How to Read Your Credit Report

Okay… so you ordered a copy of your credit report and see a lot of words, numbers, abbreviations and even different colors. How are you supposed to make sense of all that information?

The first thing to remember is that this document does not contain your FICO® Scores.  Rather, it’s the information that FICO uses to determine your scores. Although you’ll see the 5 factors that make up your FICO® Scores (Payment History, Amounts Owed, Length of Credit History, Types of Credit Used and New Credit), your actual FICO® Scores won’t be on your credit report. This holds true whether your report is from Experian, Equifax or TransUnion.

Your credit report breakdown

  • PERSONAL INFORMATION

Your Personal Information includes everything from your name and date of birth to your Social Security Number and current/former employers. Often people overlook this section because they feel this data doesn’t affect their credit or FICO® Scores. But don’t be so sure about that! This section is one of the first places you can spot errors or possible signs of identity theft, which could definitely have an impact on both your credit and FICO® Scores.

What to look for…

Is your name spelled correctly? Does the report show your current address? Check your Social Security Number carefully to ensure that the digits weren’t erroneously transposed. If any of this information is incorrect, be sure to dispute it with the credit bureau(s) that have this information wrong on their report.

There might also be a section for “Personal Statements” in which you would find items like a security freeze, fraud alert or power of attorney comments. Ensure any Personal Statements are correct.

  • PUBLIC RECORDS

Public Records include financial accounts that are associated with legal actions. Those actions include bankruptcies and tax liens. These types of records can have a negative impact on your credit scores, so it’s crucial to ensure that the records are correct and have not been listed for too long.

What to look for…

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy remains on your credit report for 10 years from the filing date. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is deleted 7 years from the filing date. Keep this in mind if either of these are listed on your report.

If you didn’t pay your taxes and a tax lien is on your report, it could remain there for 15 years from the filing date (if your lien stays unpaid). Paid tax liens remain on your report 7 years from the paid date.

  • ACCOUNTS

This category includes revolving credit (i.e. credit cards) and installment loans (i.e. mortgage). The three statuses for these kinds of accounts include: open, negative or closed.

Keep in mind that not all creditors report your information to all three credit bureaus so one credit report might have more or fewer accounts listed than another.

What to look for…

Accounts in good standing mean that your payments have been on time and that you’ve met the terms of your agreement with the creditor. Although the report states you’re in “good standing” still check to make sure that you know about this account (validate account name and number) and that the date opened, balance, payment status and payment history all match your records and your recollection.

Negative accounts display information about accounts for which payments have been missed. As with accounts in good standing, make certain that all information is correct – from the account number and recent balance to the past due amount and payment history. If anything doesn’t look right, be sure to contact the credit bureau(s) and/or creditors.

  • CREDIT INQUIRIES

Credit Inquiries are placed on your report when businesses have requested credit information about you. Some of these inquiries can remain on your credit report for up to two years.

There are two kinds of inquiries: “hard” and “soft”. Hard Inquiries are requested by others as a result of you initiating a transaction, such as applying for credit. Soft Inquiries include things like requests by you to see your own credit report and requests by existing lenders so they can send you pre-approved offers.

What to look for…

As with all the other credit report categories, you want to be certain that there’s no “funny business” going on with your credit. Check to see who has inquired into your credit and if it was shared only with you or with others as well. Your credit report will show the name of the creditor who requested the inquiry, their business type and the date of the inquiry. If you see a suspicious business name or are confused as to why a specific company looked into your credit, check with the credit bureau(s) and ask them what sort of action to take if one is required.

At myFICO forums, people from all over discuss their credit reports and issues they’ve resolved when an action was required. See what they have to say (or what you can share) anytime, day or night!

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Rob is a writer… of blogs, books and business. His financial investment experience combined with a long background in marketing credit protection services provides a source of information that helps fill the gaps on one’s journey toward financial well-being. His goal is simple: The more people he can help, the better.