Do you know how to read your credit report?
Advertisement
Advertisement

Don’t let profile changes or new identity theft scams catch you off guard!

Your credit report basically serves two very important purposes. First, it provides a comprehensive look at your life as a borrower. It shows payment history, account statuses and even public records that are relevant to your financial life. Creditors and lenders base approvals on what your profile says.

The secondary purpose of your report is that it allows you to look at your own history. An annual review is an essential step in catching identity theft. If someone opens an account in your name, you will see it on your credit report. So, it’s often you main line of defense against things like social security ID theft.

The articles below help you understand what your credit report says and how to use it to your advantage. You can also scroll down to the bottom of the page to find more tips on how to use your credit report effectively.

Woman Credit Card Charge She Didn’t Make.

How Do I Get Rid Of A Credit Card Charge I Didn’t Make?

November 15, 2017 | Gerri Detweiler

A reader can’t find an answer, but there’s a sure-fire way to get one.

Debt.com's Money Mythbusters take on the five most common money myths

Money Mythbusters

November 9, 2017 | Debt.com

The new season of Mythbusters starts tomorrow. Debt.com’s Money Mythbusters bust these common money myths today.

Don’t Give Up: You Can Bust Out of Self-Imposed Debt Prison

November 7, 2017 | Deb Hipp

Debt doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Here’s how to tunnel your way out.

Group of credit cards.

Will Credit Cards I Don’t Use Hurt My Credit Score — Or Help It?

October 18, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader has credit cards with no balances. Should she close them or keep them?

The Equifax hack was not difficult to pull off

Will The Equifax Breach Be the Beginning Of Something Wonderful?

September 18, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

American businesses and citizens haven’t taken identity theft seriously. They might from now on.

Hispanic woman with a credit card knows how to improve your credit score

Improve Your Credit Score by Taking Notes from Hispanics

September 15, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Nearly 9 in 10 Hispanics have checked their scores because they’re actively looking to buy a home or get a loan. More Hispanics are checking up on their credit than Americans overall.

Donald Trump spills coffee on a laptop he doesn't know how to use while trying to understand cybersecurity (illustrated)

After Equifax, Where Is Trump’s Cybersecurity Plan?

September 14, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

A major credit bureau handed out 143 million Social Security numbers out of laziness and incompetence. Is Trump going to do anything?

The Equifax logo

What Equifax’s Data Breach Means to You

September 8, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Something complicated happened Thursday, and it sounds bad. Actually, it’s worse than that.

A millennial woman explains credit to her peers

Millennial Women Know Credit More Than Male Peers

September 6, 2017 | Joe Pye

They’re also more likely to want to learn about credit.

football and vacation time

You’ll Never Guess Which College Football Team Is the Best — According to Experian

August 31, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Credit score impacts everything — even the very football team you should be cheering for.

CREDIT SCORE NOT A LOAN

Here Are All The Ways Your Credit Score Is About To Jump

July 17, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Crippling debt can totally kill our credit history, which makes buying a home or car or even getting a credit card nearly impossible. But some new changes to reporting are going to seriously boost your credit score.

credit score on a date

Your Date May Care About Your Credit

July 7, 2017 | Gregory Cox

A bad credit score could make dating more difficult

You can buy a car from a dealership even if you recently declared bankruptcy

Will Bankruptcy Keep Me From Buying A Car?

June 28, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader went bankrupt, and now years later, she needs a new set of wheels.

Illustration of a credit invisible man being handed a credit card

CFPB Says Low-Income Americans Are ‘Credit Invisible’

June 27, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Low-income consumers are 240 percent more likely to start their credit history with negative records, like a debt collection.

credit freeze

You Can Get Major Fraud Protection With a Credit Freeze, but Should You?

April 21, 2017 | Money Talks News

There are the conventional ways to protect yourself from credit card fraud, and then there’s the nuclear option.

Howard Dvorkin on debt

It’s Financial Literacy Month. Give Yourself Some Credit! [VIDEO]

April 4, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

This month, Debt.com answers all your questions – in under a minute.

fix bad credit

How Unpaid Utility And Cell Phone Bills Can Ruin Your Credit

January 5, 2017 | Mary Reed

Watch out, this little bill can have big consequences.

If the struggle of gender equality for women, some are ashamed to face their finances, as they hold more debt, not savings

Dvorkin On Debt: Correcting Your New Year

December 19, 2016 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Don’t go into 2017 making financial mistakes. Give yourself the gift of financial freedom.

Credit card debt has a way of causing problems

Your Credit Score May Get a Free Boost Soon

July 13, 2016 | Dori Zinn

All three credit bureaus will soon have to cut some bad information from credit reports, which could give a huge boost to many consumers.

get approved for credit cards

Dvorkin On Debt: What The Credit Bureaus REALLY Know About You

June 13, 2016 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

The Big 3 have your credit reports, but they also ask lots of interesting questions. Here are the recent results.

