What Can You Expect to See on Your Credit Reports?

I have been getting free credit report for years. Before there was the law that entitles every consumer a free report from each credit agency every 12 months, I requested my reports directly from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion for free. Then after the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) became law, I started to use AnnualCreditReport.com to obtain a free report from one of the three agencies every four months. Even though getting a report every four months isn’t as good as a credit monitoring service which constantly watches my accounts and alert me for any suspicious activities immediately, it did help me stay on top of my credit.

Since I have been doing this for very long time (I got my first credit report from Experian in 1999), I know exactly what to read each time I receive a new credit report, whether there’s a credit score comes with it or not (while credit reports can be provided to you for free by the law, you generally have to pay to get a credit score, FICO or FAKO, unless you take advantage some special promotions or use the free service from Credit Karma, for instance). If you have never got your hands on your credit report before, but are about to get your own copy for the first time (make sure you use AnnualCreditReport.com for absolutely free reports though), the following is information you can expect to see on your credit report. Even though each credit reporting agency may format the information differently on their reports, they all provide:

Credit Summary

Here you can find a quick summary of your credit information, including your personal information (name, former names if any, social security number, current address, previous addresses, and employers), the length of your credit history, the number of accounts you own, the number of accounts in good standing, any account late or past due, the number of accounts with balance, recent inquiries, and any collections or public records on file, etc.

Accounts

The quick summary gives you an idea of your credit, so you can see right away if there is any problem. But if you want to find out all the details of each and every account, you will need to go through the Accounts section of your credit file and review accounts you own. Here you will find the issuer of the account, the status of the account and when the latest status is reported,  the time when the account is opened/closed, date of last activity, account type (Revolving, Installment, or Mortgage), credit limit, largest balance, current balance, payment terms (if it’s a loan), and up to 3 years of payment history. In addition,  you will also find the number of times your account has been late for 30+ days, 60+ days, or 90+ days.

Generally, the Accounts part of your credit report also has a snapshot of all your accounts, showing information such as issuers, date account opened, balance, status, and whether there’s any late payment or not. It allows you to see quickly whether there’s any red flag of an account before going into the details.

Credit Inquiries

An inquiry indicates when a business, usually a lender, has checked your credit. It usually appears on your report when you apply for tcredit and authorize the creditor to obtain a copy of your credit file. In general, credit inquiries have a negative impact on  your credit score, even though not much. Nonetheless, having multiple inquiries in a short period of time suggests that you are actively seeking credit, which represents a greater risk to lenders.

There are two types of credit inquiries: those can be seen only by yourself and those by every lender. These inquires are usually referred to as soft pull and hard pull, as I discussed before. Your credit re port usually shows credit inquires of the past 12 months.

Collections and Public Records

If you have any unpaid account that has been turned over to a collection agency, or any legal record such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, garnishments, and tax liens, they will appear on your credit report as Collections or Public Records. Any collection or public record can severely damage your credit score.

Dispute an Error

Finally, if you find any information that is not correct after carefully reviewing your report,  you need to contact the credit reporting agency (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) from which you obtain your report and dispute the mistake.  Remember, your credit score depends on a lot on the accuracy of all the information on your credit report and any error could seriously hurt your score (that’s why you should check your report periodically). So it’s absolutely critical to keep information on your credit report, whether it’s personal information or credit information correct and up-to-date. If you find anything wrong, do not hesitate to contact the credit bureau to get it fixed. It’s not always easy and straightforward to deal with credit agencies, sometimes it even requires a large amount of time and efforts, but the cost of leaving an error on your report far outweighs the cost of having it corrected.

So have you got your free credit report yet?

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11 Responses to “What Can You Expect to See on Your Credit Reports?”

  1. Jon |  Jul 01, 2009 at 10:32 am

    I’ve been using annualcreditreport.com since it first became available, as well. I’ve never discovered any significant inaccuracies in my credit reports, but there were a couple of minor things, like past addresses, that weren’t quite right.
    This year, I noticed a link in one of the credit bureaus’ web page that allowed me to file a dispute electronically, and asked them to remove the incorrect information. I had a reply within a few hours, saying they’d removed the information. This is a marked improvement over the old written dispute method!

  2. michael lach |  Oct 18, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    http://www.RemoveMyCreditInquiries.org is a site I found that will remove credit inquiry for $15.