How to Read Your Credit Report: 6 Things to Review
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Keeping tabs on your credit report is a lot like keeping tabs on your friends and family: Keep everything on track by checking in often and addressing problems sooner rather than later.
But if you aren’t sure what to look for in your credit report, it can be difficult to make sure it’s in tip-top shape. Once you access your free credit report, you can start to review the details. Here’s what you should examine in your credit report:
1. Personal information
This information proves your identity in your credit report, including:
- Your name
- Other names you’ve gone by, including maiden names
- Current and previous addresses
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Current and previous employers
When reviewing your personal information, make sure all the details are correct and up-to-date. If you have a common name like “John Smith,” make sure everything is in line with your birthday, Social Security number and addresses.
If these details aren’t right, contact the credit reporting agency that issued the report. For example, if your report is from Experian, dispute the errors with Experian. If your personal information isn’t accurate, your credit information might not be either.
2. Adverse accounts
These types of accounts once had late payments or are still unpaid, including accounts that have gone to a collection agency. Adverse accounts can hurt your credit score because they show lenders you aren’t responsible with credit because you haven’t paid your debt. Here’s what you might see in this section:
- The collection company and its address.
- The original creditor. You might not recognize the collection agency, but you may notice the original creditor.
- The original amount you borrowed.
- Past-due amount, or how much you still owe, if any.
- Status, or if this account has been paid in full or if it’s still open.
- Important dates: when the account was opened, closed and paid off.
If you have accounts in this section that have been paid off but are potentially bad marks that impact your credit score, they won’t stay there forever. There might be a date under each entry that shows when the item will be removed from your credit report. This is usually seven years from the date of a delinquent payment.
Review to see if anything looks wrong. If an adverse account is on your credit report that doesn’t belong there — whether it’s too old or not yours — you can get it removed. Talk to the credit bureau where the account is listed about getting it removed.
3. Accounts in good standing
Credit that was paid on time and in full goes in this section. You’ll see similar details here that you would in adverse accounts, like the creditor, important dates and how much you still owe, if any. The difference is that accounts in good standing boost your credit score, while adverse ones bring it down.
It’s still important to make sure that this section has all your recent accounts in good standing. If you don’t see a certain account that would boost your score, contact the lender and credit bureau about adding it.
4. Revolving accounts
This is where your active credit cards or other lines of credit will appear. Because there is no end date, this section looks a bit different than other accounts. You’ll see:
- The creditor or lender and their address
- Account number
- Type of account (revolving)
- When you opened the account
- Credit limit, usage and balance, if any
Just like bad and good history, current accounts are listed as well. If you are paying as agreed or you’re behind on payments, it’ll show up here.
5. Payment history
This might be a chart or in calendar form. Here you’ll see at a glance how often you’ve made on-time payments on all your accounts. If you’ve had a late payment in the last seven years or so, it’ll show up here.
Payment history is the biggest factor in calculating your credit score — 35%. If you pay your debt on time — at least the minimum every month — you’ll likely have a better credit score. This shows lenders you can borrow money and pay it back responsibly.
6. Credit requests
Your credit can get checked for a variety of reasons. When you apply to borrow money or get a new credit card, lenders will check your credit report. This request stays on your credit report as a hard credit inquiry.
Hard credit inquiries temporarily bring down your score. If you open several new accounts in a short period of time, that’s a red flag to lenders. It means you pose a greater risk, which could get you rejected from borrowing. Try not to open too many new accounts over a short period of time, within a one-year time span, for instance.
The good news is that you won’t be penalized for “rate shopping.” The credit bureaus consider a series of inquiries for the same type of loan, like a mortgage, over a short period of time as a single inquiry.
When to review your credit report
You can pull credit reports from each of the three major bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — once a year for free from AnnualCreditReport.com. But you’re not obligated to pull them all at once.
If you’re trying to monitor your credit score and report, you can pull one report from each bureau every four months. This way, you can track your status regularly. While not all credit bureaus report the same things, they do have most of the same information and accounts listed.
If every four months is too long to wait, you can sign up for free credit monitoring from LendingTree.