What if I stopped paying my credit cards?

4 Ways to Deal with Credit Mistakes that Kill Your Ability to Get Good Rates

June 2, 2016 | John Rampton

The best part: None of them are very difficult or time-consuming.

A low credit score can prevent do-it-yourself debt consolidation

Common Mistakes That Can Destroy Your Credit Score

April 21, 2016 | Debt.com

Avoiding these four things will save you big time.

If laying out an budget that manages debt has you confused and stressed about money, you may need Financial Literacy 101

Dvorkin on Debt: One Emotion Dooms Your Finances

February 15, 2016 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

It’s not depression. Or happiness. Or love. Or hate.

You could get a credit score boost soon

Ask The Expert: I Got A Huge Raise. Why Didn’t My Credit Score Go Up?

January 20, 2016 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader wonders if the three credit bureaus are trying to game the system

Debt.com's founder and CPA Howard Dvorkin

Ask The Expert: Can I Really Get Away With NOT Paying My Debts? [VIDEO]

January 6, 2016 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader thinks he’s found a loophole, and he might be right.

A low credit score can prevent do-it-yourself debt consolidation

5 Reasons You Have a Bad Credit Score

October 15, 2015 | Debt.com

No. 3 is the worst one, and the easiest one to fix.

reminder to view your credit report

2 Bureaus Corrected My Credit Report, But the Third Won’t. What Can I Do?

October 6, 2015 | Debt.com

The three credit bureaus aren’t the same. They all operate a little differently.

A low credit score can prevent do-it-yourself debt consolidation

Dvorkin On Debt: What You Don’t Know Can Cost You

June 22, 2015 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

You probably know what a credit score is. You might even know your number. But here’s what you don’t know.

reminder to view your credit report

Ask the Expert: Is A “Free Credit Report” Really Free?

May 13, 2015 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader wonders: “There has to be a catch, right?” Nope, no catch — if you do it right.

best free places to get your credit report

The Best (Free) Places To Get Your Credit Report

May 12, 2015 | Jess Miller

More places — from websites to banks — are offering free credit checks. Here’s why you need to take advantage of that.

fix bad credit

Ask The Expert: My Credit Sucks, What Can I Do To Fix That?

April 15, 2015 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader has paid off thousands in credit card debt, so when does his credit score reflect that?

credit report disputes

They Haven’t Done That Yet?! N.Y. Attorney General Simplifies Credit Report Disputes

March 16, 2015 | Jess Miller

These 7 reforms will help protect consumers, but they were overdue — and don’t go far enough.

A low credit score can prevent do-it-yourself debt consolidation

Banks Are Now Offering Free FICO Scores. Here’s Where To Get Yours.

March 3, 2015 | Jess Miller

Millions of Americans will have free access to their credit score in 2015, thanks to pressure from the White House.

best tips for buying a car in 2015

How Your Idiot Neighbors Will Help You Save On A Car In 2015

February 5, 2015 | Jess Miller

Here’s how to buy a car in 2015, even if you don’t have a lot saved.

What if I stopped paying my credit cards?

Ask The Expert: I Stopped Paying My Credit Cards Last Year. What Now?

December 10, 2014 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader knows she’s in trouble, but Howard Dvorkin knows a way out.

Why isn't credit monitoring free?

Ask The Expert: Why Isn’t Credit Monitoring Free? And What’s The Best Credit Score Monitoring Service?

November 19, 2014 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader wants to know if these services are worth it.

Capitol Hill under a blue sky as Congress debates a student loan program

Rating Congress’ new debt bill: 14 things (good and bad) you gotta know

September 11, 2014 | Brandon Ballenger

A California congresswoman has a dozen ideas for easing your debt stress. But will they work?

You could get a credit score boost soon

Your credit score may get an automatic boost soon

August 18, 2014 | Brandon Ballenger

But it could happen sooner with your help.

We could all use a little help when it's time to build a credit history. Here's what I went through.

6 ways to build a credit history from scratch

April 29, 2014 | Lulu Ramadan

I couldn’t get a credit card because I’m such a good person. But I figured a way around that.

Don't fall for these credit score myths.

Mysteries of the Great and Powerful Credit Score (Part II)

April 22, 2014 | Brandon Ballenger

Credit scores are complicated, and some people mix you up on purpose. We break it down for you in plain English.

Credit score lies and reality can be hard to separate. We can help.

Mysteries of the Great and Powerful Credit Score (Part I)

April 21, 2014 | Brandon Ballenger

Time to unmask 10 lies, delusions, and half-truths about credit.

