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Understanding your credit report
How to read this detailed record — and why it's important when applying for financial products.
After you apply for a new credit card, personal loan or home loan, potential lenders and providers access your credit report to help decide whether to approve you. But just what’s in your credit report, and how can you understand what’s in it enough to be in increase your chances for credit or lending approval?
Our guide below takes you through what’s in your credit report, how long you can expect information to remain in it, getting a copy of your own report and how to correct errors in it that may be holding you back the lending green light.
What is a credit report?
Your credit report is a detailed record of your borrowing history based on information collected from credit card providers, banks, loan providers and other institutions you’ve borrowed from.
The information in your credit report is used by lenders to assess your ability to repay debt and manage loans. Lenders and service providers look at your credit report to avoid the risk of giving credit to known defaulters or people with bankruptcy or insolvency issues. If they choose to offer credit to such borrowers, they typically charge a higher rate.
How do I get a copy of my credit report?
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every week from the three nationwide credit reporting companies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Before you apply for a credit card or a loan, consider ordering and examining your credit report for accuracy. You will need to provide your full name, contact information, Social Security number and date of birth.
When examining your report, you could find that it shows you owe on account you’ve since paid off or open credit cards you’ve never owned. Even small errors and typos can affect how a lender scores your default risk. Document these errors and dispute them with each of the credit bureaus.
What information is in my credit report?
Your credit report lists applications you’ve made for all forms of credit (whether approved or not), your repayment history, details of any defaults you may have, your current debt and information on the accounts you currently hold.
Among the details contained in your credit report are:
- Your personal information. Listed in your report are your full name, date of birth, phone number, address, your Social Security number and your employment information.
- Consumer credit information. This includes any credit applications you’ve made in the last two years, the type credit accounts (revolving and installment), the account open and close dates, your credit limit or loan amount, the account balance at the time of the report and your payment history.
- Collections. Unpaid debts and accounts that are default or in collections will also be listed.
- Credit inquiries. Your report includes any credit applications you’ve made in the last two years whether you’ve been approved or not.
- Information that is public record. Credit bureaus collect information that’s held in the public record, including any bankruptcies, foreclosures, lawsuits, liens and judgments made against you.
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What should I check on my credit report?
Carefully review your credit history annually to stay on top of making sure that lenders see only the most accurate picture of your financial health. Make sure that each of the elements below are correct and document any problems you find to report to the bureau for fixing.
- Your personal information. Ensure that your name, your Social Security number and your employment history are correct. If you find a diversion from this information, report it immediately to limit any chance of identity theft.
- Open accounts. If your report shows that you owe on an account you have since fully repaid or closed or credit or store cards you’ve never used, call the credit reporting bureau first and then call the provider to find out how to resolve the issue.
- Incorrectly listed payments or defaults. You may find negative information that’s reported incorrectly on your report, such as late or missed payments. Highlight anything that you believe is not correct and dispute it with both the reporting bureau and the creditor or institution that provided the information.
- Duplicate listings. Are any of your accounts listed more than once? Especially with collections, you’ll want to make sure that the same account is not listed multiple times throughout your report.
- Cosigner information. If you find that you’re listed as a cosigner on a loan that you did not authorize, contact the reporting bureau immediately.
- Mix of credit. The different types of credit you have contribute to your credit score, so it’s recommended to have a healthy blend of revolving and installment credit.
- Credit utilization ratio. Lenders often look at how much of your available credit is being used compared to your credit limit. When your credit utilization ratio is over 30%, your credit score could take a few dings.
How long is information held on my file?
Lucky, the Fair Credit Report Act limits how long a credit reporting agency can negative report items in your credit report. Neutral or positive items can be reported indefinitely.
The exact period of time that certain types of credit information can remain on your credit history varies by the type of listing.
|Type of listing||How long it can remain on your report|
How do I deal with incorrect listings?
To correct errors in your credit report, it can help to contact both the credit reporting bureau and the source of the mistake — either the bank, credit card provider or lender who reported it.
- Contact the credit reporting bureau. By speaking with a representative, you may be able to remove the error or convince the bureau to contact the credit provider on your behalf to have it removed.
- File a dispute online. Each of the credit reporting agencies offer the ability to dispute errors in your credit report online.
- Contact the credit provider. The provider or lender should have a dispute resolution team or process in place to fix incorrect listings.
- Contact the CFPB. If you’re not able to resolve the issue on your own, submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent federal agency built to protect consumers.
Who can pull my credit report?
You’re not the only one who has access to your credit report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, your credit report can be pulled by the following individuals and organizations seeking consumer information for legitimate business reasons.
- Banks and credit card companies. Credit reports help financial institutions evaluate your creditworthiness when you apply for a product or service.
- Businesses. Any company that needs to view your credit report in order to conduct a service or sell a product.
- Potential employers. Some hiring companies ask permission from potential employees to pull a credit report to learn how they handle their finances. Poor credit scores could signal mishandling of money, lack of organization or financial troubles that could lead to fraud or theft.
- Insurance companies. Underwriters will pull your report to assess financial risk when drawing up your policy.
- Credit monitoring services. These are hired companies that act on your behalf to alert you when your credit profile has changed.
- Government agencies. The government can access your report for a number of reasons including: licensing, identification, government benefits eligibility or to determine child support payments.
- Debt collectors. Collection agencies check your credit report as a means of attempting to locate you to recoup a loss from a credit transaction.
- Landlords. By reviewing an applicants credit report, a landlord can get a good grasp on whether or not the potential tenant would be able to make rent payments.
Most of the time, these credit reports are only available with your permission. However, there may be a clause in the fine print that states a company or individual can view your credit report once you sign up or use its product — always be sure to inquire if this is the case to protect yourself.
Your credit report will be with you for life, which means you should take the time to understand how it works and learn what to do to keep it clean of any blemishes that could deter lenders, creditors and businesses from working with you.
A healthy credit report will lead to a better credit score.
Frequently asked questions
I’ve never applied for a loan or credit card. Do I have a credit report?
Even if you’ve never applied for a credit product with a bank or lender, you may still have a credit report. You may have had interest-free store finance, which is a type of credit card and listed on your credit report. The only way you can know is to check your credit report.
How do credit reporting agencies manage the information that affects my score?
When it’s time for a listing to be removed, the credit reporting agency will remove it for you. If you find that the listing is not taken off when it should have been, contact the credit reporting agency to have it removed.
How does paying my bills late affect my credit report?
Unpaid or overdue bills can be listed on your credit report and have a negative impact on your credit score.
How will it affect my credit report if I’m rejected?
Lenders may consider any denied applications a red flag. To avoid creating roadblocks to approval, try not to apply for credit many times in one period.
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