How to Read a Credit Report

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While a credit score offers a high-level overview of your current financial standing, a credit report offers an in-depth look at your lending history. It’s important to read through your credit report once a year in order to stay on top of any inaccurate, outdated or missing information.

If you’re applying for new credit, you should review your credit report before the creditor pulls your file and makes their decision.

What’s in a Credit Report?

A credit report breaks down your credit history into four main sections:

  • Personal information
  • Open and closed accounts
  • Public records
  • Hard and soft inquiries
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1. Personal Information

The first section in your credit report is your personal information, which includes your:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number
  • Phone number
  • Employment information

Personal information is updated using data that you and your creditors provide. Inaccurate information in this section can be a sign that some applications were reported in error or that fraudulent accounts were opened under your name.

If you notice any of the following red flags, it’s important to submit a dispute seeking additional information.

  • Names you don’t recognize: Multiple names could mean someone is using your information to apply for credit.
  • Addresses at which you haven’t resided: Fraudulent accounts may be tied to a separate address in order to redirect mail and important documents away from you.
  • Unknown phone numbers: Scammers offer separate phone numbers to creditors so that you won’t receive calls about fraudulent accounts.
  • Incorrect social security number: Erroneous social security numbers can also be a sign of fraudulent activity. It’s important to correct it to ensure that only your information and activity are reported on your credit report—not someone else’s.
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2. Consumer Statements


Any statements you have given to a credit bureau appear here. For instance, if you disagree with the results of a dispute, you can add a statement that’s included in your credit report.

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3. Account Information

The account section of your credit report will display all your accounts and lines of credit, including credit cards and loans, reporting to the credit bureau. Typically, you’ll see info such as:

  • Open accounts: Your open accounts will display all active lines of credit that you’re currently using or are still paying off.
  • Closed accounts: Your closed accounts contain a citation for why the account was closed. Accounts closed due to inactivity or delinquency can all negatively impact your credit score.
  • Type of account: A credit card, student loan, etc.
  • Dates accounts were opened and closed
  • Payment history
  • Credit utilization:
    • Current account balance
    • Loan payment status
    • Name and address of the creditor
    • Whether you’re an individual or joint owner of the account or simply an authorized user

It’s important to go through your accounts to check for any issues that could be harming your credit score and/or could signify fraud.

Here are a few examples:

  • Accounts you’re not aware of opening: If you notice any accounts you don’t recall opening, you should contact the creditor for more information regarding the line of credit.
  • Charges you don’t remember: Charges or account totals can be reported in error. If charge numbers vary significantly, they can impact your credit utilization, which weighs into your overall credit score.
  • Reported late payments that you made on time: Late payments count as negative marks on your credit score and make you a higher risk when you’re being considered for new lines of credit.
  • Reported delinquencies you’ve paid off: If you’ve paid any delinquent or late debts it might be worthwhile to send a good faith removal letter to the creditor.
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4. Public Records

Public records cover information gathered from courts or other government agencies about legal matters associated with you. The most common public records are bankruptcies, tax liens and monetary judgments. Only public records pertaining to financial issues are reported in your credit history.

Expect bankruptcies to always appear on your credit report and typically fall off after 7 – 10 years. Civil judgments and tax liens are less likely to show up because there are new, stricter requirements set forth by the credit bureaus.

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5. Credit Inquiries

Hard and soft credit inquiries are listed on your credit report and give you a good idea of what creditors are viewing your credit report.

  • Soft inquiries: This includes times you have viewed your own credit report and when creditors pre-qualify you for credit cards or loans. Soft inquiries will not affect your overall credit score.
  • Hard inquiries: These are conducted mostly by creditors as a part of their application process. Hard inquiries should be checked thoroughly for any issues, as they will affect your credit score for up to 2 years.

If you find any of the following issues on your credit report, you may be able to submit a hard inquiry removal letter to the creditor or the credit bureau.

  • Inquiries you don’t recognize: Some hard inquiries are filed in error and others could be signs of fraudulent accounts or fraudulent application processes. If you do not recognize the creditor who filed the inquiry, it’s best to dispute the instance and ask for its removal.
  • Multiple hard inquiries from the same creditor: Occasionally the same creditor might submit a hard pull for your credit multiple times. Even if you approved the original inquiry, if the creditor was not upfront about the number of hard credit pulls, you may ask for its removal.

How Do I Get My Free Credit Report?

AnnualCreditReport.com is an online portal that offers a free copy of your credit report, although it does not include your credit score. The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you the right to access a free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

How Does Credit Repair Impact My Credit Reports?

Credit repair helps clean up your credit reports by thoroughly examining your report, finding inaccuracies and disputing questionable negative items on your behalf.

Knowing how to read through your credit report correctly will help you spot any signs of identity theft and erroneous or unsubstantiated negative items that don’t belong on your report. The credit repair consultants at Lexington Law can help you work to remove inaccurate information and improve your credit score through our credit repair process.