DIY credit repair isn't as easy as repairing a wallet.

The DIY Credit Repair Nightmare

October 17, 2013 | Meghan Stewart

A quick search online might make you think do-it-yourself credit repair is easy. But what seems good in theory often falls apart when you put it into practice. So is DIY credit repair really worth the hassle or are you better off leaving the work to the professionals?

10 things to look for when you review your credit report

By law, every consumer can receive a free copy of each of their credit bureau reports once every twelve months. That’s a specific stipulation in the Fair Credit Reporting Act. There’s actually a government website where you can download your reports for free, no strings attached. Just visit annualcreditreport.com, answer a few questions to verify your identity and download your reports.

Then, look for these issues…

#1: Aliases that aren’t you

Most people skip over the personal information section at the top of each report. You just verified your identity, so why does it matter? One word: aliases.

Your credit report lists all the aliases that the credit bureau recognizes as you. So, if your name is John Smith, your aliases may be John K. Smith or Jonathan Smith or any number of combinations.  Basically, it’s all the “as your name appears on the card” variations.

What you want to look for is aliases that don’t appear on any of your loan agreements or credit cards. For instance, in the example above, maybe one alias is John Kenneth Smith, but your middle name is Kevin. This means you’ve been confused with another credit user, which can be extremely bad.

If this happens, contact the credit bureau directly to ask them to remove the incorrect alias. You don’t want someone else’s bad credit habits appearing on your report!

#2: Make sure missed payments were missed

Billing issues can turn into bad remarks on your report, which can drag down your score. A payment missed by more than 30 days becomes a negative remark that sticks around for seven years.

Make sure all your missed payments were truly missed. For example, let’s say your mortgage lender requires hazard insurance and your insurer doesn’t send the paperwork promptly. The lender may assess a higher payment and if you have Auto Pay set up, you may miss the increase. The lender reports a missed payment, even though you paid on time. Once you get the insurance worked out, any missed payment should be removed. Make sure they are.

#3: Outdated account statuses

The credit bureaus also keep track of the status of your account. If you’re behind with your bills or the account is charged off, it’s reflect in your credit report. If you get into financial distress and then recover, make sure your account statuses are up to date. Your report should list your accounts as open and current,

#4: Duplicate accounts

Sometimes errors occur in credit reporting that duplicate an existing account. So, instead of one mortgage account, your report lists two identical loans. This does not appear as a negative remark on your credit profile. However, it does affect your ability to qualify for new credit and loans. Duplicated accounts throw off your debt-to-income ratio, making it harder to get approved.

#5: Accounts you didn’t open

If you see a loan or a credit card that you don’t recognize, it could be a sign of Social Security identity theft. It often reveals that someone used your Social Security number to open a new account in your name. Any account opened in your name without your authorization can be closed with a call to the creditor or lender. Then, you may want to place a fraud alert on your report, in case the thieves open any other accounts.

#6: Collection accounts that don’t belong to you

This often relates to mistaken aliases mentioned in the first tip. Collection agencies often have little information to go on as they hunt down debtors who don’t want to be found. This often leads to a collector assigning a debt to a credit user, even if it’s not theirs.

Make sure that any collection accounts listed in your report are yours. Otherwise, you will need to contact the collector to inform them that they have the wrong person. Once you correct the mistake with the collector, make sure they reported the account removal to the credit bureaus.

#7: Incorrect public records

If you owe court fines, alimony, child support or any other court-ordered settlement, it will appear in your profile. Just make sure that all public records assigned to you are yours and legitimately owed.  If not, you may need to head to the Clerk of Courts to get the information corrected.

#8: Account closures

Accounts can be closed because there are issues with it or because you let it be inactive for too long.  Account closures happen when there’s issues with theft, when you pay the debt off and close the account or for other reasons.  In some cases, you simply waited too long to make a charge and the creditor closed the account because you never use it.

Make sure you are aware of all account closures and that they are correct.

#9: Hard inquiries you didn’t authorize

When creditors and lenders run credit checks during applications or underwriting, it creates a hard inquiry in your profile. Too many hard inquiries within a six-month period can decrease your credit score.

Make sure that you authorized all hard inquiries made on your report. Soft inquiries for things like preapproved credit offers don’t count. A number of hard inquiries in your name that you didn’t request could be a sign of ID theft, too.

#10: All the good stuff

Negative information can only stay in your report for set amounts of time. Positive or neutral information sticks around forever. It also offsets the bad stuff. In fact, the “weight” of a negative item decreases over time, even before the penalty clock expires. So, positive actions that you take now can quickly offset negative items that occurred last year or years prior.

Review all the good stuff in your credit report to make sure you’re on track. If you see you don’t have much good to offset the bad, take steps to rebuild your credit.