Your credit report: What you need to know
Your credit report is a snapshot of your financial life. Anyone from potential employers to lenders could review it—and the information it contains determines your credit score. When you understand how to read your credit report and how to monitor it, you’ll be better equipped to handle your finances.
Your missed payments will show up here
The three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—collect information from public records and companies you do business with and use that information to create your report. The report has four sections:
- Personal information: your name, current and past addresses, Social Security number and date of birth.
- Credit history: all your open and closed credit accounts and your track record for repaying them.
- Public records: any public records related to your finances, such as property liens or bankruptcies. Any nonfinancial public records you may have, like speeding tickets, won’t be on here.
- Credit inquiries: everyone who’s checked your credit in the past 2 years—landlords, employers, lenders and more.
It’s not the same as your credit score
Remember, your credit report is a history of your accounts and payments. Your credit score is separate, but related: It’s a number generated from the results of your credit report. Lenders use it to decide whether to lend to you and on what terms. Credit scores can range from as low as 250 to as high as 900, though some credit score providers may use a narrower range. For example, the most common FICO® credit score range is 300–850. The higher the number, the better your credit.
Your credit report does not actually include your credit score, but it does inform it. You might be able to get your credit score for free from your financial institution or credit card issuer, or you may have to pay to get it.
Your credit report may contain mistakes
Zero in on your credit history, especially the subsection called “adverse accounts.” It can show potentially negative items like a past-due credit account or a debt that was sent to collections, which can hurt your credit.
You may find errors in this section that you’ll want to correct. It’s a good idea to reach out first to the creditor and then to the credit agencies themselves. If they’re unresponsive, report the problem to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
If the error you find looks fraudulent—for example, you see a mortgage for a house you don’t own—act quickly. Contact the credit bureaus and ask them to put a fraud alert on your account. You’ll also want to file a report with either the police or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
A healthy credit report can get you a better deal
Good credit can set you up for other financial successes. For example, you may be more likely to receive a loan, or you may qualify for a lower interest rate, which can save you money in the long run. A clean credit report—and its positive effect on your credit score—can also make it easier to get rewards credit cards, which offer perks, like travel deals or cash back.
Ultimately, lenders can look at your credit report and credit score when deciding whether to lend you money, so paying attention to both is important.
You can check it for free
Your credit report must be given to you free of charge once a year by each of the major credit bureaus if you ask for it. That’s three opportunities a year to make sure the information kept on you and your credit is accurate. (You’re also entitled to a free copy of your report if you ever apply for a credit card or loan and are declined.) To obtain a copy of your report, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 877.322.8228.
Now that you know how to read, and use, your credit report, you’re better prepared to manage your credit.
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