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How to Read a Credit Report

Polina Polishchuk



Maintaining a positive credit history is important when you’re applying for a credit card, mortgage or personal loan, looking for an apartment, financing a car or trying to complete any other credit-centric purchases. Your credit report is a record of your entire credit history that lenders will look at to help ascertain your creditworthiness.

Who Reports to the Credit Bureaus?

Any institution with which you’ve had a financial relationship with will report your credit information to the credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Some institutions only report to one or two of these bureaus, while others may report to all three. As an example, one of your credit cards may report to only Equifax and TransUnion, instead of all three, so you may have information about that card missing in the Experian column. You can see an example of this in the image below.


This is why it is recommended that you get a full three-bureau credit report, making sure that you do not miss out on anything.

What Is Listed in Your Credit Report?

Your personal information will be listed as it is reported to each bureau. This includes your legal name, permanent address and Social Security number. Your credit report will list all of your accounts, both revolving and installment loans, even the ones that you have closed. Each bureau will list the information they have for that particular account. Listed for each account will be:

- Account number and date opened

- Account status, whether still open or closed (This will show whether the account was paid off, is being paid as agreed, is current, or past due and how many times it has been past due.)

- Ownership status (which lists anyone who is authorized to use this account, or if it is shared.)

- Account balance, required monthly payment amount and credit limit. (Note that even if you paid your balance off in full, a balance might still show up for that account on your credit report if the lender reports to the bureau before you make your payment each month.)

- Prior delinquency (which will show the date of any delinquencies, if any.)

- Past due amount

Inquiries: This section of your credit report will show the lenders that have pulled your credit report information. Inquires show up any time another party pulls your credit report for you. This is considered a “hard inquiry” and will affect your credit score negatively if you have too many at one time. This includes loans you were approved for as well as those that you were not. Note: Looking at your own credit report is considered a “soft inquiry” and will not affect your credit score.

Public Filings: The public filings section will list information from public records obtained from government sources, like a court of law. This could include liens, bankruptcies and overdue child support. Most public record information stays on your credit report for seven years, but bankruptcy will stay on for 10 years.

Collection Items: This shows any unpaid debts that have been sent to a collections agency. Even something as small as an unpaid library book charge may be listed.

Consumer Statements: This section is a helpful ally if you have an unresolved dispute pending in your credit file. You can add a 100-word statement to your credit report that describes the dispute and may give potential lenders insight as to why there is a particular negative mark on your credit report. This statement becomes part of your credit report and is visible anytime your credit report is accessed.

Your credit report may also include creditor contacts, which lists the numbers and addresses of the lenders you have accounts with, and sometimes your employer might be listed, but it has no affect on your credit score.

If there are errors in your credit report, here is the best way to get them corrected. If you want to check out your credit report, you can access your free annual report at annualcreditreport.com or monitor your credit with a credit report monitoring service. Check out the top credit report monitoring services here.

Polina Polishchuk is a NextAdvisor.com editor who covers a variety of consumer and business services including credit report monitoring, Internet fax, email marketing and diet programs. She is a UC Berkeley graduate who currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she’s not tinkering with online services, she enjoys going to concerts, rock climbing and eating sushi.

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