Reviewing your credit reports regularly allows you to check for errors that could lower your credit scores, and it can alert you to potential identity theft. You can use the dispute process to have errors removed, which may help you get credit or get better terms.
How to Get Your Credit Report Information for Free
You can get free credit report information in two ways:
You are entitled to a free report directly from the three credit bureaus in using AnnualCreditReport.com. The reports were available annually, but in response to the pandemic, the site will offer free weekly updates until the end of 2022.
Some personal finance websites, including NerdWallet, offer free credit report information. NerdWallet’s credit report includes a credit score, providing your VantageScore 3.0 using data from TransUnion and weekly updates.
Check your free credit report
Know what’s happening with your free credit report and know when and why your score changes.
How to read a credit report and what to look for
Each credit bureau organizes their reports differently, so the sections may fall in a different order, but all of your reports have the same basic parts. This is what a credit report looks like:
Your personal information will include names you have used, current and previous addresses and phone numbers, social security number (partially obscured for security), date of birth, and current and previous employers.
Don’t be surprised if there are several different spellings of your name. The variations you used on credit applications will appear, such as married and maiden name, with and without middle name or initial, short version of your first name, etc.
If one or more of your employers or phone numbers are missing, that’s okay. But keep an eye out for addresses you don’t recognize, especially if you later spot accounts you don’t recognize. This suggests that someone has used your personal information to open fraudulent accounts on your behalf. Report identity theft as soon as you find out.
This section lists all your accounts that have not been recovered or have not been activated by default. It’s the meat of your credit report.
Each account has a summary at the top. Be sure to recognize the following:
Name and address of the creditor, account number and date of opening.
Account status – such as whether it’s open or closed or has been transferred – and whether you’re up to date on payments. Accounts that were in good standing when payment arrangements related to the pandemic started should continue to be reported as current.
Account type (credit card, student loan, etc.).
Whether you are an individual or co-owner of the account or simply an authorized user.
Credit limit or original installment loan amount.
You will also see balance and payment information, including the date the creditor last sent the account data to the office. Don’t expect it to reflect your balance to date. For example, even if you pay your credit card in full each month, your report may show a balance if your card activity was reported in the middle of the billing cycle.
Make sure your payment history does not show errors, such as late payment when you have paid on time. You should also ensure that your account limits are correct, as this may affect your credit utilization rate – and it is an important factor in credit ratings.
If an account has been closed, your report will show who closed it and when. Accounts closed in good standing can remain on your credit reports indefinitely. But accounts closed by the creditor because you didn’t pay as agreed should fall seven years after the account became delinquent.
Negative information, if any
the negative information The section lists accounts that have not been paid as agreed, collections, and public records such as bankruptcies. Negative information generally stays on your credit report for seven years, with the exception of Chapter 7 bankruptcies, which stay on your report for 10 years.
In this section, you will want to make sure that any negative information is accurate. If you see incorrect accounts or collections or if something is listed after it was supposed to be filed, immediately dispute the entries to have them removed from your report.
This section lists when someone checked your credit. You’ll see inquiries when you’ve applied for new credit or a limit increase, as well as those related to things like housing or utility inquiries. Entries can be separated by type:
Serious investigations occur when you allow a potential creditor to check your file as part of an application. These can cause a small temporary drop in your credit scores.
Informal inquiries, which do not affect your credit scores, occur when you check your own credit or a potential creditor sees if they want to send you a promotional offer.
Both types of requests will include the name and address of the organization, and the date. Make sure that all serious requests have been authorized by you and disappear from your report after two years.
What information is not on your credit reports?
It makes a big difference in your day-to-day life, but your salary doesn’t show up on your credit reports and doesn’t affect your credit scores.
Credit reports may list your employers, but they don’t say if or when your employment ended. The information is for identification purposes and comes from your previous credit applications.
Spouse’s marital status and credit history
You can get married, but not your credit reports. You and your spouse will each have separate credit reports, and their credit will not affect yours. But take note: Accounts you open together — a mortgage or shared credit cards, for example — show up on both credit reports, and errors like late payments can affect you both.
Your bank balances, retirement accounts such as 401(k), and investment or brokerage accounts do not appear on your credit reports.
When you borrow money from yourself, it doesn’t show up on your credit reports. (But that’s usually not a good idea either — it can really set back the progress of your retirement savings.)
If you see errors, dispute them
If you spot any inaccuracies that could lower your scores, gather documentation to back up your claim. You can dispute credit report errors with the credit bureau showing them. You will need to provide copies of documents proving your identity and stating why the item is wrong. The bureau has 30 days to investigate and respond, although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has guidelines extending that to 45 due to the pandemic.
How can I see what’s on my credit file?
What appears on a credit report?
What is a good credit score range?
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