Understanding Your Credit Report

If you are like most consumers, you probably know that your credit report and credit score are important. But you may not fully understand what is actually contained in a credit report and how it can affect you financially. Your credit history is important to many people: prospective employers, mortgage lenders, utility companies, landlords, and more. You owe it to yourself to understand your credit report and know what influences your credit score.

Credit Bureaus

There are three main credit bureaus that gather financial information about you that is included in your credit report. They are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Your creditors- mortgage companies, loan companies, store credit accounts, and credit card lenders- all submit payment information to the credit bureaus every month. The credit bureaus then use this information to calculate your credit score. It's important to remember that your credit score is always changing. For example, newly opened accounts, late payments, or numerous inquiries can all affect your score.

What's Included

The following information is normally included in your credit report:

  • Your identity- including name, address, date of birth, and full or partial Social Security number
  • Your public record- including any tax liens, court judgments, or bankruptcies
  • Your current outstanding credit- including credit cards, mortgages, car loans, and student loans. This usually states how much you presently owe and your payment history for each account.
  • List of inquiries- including the people or companies who recently requested a copy of your credit report

Who's Looking and Why

Any time you apply for new credit, such as a credit card or car loan, that company will most likely look at your credit report to determine your creditworthiness. Others who may request your credit score/report are landlords, employers (both current and potential), insurance underwriters, and government licensing agencies. All of these people or companies want to know how financially responsible you are. From your credit report they can determine:

  • How many credit cards you have
  • If you make timely payments
  • How much outstanding debt you have
  • How much credit has been extended to you
  • If there are collection proceedings against you
  • How long you have had your accounts

Effects of Negative Credit Information

Negative credit information, such as late payments, can remain on your credit report for up to seven years. A bankruptcy can be listed for as long as ten years. The more negative items you have on your credit report, generally the lower your credit score. This credit score combined with your credit history are what creditors use to determine if you will be approved for new credit. They also use this information to calculate interest rates and overall loan terms and conditions. Someone with a low credit score can expect to pay a much higher interest rate for any type of loan and consequently will pay thousands of dollars more in interest charges over the life of the loan.

Review Your Report

You should review your credit report at least once a year. It is your responsibility to make sure that the information is accurate and up-to-date. Every consumer is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Also, if you are ever denied credit, that company has to send you an explanation in writing of why you were denied. This proof of denial letter allows you to receive a free copy of your credit report if you request it.

If you find inaccurate information in your credit report, you should contact the credit bureaus and inform them of the situation. You should have documentation available which substantiates your claim and which you can mail or fax to the appropriate department. Remember you have every right to dispute any information contained in your credit report.