A credit report is a summary of your financial history that is compiled by the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). These agencies, also known as credit bureaus, are private companies that assess your details and financial record to produce a report based on which they assign you a score. This report is used by many lenders to decide whether or not to offer you loans and credit cards, and determine the interest rates you might be charged. It is also used by other businesses that might want to do business with you, such as insurance companies; landlords; and some cable TV, Internet, utility or cell phone service providers.
The information in your credit report is gathered from a variety of sources and may remain on your report for years. Tens of thousands of credit grantors, including retailers, credit card issuers, banks and finance companies, send updates to the credit bureaus on a regular basis. These include the status of your accounts – open, closed or in collections; credit limit details; payment and balance histories; and inquiries made by you or others.
Each bureau has its own format, but most reports share similar information, including the following:
Accounts and Balances
Your credit report lists all of your current and past credit accounts – even those that are closed or inactive. It includes the names of creditors, the accounts’ status – open, closed or in collections; and account balances, up to your credit limit. It also shows the date each account was opened, the last time you accessed that account and how much you owe on each account. The credit account portion of your report is important because it helps lenders evaluate how you manage your finances, and it forms 35% of your FICO score.
The public records section of your report includes any legal matters like bankruptcies, tax liens and any monetary judgments against you. It might also include any information deemed to be of public interest, such as police reports related to a stolen identity.
Your personal information on a credit report typically includes your name, Social Security number, birth date and address. It might also include your employment history and your spouse’s name if you’re married. If the information is incorrect, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau.
You can check your credit reports online for free once a year. When you do, be sure to carefully review the details, particularly if you find any errors. Make sure everything reflects you – not someone else with your name and Social Security number. If you find an error, it’s important to take action quickly. Start by notifying the credit bureau that you’ve disputed the inaccurate information and provide as much documentation as possible about why it’s wrong. The bureau must then reinvestigate the disputed information and either delete it or correct it. You also should notify the lender that provided the incorrect information about you, if applicable.