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Getting and Reading Your Credit Reports


Getting and Reading Your Credit Reports

A credit report is a document that has some of your bill-paying and borrowing history.  Why is this important?  Having a poor credit history can keep you from:

  • Getting a loan
  • Qualifying for a credit card
  • Getting an apartment
  • Getting an affordable cell phone plan
  • Having an manageable security deposit for utilities, cell phone plans, or apartments
  • Getting insurance coverage (in some states)
  • Getting a job
  • Having good credit scores

Credit reports are compiled by consumer reporting agencies that collect, manage, and sell data and information about people.  There are many kinds of consumer reporting agencies [link to Consumer Reporting Companies—What You May Not Know].  Those that specialize in making credit reports are commonly called credit reporting agencies or credit bureaus.

There are three major credit-reporting agencies:

  • Experian
  • TransUnion
  • Equifax

While much of the information the three credit-reporting agencies report will be the same, there may be differences among the reports.  Why?  Individuals, businesses, and other organizations that provide information to the credit reporting agencies  (commonly called information providers or information furnishers) may only provide the information to one of the credit reporting agencies

What does this mean?  To make sure information reported about you in your credit reports is accurate, you need to review [insert link to Reading Your Credit Report] all three credit reports.

Every year you have the right to a free credit report through Annual Credit Report.com.  This website was set up by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion when a law was passed [Link to FACTA] ordering them to make a free report available to every individual one time per year.  Some states and territories provide for an additional free or reduced price credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: CA, CO, CT, GA, ME, MD, MA, MN, MT, NJ, PR, VT, and VI.

To order your annual free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies, you can:

Order it online.

Go to www.annualcreditreport.com.  Make sure you are on this site and NOT an imposter site before starting.

Complete the online form and then select the reports you want to view.  You can print them or save them to your computer.

Order it by phone.

Call 1-877-322-8228

You will go through a simple verification process over the phone.

Order it by mail.

Print the by mail request form: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/manualRequestForm.action

Fill it in and mail it to:

Annual Credit Report Request Service

P.O. Box 105281

Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

If you have been or think you have been the victim of fraud, you may have to order your report by phone or using the mail-in form.

You can order all three reports at one time.  You can also order one every three to four months.  This can help you spot changes to your report, keep track of changes you requested to your reports, and watch for identity theft and financial fraud.

Reading Your Credit Report

Getting your reports is not enough.  You have to read them.  This can seem overwhelming at first.  Use the credit review checklist listed in the tools section below as a guide.  While the specific format for each credit report varies, they all have five sections in common:

  1. Personal information or identifying information: This section includes your name, aliases, previous names, current address, previous addresses, phone numbers, Social Security number, and employment information.  It includes information that can be used to identity you either by itself or in combination with other information within this section.
  2. Public record information: This section includes court-related information of a public nature including: tax liens, bankruptcies, and judgments.  Other public record information may be included.
  3. Collection account information: This section includes accounts that you have not paid as agreed.  These accounts may be turned over to an internal department that handles collections or sold to a third party debt collector.
  4. Account information or trade line: This is generally the largest section of a credit report.  It includes information about open and closed accounts, account numbers, creditor or business names and information, amounts borrowed, balances owed, credit limits, terms, and payment history on accounts, among other items. Recently, the credit reporting agencies announced that they would eliminate the reporting of debts that did not arise from a contract or agreement by the consumer to pay, such as tickets or fines.  Also, medical debts won’t be reported until after a 180-day “waiting period.”  This is to allow insurance payments to be applied. The credit reporting agencies will also remove previously reported medical collections that have been or are being paid by insurance.
  5. Inquiries: This section includes requests to access your credit for the past two years.  It includes those inquiries you generated when applying for loans or credit cards, for example.  This section also includes instances when lenders view your information to make you pre-approved offers or for other account maintenance reasons.

Getting Your Credit Report

This list will help you keep track of when you receive your credit reports.

Learn More

Reading Your Credit Report

A guide to understanding the information in your credit report.

Download the Guide

Disputing Errors on Your Credit Report

A step-by-step guide to disputing errors on your credit report.

Download the Guide

Example Letter Disputing Incorrect Entry

This example from the Federal Trade Commission will help you contact credit reporting agencies to dispute incorrect charges

Learn More

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What You Can Do Right Now

Information is great. But taking small steps now can lead to big changes.
  • Today
  • Get your credit reports.
  • Review your credit reports.
  • Circle or highlight any errors on your credit reports.
  • Next Week
  • File a dispute for errors you have found with the credit-reporting agency.
  • Consider filing a dispute with the information furnisher, too.
  • During the Next Few Months
  • The credit-reporting agency should investigate your dispute within 30 days. Keep track of this on a calendar.
  • If your dispute is valid, check to make sure this change in made in ALL of your credit reports.
  • Periodically check your reports to ensure that the information was not reinserted.
  • Make sure you keep records related to your dispute in case the dispute is difficult to resolve.