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) since each business may pony up for a peek into only one or two of your files.

Do your own sleuthing and see who has been inquiring about your credit history. One quarter of the nation can check their reports for free thanks to recent legislation. (Do you live in one of the lucky states?) The rest of us can find deals like the one offered by Fool Credit Center sponsor TransUnion's consumer arm, TrueCredit. It offers a three-report rundown with a free credit score for $29.95, which gets you a look at all your information from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, plus an overall credit score.