A Guide on How To Read a Credit Report

Written By
I. Mitic
Updated
August 30,2022

A credit report is a record of your credit history you can get from one of the three credit bureaus. It contains data used to determine your credit score, including personal information and credit inquiries. By reading your credit report, you can stay updated on your credit health and potentially uncover errors that may indicate identity theft.

In this article, you’ll learn how to read a credit report and what to pay attention to when reviewing your payment history, current and previous employers, and more.

Getting a Credit Report

If you’re wondering how to get a credit report, you can order these records from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reporting agencies. Also, you can get reports from all three credit bureaus for free through the AnnualCreditReport.com website.

While you may spot subtle differences in reports from one credit bureau to another, these should contain the same essential information about your history. Note, though, that each has a different coding system, so codes that are seemingly the same may have different meanings in their credit reports. 

What Does a Credit Report Look Like?

A credit report is a document that contains credit history information, such as credit limit or loan amounts and other factors impacting credit scores, among other data.

Now let's proceed to a quick overview of the sections credit reports typically consist of.

Credit History

This is the most significant section of the credit report, with your payment history making up 35% of your credit score calculation. Some principal components of this credit report section are:

  • Account status
  • Payment history
  • Current account balances
  • Loan amounts or credit limits
  • Creditors' and lenders' names
  • Current and closed credit accounts in the past seven to 10 years

Employer History

Employer history is also one of the significant credit report sections. Note that this info might be available in the Personal Information section, which lists employers for which you currently work and have worked. 

Public Records

Public records can seriously impact your credit score since they contain credit report information about bankruptcies, repossessions, and foreclosures. These remain on your credit report for seven years, save for bankruptcies, which may stay for 10 years

Credit Inquiries

These inquiries show who had accessed your credit report and when they had done so. There are two types of these inquiries, one of which can negatively affect your credit score:

  • Hard inquiries occur when a financial institution or lender pulls your report when you apply for a loan or credit card. Too many of these hard inquiries in a short period may indicate to creditors that you're in financial distress. Hard inquiries can stay on your credit report up to several years, appearing when you apply for credit cards, credit limit increases, and mortgages.
  • Soft inquiries happen when you check your own credit or current creditors and lenders access your report to review your account or offer you a preapproved credit card. Soft inquiries don't influence your score, unlike hard ones.

Account Information

Credit account details you can see when reading a credit report are:

  • Open accounts
  • Closed accounts
  • Credit utilization
  • Payment history
  • Current account balance
  • Status of loan payments

Dates specifying when credit accounts were opened and closed are also in this section.

Personal Information

Credit reports contain personal details, such as your name, date of birth, and Social Security number, in this section. Current and previous addresses and contact information are other data you can find here.

What To Watch Out for When Reading a Credit Report

There are several things to pay attention to when reading credit reports. 

Hard Inquiries You Don’t Recognize

An unfamiliar hard inquiry can indicate potential identity theft, so check credit reports regularly to prevent losses. Also, pay attention to whether the dates of previous hard checks are removed after two years from credit reports. 

Credit History Data Accuracy

When reviewing the information presented in your credit report, you should check for errors, such as:

  • Closed accounts that aren't reported as such
  • On-time payments reported as missed payments
  • Open accounts or those in good standing reported as delinquent
  • The same account listed more than once under the names of different creditors

When reviewing the credit report credit history, scrutinize if the credit limit is lower than the one approved to you since such mistakes negatively affect credit scores. 

Employers You Don’t Recognize

When you read a credit report, check whether the list of your employers is complete and correct. If you spot any unknown companies, it might mean that someone is using your personal information. 

Tax Liens

It is likely an error if you find a tax lien on your credit report, whether it's property, income, state, or federal. Tax liens no longer impact your credit score, so there is no need to worry about them. If you encounter this oversight, dispute the credit report error with the credit bureaus. 

Besides tax liens, credit reports shouldn't contain civil judgments.

The info you find in Personal Information pertains to you and no one else. So, if you find your spouse's or any other name in this section, it is likely an error you should dispute. The same goes for any discrepancies in your name (misspelling, for example), current and previous addresses, Social Security number (a wrong digit), and similar inaccuracies.

This section's inconsistencies indicate that your report has been confused with someone else's.

How Do Credit Reports Differ From One Another?

Remember when you read your credit report that the information may differ from one credit bureau to another. While the Fair Credit Reporting Act promotes accuracy and fairness of reported information, note that creditors aren't obliged to send data to any credit bureaus. As a result, credit reports may contain incomplete information. 

Here's another credit report example highlighting credit report differences. Experian notes an employer's name, while you'll find your title and the period when you worked for a particular employer in TransUnion's credit report. Thus, reading credit reports from each credit bureau would be helpful. 

Differences in Credit Report Coding

To help you learn how to read a credit report, we'll provide an overview of Equifax and TransUnion bureaus’ coding. While containing all the relevant information for prospective lenders to determine your credit score, each credit reporting agency has its unique coding. 

Let's compare TransUnion and Equifax code systems. For example, Equal Credit Opportunity Act coding is similar but has subtle differences. Refer to the following table for details:

Code TransUnion Equifax
A Authorized user of a shared account Authorized user of a shared account
C Joint contractual liability Co-maker co-signed for an installment loan
I Individual account Individual account
P Participant in a shared account

/

X Deceased /
J / Joint account

There are other credit report codes related to Date Indicators, Kind of Business Classifications (KOB), and others you may refer to. So, if you aren’t sure how to read a TransUnion credit report, or those of Equifax and Experian for that matter, consult their respective codes with the accompanying clarifications. 

How To Dispute Errors in Your Credit Report

If you find any inconsistencies that affect your credit score when you read your credit report, you should dispute them with the credit bureau as soon as possible. To support your claim, prepare all relevant documentation, such as copies of documents proving your identity and what makes the credit report information wrong. 

You may dispute the error online, by mail, or over the phone. The credit bureau has a 30-day deadline to respond. 

Conclusion

In this article, we covered what information credit reports contain, what data can affect credit scores, and how to read a credit report by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Also, we explained which inconsistencies may indicate identity theft and how to dispute errors. 

You also know how to get a free credit report and what to pay attention to. Thus, remember to check your information once in a while. You may need to apply for a credit card or request a loan, and getting either can prove challenging if there are errors affecting your credit score in your report.

FAQ

How do I analyze my credit report?

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By going through your report line by line, you should recognize most of the information, such as your name, address, employer, and account balances. If you spot any information that does not look familiar or errors that affect your credit score, promptly dispute the items with the credit bureau.

What do the numbers mean on a credit report?

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The numbers on a report represent your credit score, which indicates your creditworthiness. A higher number means you're more likely to be approved for loans and lines of credit and may negotiate better terms. It’s definitely a good idea to know how to read a credit report to spot numerical inconsistencies that may affect your credit score.

What is a credit report and how do you read it?

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A credit report is a document that contains information about your credit history, including your credit accounts, payment history, and any adverse information about your financial activities. You can read through your report's different sections, such as credit inquiries and public records, to check for accuracy and identify potential red flags that could affect your credit score.

About author

For years, the clients I worked for were banks. That gave me an insider’s view of how banks and other institutions create financial products and services. Then I entered the world of journalism. Fortunly is the result of our fantastic team’s hard work. I use the knowledge I acquired as a bank copywriter to create valuable content that will help you make the best possible financial decisions.

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