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How to Read Your Credit Report

Even the canniest minds can become confused when they attempt to read and understand a credit report for the first time. With a little direction, you will soon be on your way to identifying any errors lurking within your credit report.

Your friend in the industry may be able to get it for you, but the report he can get won't be as user-friendly

 

It's important, first, to note that if you received your credit report from one of the big three (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) for free through www.annualcreditreport.com, your credit score or FICO score will not be included. While you can receive three copies of your credit report for free each year (one from each of the big three), you'll have to pay a little bit to obtain your credit score.

Also, it's a good idea to obtain your credit report yourself. Your friend in the industry may be able to get it for you, but the report he can get won't be as user-friendly as the one you can get for yourself. Reports prepared for consumers tend to avoid using terms and numbers only available to those in the credit industry which makes them easier for the rest of us to understand.

While not all credit reports list their information in the same order, they generally contain the same basic sections: Identification, Credit History, Collections, Public or Courthouse Records and Inquiries. Once you understand the format of your credit report, it will be easier for you to understand the information contained within it. Carefully go through each of the sections, noting any possible errors. If you find that any listed items are not legitimate, you should submit a dispute letter to the credit bureau, possibly enlisting the help of a law firm that specializes in credit repair.

The Identification section contains information about you, such as your name, current and past addresses, birth date, Social Security number, telephone numbers, driver's license numbers, employer and spouse's name. This is not a section to take lightly-if your Social Security number is listed incorrectly, for example, credit accounts that are not yours could be associated with you on your credit report.

The Credit History section lists your present and past credit accounts, sometimes called trade lines, along with information on your paying practices for each one. For each account, the credit report will normally include the following information:
  • Name of the company
  • Kind of credit (revolving credit normally takes the form of credit cards while car loans and mortgages are examples of installment credit)
  • When you opened the credit account
  • Account number, which is sometimes scrambled or shortened for security reasons
  • Names of anyone who is also listed on the account
  • Total amount of the loan, your credit limit, or the highest balance had on the credit card
  • Remaining balance on the loan or card left to pay
  • Minimum monthly amount paid or amount of your fixed monthly payment
  • Whether the account is open, closed, inactive, paid, etc.
  • Your payment history
If there are any accounts you don't recognize or if your history reflects that you haven't made a payment you know has been paid, take note so that you can follow up on the errors you find and take the necessary steps to get them fixed.

Any credit accounts that have been sent to a collection agency in the past seven years will be listed in the Collections section of your credit report. The amount you owe, the name of the collection agency and sometimes the agency's contact information will be listed. Again, you need to look these over carefully to make sure that everything listed is correct and current.

The Public or Courthouse Records section will display anything on public record having to do with you meeting your financial obligations. Bankruptcies, judgments and collection accounts will be found here. In some states, overdue child support payments may also be listed in this section.

In the Inquiries section, you'll find a list of businesses that have requested and received a copy of your credit report in the last 24 months. If a company looks unfamiliar, take note and follow up to see why they are accessing your credit information. Too many inquiries can look bad to creditors examining your credit, so it's a good idea to try to keep this list short.

That's it. With the mysteries of your credit report solved, you should now be able to read and understand it with confidence. Now, give yourself a pat on the back, and go to work!

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