November 11, 2020
What's in Your Credit Report?
How well do you keep tabs on your credit score? According to 2019 research conducted by LendingTree, about 4 in 10 Americans “have no idea” how credit scores work.1
There are three major consumer credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian (sometimes called the “Big 3”). These credit bureaus collect information about you, including your open and closed lines of credit, repayment history, outstanding debts, and public records like bankruptcy and foreclosures.
There are also alternative credit bureaus, including those that collect non-traditional credit information about you like your history of paying rent and utility bills, information about your short-term loans and repayment history, and even magazine subscriptions. For this post, we’ll focus on the “Big 3”.
Each of the “Big 3” credit bureaus calculate scores differently, so your credit score can vary from bureau to bureau. However, what they all have in common is the type of information they collect about you and who can access that information. Each of the credit bureaus collects personal data about you, including name, address, social security number and date of birth. They also collect information relating to your current and past debts, payment history and credit application history.
Beyond what they collect, knowing what information is included in your credit report – and how to read it – is valuable to you.
Want to learn how to improve your credit score? Read: “How to Build Good Credit” with Lovett Weems, Vice President of Lending at Populus Financial Group.
Your credit report includes information that is important to both to you and to companies from whom you may need or want credit. Your credit report contains personal information, credit account history, credit inquiries and public records, which is collected from lenders and creditors. Companies who pull consumer credit reports do so to learn about your creditworthiness.
Personally Identifiable Information: This includes your legal name, address, social security number, date of birth, and employment information.
Credit Accounts: This is a list of your open and closed accounts. Your credit report will include not only the accounts, but also the type of account, the date on which the account was opened, the credit limit of the account, the balance of the account and your payment history, including whether or not you’ve missed a payment or paid late.
Credit Inquiries: This is a list of companies that have recently requested a copy of your credit report. When you apply for credit, lenders are authorized to pull your credit report. These appear on your credit report as a credit inquiry.
Public Records and Collections: Credit bureaus also collect information about you from public records, including bankruptcy information. They also collect information about your debts that are currently in collections.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, about one in five Americans have errors in their credit reports.2 Those errors could have an impact on your ability to get the credit you need. That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye on your credit report and spot any inaccuracies.
So, what should you do if you spot an inaccuracy? You have a right to dispute inaccuracies with the companies listed on your report.
Reach out to Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion to dispute the inaccuracy. The Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommend doing so in writing. The Federal Trade Commission even has a sample dispute letter that you can use.
Reach out to the lender or creditor associated with the inaccuracy to dispute the item. Do this in writing too. If you don’t recognize the name of the lender, you can ask for the original lender’s information. Sometimes, the original owner of your debt may sell the account, or a company may be bought out. This often explains why your debt has passed hands.
Looking at the details of the loan can help you figure out the original lender. Check the date the account was opened, the credit limit, and the balance to help you remember. If you think the account is fraudulent, be sure to dispute it with the lender and the credit bureau.
When you have more clarity about the debt you owe, you can choose to dispute the debt or request to settle if you find that it is, in fact, yours.
Your credit report may be viewed by many sources, for many reasons. These reasons may include learning more about how well you repay debt, determining your eligibility for government assistance, and ensuring you are a potential safe member of a community by screening your background.4
The following are some of the sources that may view your credit report:
However, not just anyone has access to your credit report. Plus, there are rules about what can be done with the information in your report as well. For example, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a law that outlines how companies can access and use your credit report and lays down some rules for how you're protected should someone violate those rules.
The FCRA, passed in 1970 and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, gives you as a consumer a series of rights to your information:5
You must be told if information in your file has been used to deny an application for credit, insurance, or employment.
Read more at Consumer.FTC.Gov.
You have a right to view credit reports from the “Big 3” for free once a year. You can access your free annual credit report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com or by visiting each individual credit bureau’s website.
Some companies offer additional credit reports from specific credit reporting bureaus for free, while other companies may charge a fee.
Two of the most popular websites for accessing your credit reports are:
FreeCreditReport.com – This website offers credit reports from Experian. They do not offer FICO scores.
CreditKarma.com – This gives you access to your credit reports from TransUnion and Equifax. They do not offer FICO scores.
However, because these websites offer reports from only one or two of the “Big 3” bureaus, you may not get a full picture of your credit report by only visiting one.
You have access to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting agency. You can request your free reports at www.annualcreditreport.com, the only source for free credit reports authorized by federal law.
You can also choose to access a credit report from a single bureau by visiting that bureau’s website. You may be able to access your report for free or pay a fee to view it.
Your credit report is an essential tool both for you and for potential lenders, employers, and more. Stay up-to-date on items in your report and take advantage of your free annual report each year.