This post is sponsored by Lexington Law.

Reading your credit report is one of the first adulting steps you should make as it’s a vital part of assessing your credit health.  Lenders, landlords, and employers use this information to identify your credit limits, ability to pay loans (credit, car, mortgage), likelihood of you paying rent, and determine your interest rates.  If you have a low score and are not aware of your report, it can seriously impact your future.

With that said, your credit report can be very confusing to read especially your first time around.  We’re going to break down each section and help you better understand the three major credit bureaus so you can thoroughly understand how to read your report and why it’s important.

But first, where can I can get my report?

According to Lexington Law, you can request it for free yearly from each of the three credit bureaus.  That means every year you should be reviewing this document, assessing your credit and checking for accuracy. 

Who are the three major credit bureaus?

A credit bureau is a company that maintains and collects individual credit information and then sells it to creditors, lenders, and consumers in the form of a credit report.  There are three-major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. 

They each issue separate credit reports that have information about your accounts, payment history, and credit activity.  Each bureau’s report uses different codes and it’s important to read their specific information as you navigate each report.  Here are examples for all three bureaus:

How do the credit bureaus get my information?

The credit bureaus don’t just randomly get your information.  They do their due diligence to try to make sure it’s accurate and collect your information in the following ways:

  • Shared information among the bureaus (usually fraud alerts as when one bureau receives notice they must share the information with the other two)
  • Reported by creditors (banks and credit card issuers)
  • Bought or collected by the bureaus to find information on tax liens or bankruptcy

Since each company has their own report, you want to make sure you review all three separate reports.

Now that I have my report, how do I read it?

Each report is broken into sections:

  • Personal Information
  • Special Message/Consumer Statements
  • Credit Summary/Account Information
  • Public Records
  • Inquiries

Let’s break down each section.

Personal Information

This section contains your name (inclusive of aliases), birthdate, social security number, phone number, current and former addresses, and current employer.

Special Message/Consumer Statements

This would only appear if you’ve disputed a previously claim and it wasn’t approved.  It would have your statement as to why you don’t approve of the report.

Credit Summary/Account Information

In this section, you’ll find specific information about your accounts (open and closed accounts with dates, current account balance, status of your loan payments, current account balances, payment history, and how much of your available credit you use at a given time). 

Just an FYI, late payments can stay on your report for up to seven years from your missed payment.

Public Records

Bankruptcies, tax liens, foreclosures are listed here. These items can stay on your report for seven to ten years even if you’ve paid them off.

Inquiries

This is when a financial institution (lender or credit card company) checks your credit before deciding to give you the loan or card (you usually authorize this). Things like applying for a credit card, buying a car, or trying to get mortgage fall into this area.

I read my report and noticed an error, what can I do?

If you find an error in your report, you have the option to send dispute letters on your own or hire a credit repair company like Lexington Law to manage the process for you.  They will take the hard work out of it and contact the bureaus on your behalf.

Now that you know what’s in your report, how to read it, and what to do if you find an error; it’s important to stay on top of it.  Your credit report and credit score can determine your approval to buy a car or house, land your dream job or rent your next apartment.  If you’re looking for additional tips, Lexington Law has an extensive blog section.

Alissa Carpenter

Alissa Carpenter

Professional Trainer, Speaker and Career Coach at Everything's Not OK and That's OK
Alissa Carpenter offers professional development and career exploration to companies, alumni groups, student advising units, and individuals across the country. She works to enhance team communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills with an upbeat personality and true passion for working with others to set and achieve goals.Alissa has an MEd in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education, is a Gallup-Certified Clifton Strengths Coach and is certified in the Strong Interest inventory.
Alissa Carpenter