How to read your credit report

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When was the last time you checked your credit report? If the answer is never, it’s time to familiarize yourself with this important financial document.

Checking your credit report is something you should do annually to ensure there are no errors on your report. For instance, if you paid off your car loan, but it is still showing as you owing money on it. Or if you made a payment on your credit card, but your credit report says your delinquent on that credit card payment. Mistakes happen. But those errors on your report can interfere with your financial matters like qualifying for a loan or renting an apartment. Unless you’re regularly checking, you might not find out about issues until it’s too late.

You actually have three different credit reports. Each of the major U.S. credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—use a slightly different format. It’s important to monitor all three for any false information that could impact your credit score. You’re entitled by law to a free copy of each report every 12 months, and you can buy additional reports if you want to check more often.

Here’s an overview of what you’ll find in your credit report:

Account summary

Some credit bureaus provide a snapshot of your credit profile so you can see at a glance how you’re doing. The account summary is an overview of the main factors that contribute to your FICO score, including:

  • Current balances
  • Payments
  • Open and closed accounts
  • Delinquent accounts
  • Inquiries for the past 2 years

Personal information

Your credit report includes identifying information that connects you to your credit history. Make sure your personal information is correct since a mistake could mean someone else’s credit history is being linked to your report.

  • Name
  • Year of birth
  • Social Security Number
  • Current and previous addresses
  • Current and previous employers

Not all employers report to the credit bureaus, so don’t worry if you don’t see all of your previous jobs listed here.

Credit history

Your credit history comprises the bulk of your credit report. It’s a list of all your credit accounts and your track record for making payments. Your credit history shows whether:

  • When accounts are open or closed
  • When an account has been transferred
  • If payments were late

Review the status and balance of each account to make sure it’s accurate.

Public records

This section displays any negative information reported by the courts that can lower your credit score. Since your credit report is a financial document, it won’t include any non-financial public records you have, such as speeding tickets. It will include:

  • Bankruptcies
  • Tax liens
  • Civil judgments

Most public records will stay on your credit report for seven years. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy, however, will remain for 10 years.

Inquiries. Whenever you apply for credit, the lender will check your credit report to see how trustworthy you are. This appears on your report as an inquiry, which stays on your credit report for two years. Inquiries can come from:

  • Lenders
  • Employers
  • Landlord

Too many inquiries on your credit can negatively impact your credit score, so it’s best to keep credit or loan applications to a minimum.

If you find any errors on your credit report, you’ll need to dispute them. Gather some documentation that proves your claim, and contact the credit bureau. If you don’t receive an answer within 30 days, keep following up and monitoring your reports until the mistake is corrected.