How to read a credit report
A credit report is a bit like a report card of your finances. If you'd like to borrow money, your potential lenders will read through it to understand how well you've stuck to prior commitments.
Bankers and lenders know how to read credit reports. But it pays for consumers to understand the data too. In fact, it's critical for most people to read through their credit reports regularly. And you should fix any errors you find too.
Your Credit Report’s Important Sections
Three major credit reporting companies exist, and they all use a slightly different model for structuring data. But in general, most reports have four important sections you should know about.
Those four sections disclose your:
- Identifying information. Your full name, addresses, employers, and other critical personal data appear here.
- Present and prior credit accounts. A complete list of every existing loan you have and how much you owe shows up here. All of the payments you've made, including information about late payments, are listed here too. If you closed an account, either by transferring the balance or paying it off, it may stay on your report for 10 years more.
- Credit requests. Every time you ask to borrow money and the company checks your credit, a record of that request is created. They're listed in this section of the report.
- Public records. If you file for bankruptcy or take another financial action in court, the data will appear here.
Your report should be structured and easy to read. But some companies use tiny shorthand or code about your payment status and your loans. If you don't understand something, you may need to contact the company and ask.
Different Ways to Order a Credit Report
Now that you know how to read a credit report, put your skills to the test. Request the forms you need, and begin to examine the data that appears. As many as 44 million consumers asked for their reports between 2010 and 2011. You could be one of them.
Order your credit reports in one of two ways:
- Directly: Contact Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each organization will send you their version of your report.
- Indirectly: Use AnnualCreditReport.com and get a summation of all three credit reports at once. You can use this service once per year too.
You can order all of your reports at once. But some experts suggest a staggered approach. If you get different versions of reports every few months, you might catch errors quicker than if you only look over the data once per year.
Fix the Mistakes You Find
Walk through your reports carefully, and you're bound to find a few mistakes. Some may not seem important. But others could impact your ability to take out a loan, get some types of jobs, or otherwise take advantage of good credit.
For example, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing should stay on your report for 10 years, and then it should drop off completely. If you see a listing from 11 years ago and it's still impacting your credit, that's both incorrect and unfair.
Use a credit report review checklist from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to spot errors in your report. When you see them, follow these steps:
- Write a letter. Detail the mistakes you've found, and explain what should appear on your report.
- Gather documents. Provide canceled checks or any other proof of your claim. Make copies to send along with your letter.
- Send via certified mail. Put your documents in the mail to the credit agency, and keep a copy of everything you sent.
- Contact the other party. Contact the company that holds the debt in question, and explain the errors you've found.
Credit reporting agencies are required to investigate your claims within 30 days. They will look over the documents you've sent, and they'll get back to you with a decision. If you provide firm and complete backup documents, your report should be corrected quickly.
Care for Your Credit
If your credit report is littered with past mistakes, you're not alone. Plenty of people find it hard to balance the cost of the things they need with the income they can bring in to feed their families.
Our tools at Current may help. We offer points and cash back, so your purchases can earn more cash for your wallet. We offer paychecks up to two days faster with direct deposit, so you won't spend days waiting for paycheck funds to become available. You’ll have your money available when you need it.
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What Is a Credit Report? (June 2020). Experian.
Key Dimensions and Processes in the U.S. Credit Reporting System. (December 2012). Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Free Credit Report. Equifax.
Fixing Your Credit. (March 2018). Federal Trade Commission.
What's In Your Credit Report? Fair Isaac Corporation.
Credit Report Review Checklist. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
An Overview of Consumer Data and Credit Reporting. (February 2003). Federal Reserve Bulletin.
Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself. (November 2012). Federal Trade Commission.
Current is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by Choice Financial Group, Member FDIC.
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