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Understanding Your Credit Report

You have gone online and received your credit report. Now what? They don’t exactly lay it out for you, but it contains important information about your financial history. If you have credit or loan accounts, those accounts, and how you pay them, are included in your credit report. It’s important to review your credit report at least once a year so you know what your creditors are saying about you.

In this module, we will take you through each section of a typical credit report to review the specific details you should be able to find in your own credit report.

Section #1:  Personal Information

The first section of your credit report includes your personal information. Personal information includes your name, address, and place of employment, which is used to identify you. Additionally, previous addresses and places of employment may be included in this section. As a caution, it is not uncommon to have variations or misspellings of your name in this section. Most credit reporting agencies leave these variations to maintain the link between your identity and the credit information. Having different variations of your name and old addresses won't hurt your credit score as long as it's actually your information.

What should you look for in this section of your credit report? Make sure personal information is identifying you and not someone else.

Section #2:  Credit Summary

The next section is your credit report is the Credit Summary. This section of your credit report summarizes information about the different types of accounts you have, including the following information: 

  • Total number of accounts
  • Balance on each account
  • Number of current accounts
  • Number of delinquent accounts

Furthermore, the summary will include the following account types: real estate accounts, revolving accounts, installment accounts, collection accounts and any other accounts. Your credit summary will also summarize the number of accounts you have open, closed, in public records, and the number of inquiries made against your credit within the past two years.

What should you look for in this section of your credit report?  Make sure that all of the accounts listed are indeed accounts that you currently have or have had. If you are unaware of an account listed, be sure to ask questions about it.

Section #3:  Account History

The Account History section of your credit report contains the bulk of the information on the report. This section includes each of your credit accounts and details about how you have repaid your debts (or continue to repay your debts). Your account history will be very detailed, but it's important that you read through your report to make sure the information is being reported correctly. Each account will contain the following pieces of information:

  • Creditor Name
  • Account Number
  • Account Type
  • Responsibility
  • Monthly Payment
  • Date Opened
  • Date Reported
  • Balance
  • Credit Limit or Loan Amount
  • High Balance or High Credit
  • Past Due
  • Remarks
  • Payment Status
  • Payment History.

Collection accounts may also appear as part of the account history or in a separate section. Where it appears depends on the company providing your credit report.

What should you look for in this section of your credit report? Be sure to double check all of the information listed against your records. If there are any discrepancies, you should work through the process to correct a credit report error.

Section #4:  Public Records

The fourth section of your credit report will include Public Records. This section may include the following information: 

  • Bankruptcy
  • Judgments
  • Tax Liens
  • State and County Court Records
  • Overdue Child Support (in some states)

Depending on the type of account, a public record can remain on your credit report for between seven and 10 years. Only severe financial blunders appear in this section, not criminal arrests or convictions. Because public records can severely damage your credit, it's best to keep this section clear.

What should you look for in this section of your credit report? If there is something listed in this section that should not be listed, be sure to report that right away to your creditor and/or the credit bureau. If you have an item in the public record section that is inaccurate, be sure to report that correction as well.

Section #5:  Credit Inquiries

The last section of your credit report includes Credit Inquiries. Credit inquiries list all parties who have accessed your credit report within the past two years. While your version of the credit report lists several credit inquiries, not all of these appear on the lenders' and creditors' versions. Only "hard" inquiries are shown to lenders. These are inquiries made when a lender checks your credit report to approve your credit application. Your version will also include "soft" inquiries consisting of inquiries made by lenders for promotional purposes.

What should you look for in this section of your credit report? Take note of any hard and soft inquiries and be sure to question anything that does not look accurate.

Summary

Your credit report is your financial reputation. Take the time to review your credit report in detail, at least once a year, to be sure it is accurate. If you find it is not accurate, immediately report your findings to your lender and/or a credit bureau.

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