How to read your reports and correct errors.

Your credit report is one of the most important documents in your financial profile. A clean credit report helps ensure you have a strong credit rating so you can purchase property and other assets, as well as qualify for new lines of credit at low interest rates.

In short, a clean credit report helps you realize your financial goals. By contrast, a bad credit report can prevent you from doing all of that, as well as prevent you from renting property or car, and even getting that job you wanted. This makes it essential to understand how credit reports work and how to use them to your advantage.

By law, everyone is entitled to receive one free credit report from all 3 credit bureaus every 12 months.

What is a credit report and what does it mean?understanding your credit report

At a basic level, a credit report is a document that summarizes your history as a credit user. This includes your credit/payment history, an overview of accounts, and any public records history that might relate to your financial makeup, such as finance-related court judgments like alimony or child support.

Information from your credit report is used to calculate your credit scores so lenders and creditors can have an easy way to assess your risk as a borrower. This makes credit reports key to maintaining a healthy financial outlook.

3 credit reports for you to review

Although you always hear the saying to check your credit report regularly, in truth you don’t just have one report.

Each of the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) maintains their own version of your credit history. Creditors and lenders may pull one or all three reports when they run a credit check. You rarely know which report a lender will check. So, you have to know what’s in all three reports.

When you log on to annualcreditreport.com to redeem your one free report every twelve months, you are actually requesting one report from each company. In order to make sure your credit file is correct, you have to review all three reports and send any corrections to each bureau.

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How to read a credit report

Although each bureau’s report differs slightly from the others, they all contain the same basic information. Thankfully, all of the reports also generally present the same information in a way that makes reading and understanding your credit reports a little easier. Experian even published a sample report that guides you through what you will be seeing.

Here’s what each report will contain:

Personal Information

This section gives your personal details: name, current address, previous addresses, social security number, date of birth, and employer. It may also list any aliases assigned to you; for example, if your name is John Smith, your report may list aliases for John C. Smith if you used your middle initial to open an account.

Account Summary

Although each report differs slightly in how the information is presented, all credit reports contain a summary of your different types of credit accounts and loans. This information includes the type of account (e.g. auto loans, student loans, mortgages), current balance, open/close dates, and account status. This section will be affected by whether you pay your bills on time.

Public Records

All credit reports include public records information that may be relevant to your credit profile. Court judgments such as bankruptcy and foreclosure are included here. It may also include collections accounts.

Credit Inquiries

Credit reports have a section for credit inquiries to show when a hard credit inquiry was made on your report. A hard inquiry is where a creditor requests your report when you apply for a new line of credit. This is a factor in determining your credit score.

Consumer Statements

Your credit report will also always contain a section for consumer statements (sometimes called personal statements). You can add a consumer statement if you have recently been the victim of identity theft and wish to prevent anyone from opening lines of credit in your name without your express consent. It also includes any statements you make regarding rejected reports of discrepancies.

Negative information doesn’t stick around forever

While your credit report summarizes your credit history, it doesn’t cover everything indefinitely. Even positive information, such as accounts paid off and closed in good standing will only remain on your report for 10 years.

Negative information only remains on your report for a limited time. Most negative information sticks around for seven years, although some items may stick around longer.

Learn how long negative items will haunt you »

What to do with your credit report

Checking your credit reports regularly is essential to maintaining a good credit rating. You may think you can trust the credit bureaus to maintain a correct report for you, but the reality is mistakes are more common than you think.

Multiple studies show roughly 3 in 4 credit reports contain errors of some kind.

Experts recommend you should check your credit report at least once each year. They also recommend you should check it before you apply for a new line of credit or attempt to purchase a major asset, such as a car or home. You should take steps to get your credit report corrected if you find errors. This could involve contacting your data furnishers or filing a dispute directly with the credit bureaus.

Make getting your credit reports easier

Monitoring your credit is a must if you want to watch out for identity theft and improve your credit score. If you want to make reading your credit reports even easier, using a software like the premium version of SmartCredit may work for you.

SmartCredit offers tools for tracking, building, and mastering your credit. With the premium version, you can get credit reports from all three credit bureaus multiple times per year. Because SmartCredit was made to guide you through learning about and fixing your credit, you can get the information you need without struggling to read your different credit reports.  

Connect with a professional credit repair company now to correct errors in your credit report that may be negatively impacting your score.

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Article last modified on May 18, 2020. Published by Debt.com, LLC