What’s in your credit reports and how to read them

What’s in your credit reports and how to read them

Your credit reports are the basis for your credit scores and lenders may closely look over your credit reports when you apply for a loan. Landlords and employers may even review your credit reports before offering you an apartment or job.

Because they can play such an important role in your life, you may want to make a habit of regularly reviewing each of your credit reports for unexpected changes or innacurate information.

Get free copies of your credit reports

You may have three credit reports, one from each of the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

You can request at least one free copy of your report from each bureau every 12 months on AnnualCreditReport.com. Some companies, such as WalletHub, Credit Karma, and Experian may also offer you more frequent free access to your credit reports.

Lenders don’t have to report to the bureaus, and some only report your information to one or two bureaus. As a result, you might not see every account on your reports—mobile phone and utility bills often aren’t there—and your three credit reports won’t necessarily be identical. However, many major lenders do report your account activity to all three bureaus, and your basic information (like your name and address) should be similar on all three reports.

Your credit reports can also look different depending on how you get a copy of your report. However, the underlying information should be the same, and the report is generally broken up into several distinct sections.

Reading your credit reports: a section-by-section breakdown

Regularly reviewing your credit reports could help you understand how creditors, landlords, and employers may view your creditworthiness. It can also help you detect changes or errors on your reports, which could be an indication of credit fraud or a correctable mistake that may result in better credit

Here’s an overview of the sections you’ll find, and the information that’s contained within each section:

Personal information

Your personal information doesn’t impact your credit scores, but it’s still important to make sure this is correct. Personal information may include:

  • Your name and any aliases, such as a maiden name
  • Your address and previous addresses
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your date of birth
  • Your employer and previous employers

It’s okay if some of this information is missing, such as an employer. However, if you see an odd name, or an address you’ve never lived at, that may be an indication that someone is trying to fraudulently use your credit.

Personal statements

There are different types of general statements that may appear on a credit report. For example, you may see a statement if you’ve added a fraud alert to your credit file or you’ve granted someone else power of attorney. Statements won’t impact your credit scores, but lenders may consider them when reviewing your credit.

Public records

The credit bureaus collect some finance-related information from the public court systems, including whether consumers filed for bankruptcy, the type of bankruptcy, and other bankruptcy-related information.

Previously, tax liens and civil judgments appeared in this section as well, but all three credit bureaus have removed those from consumer credit reports.

If there’s information in the public records section of your credit report, it’s likely hurting your credit.

Accounts

The accounts section could be longest and most detailed part of your credit report if you’ve had at least a few credit cards or loans.

Creditors can report a lot of information related to each of your accounts, including the date your account was opened, the current balance, the credit limit or loan amount, your monthly payment or minimum payment, your most recent payment amount, and your current account status.

If you’ve paid off a loan or closed an account, it won’t disappear from your credit reports right away. Closed accounts that were in good standing will remain for another ten years, derogatory marks (such as late payments) and the associated accounts may fall off your report after seven to 7.5 years from the date of the negative event.

Each account could will also have a payment history associated with it, showing when you’ve made on-time payments and when you’ve missed a payment. If you didn’t catch up on your payments, you may see a series of marks indicating you’ve fallen further and further behind (displayed as 30-, 60-, 90-, 120-, 150-, and 180-days late).

Your payment history is very important in determining your credit scores. Your accounts may have a mix of positive credit information, such as on-time payments, and negative information, including late payments, defaults, and settlements.

Hard inquiries

A hard inquiry is a result of a creditor reviewing your credit report to make a lending decision. This will generally happen when you apply for a new account, and the hard inquiry will remain on your credit report for two years. It could negatively impact your credit scores for a year, although hard inquiries generally only lead to a small score drop for a few months.

Because a company might only pull one of your credit reports when reviewing your application, a hard inquiry may only appear on the credit report from that bureau. However, if you wind up opening a new account, the account could still get reported to all three and appear on all your credit reports.

Some credit reports will clearly indicate that hard inquiries are the types of inquiries that others can see.

Soft inquiries

A soft inquiry can appear on your credit report if you, or someone else, pulls your credit for a non-lending reason. This could occur when you check your own credit reports, when one of your current credit card issuers or lenders reviews your reports for account maintenance, or if a company pulls your report before mailing you an offer to apply.

Soft inquiries don’t appear on the credit reports that other people or companies receive, and they’ll never impact your credit scores. Some credit reports will indicate that these are the types of inquiries that only you can see.

Identifying errors on your credit reports

You may notice incorrect information on one or more of your credit reports. Perhaps there’s an account that you didn’t open, a late payment when you’re certain you paid on time, or a past due balance that’s higher than you recall.

Incorrect information might be an indication of identity theft or an error on the part of one of the credit bureaus or companies that reports data to the bureaus. In either case, you’ll want to take steps to correct it, as the error could be negatively impacting your creditworthiness and credit scores.

If you think you’re the victim of credit fraud, contact the companies where accounts were fraudulently opened. They can help you close the accounts and reverse fraudulent transactions. You may also want to report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, and possibly your local police department.

In the case of an error, you’ll need to dispute the incorrect information with the bureaus or the company that’s reporting the incorrect information.

CreditDash may be able to help. After uploading copies of your credit report, the software automatically searches through your credit reports for potentially inaccurate information. If it finds any, it will help you draft and mail dispute letters.

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