Steps to Check Your Credit Report

Your credit report contains detailed financial information about you. Learn how to check your credit report and what to look for.
A family gathers in the kitchen while a father sits at the table looking at his computer, and his child sits next to him.
By Anna Baluch
Posted on: January 24th, 2022

Your credit report is an important part of your financial health. It can determine whether you qualify for a mortgage, car loan, personal loan, credit card, debt consolidation, or other types of financing.

That’s why it’s wise to check your credit report on a regular basis and truly understand what’s on it. By doing so, you can dispute any inaccuracies and get an idea of how lenders may perceive you when you decide to borrow money.

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What You’ll Need to Check Your Credit Report

The three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) have a centralized website called AnnualCreditReport.com. You can visit it to request a free copy of your credit report from each agency once per year. If you prefer, you may order copies of your reports via phone at 1-877-322-8228.

Another option is to fill out a mail request form and send it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga 303348-5281. No matter which method you choose, be prepared to provide the following information to confirm your identity:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Social Security Number
  • Date of Birth

Also, if you’ve moved within the last two years, you might need to verify your previous addresses. In addition, you’ll get asked a few security questions that only you would know the answers to, such as how much you pay for your mortgage or when you took out your auto loan. Keep in mind that each bureau might ask you for different information, even if you attempt to get all three reports at once. Getting all three reports will enable you to check your credit report to find any discrepancies by comparing them all.

What You’ll See On Your Report

Now that you know how to check your credit report, you may be wondering what your reports will contain. When you receive your credit reports, you can expect to find the following:

Personal Information: This section identifies who you are. It may include your full name, alternative names such as your maiden name, your birth date, current and previous addresses, and phone numbers. Your Social Security number as well as current and past employers may be listed as well.

Credit Accounts: In the credit accounts section, you’ll notice your current and previous credit accounts from the past seven to 10 years. These may be installment accounts like loans and mortgages in addition to revolving accounts such as credit cards and personal lines of credit. There will be details on each account that state when it was opened, your loan amount or credit limit, your balance, and your payment history.

Inquiries: The purpose of the inquiries section is to show all the companies like credit card issuers and loan lenders that have pulled your credit report. While hard inquiries may affect your credit, soft inquiries will not.

Public Records: Your credit report will also reveal any bankruptcies, liens, foreclosures, and civil judgments. In addition, it might disclose any past-due accounts from hospitals, banks, retail stores, and other companies that have been turned over to a collection agency.

You might be surprised to learn that your income, buying habits, bank account habits, and credit score won’t be on your credit report. Other information such as your marital status, education level, and criminal records will be excluded as well.

Credit Report Glossary

If you know what these terms mean, you’ll find it easier to understand and check your credit report.

  • Account Age: How long you’ve had an account on your credit report. If you keep your accounts open for a long time, you can improve your credit.
  • Account Types: The types of accounts on your credit report. These may include mortgages, car loans, unsecured loans, and student loans.
  • Balance: The amount of money you owe on a particular account at the time a lender or creditor last checked. Note that this may differ from what you currently owe.
  • Payment History: How well you make payments on an account. Of course, timely payments are better than missed or late payments.
  • Charge Off: A negative remark that happens when you go delinquent on an account for an extended period of time, usually 120 to 180 days. The creditor may write off or “charge off” the account as a loss.
  • Collection Account: A debt account that the original creditor has sold to a third-party debt collection agency. This usually happens when you’re more than 180 days late on your payments.
  • Delinquency: An account that has not been paid on time. Most lenders consider you delinquent when you’re 30 days late.
  • Credit Limit: The maximum amount of money a creditor or lender will allow you to spend. A credit limit applies to revolving accounts like credit cards, personal lines of credit, and retail store cards.
  • Good Standing: An account that has never been late and always been paid on time. One missed payment can prevent an account from being in good standing.
  • Open Account: An active account that still needs to be repaid. It can be any type of account like a mortgage or a personal loan.
  • Closed Account: An account with an agreement that has come to an end. It can remain on your credit report for up to 10 years.
  • Hard Inquiry: When you apply for new credit and a creditor has asked to look at your credit file to determine how risky you may be as a borrower. A hard inquiry can take a toll on your credit temporarily.
  • Soft Inquiry: When a company like an insurer or credit card issuer checks your credit card, typically as part of a background check. A soft inquiry won’t have any effect on your credit.

How to Dispute Errors

Unfortunately, credit reports aren’t always accurate. In fact, you may notice an incorrect address, a paid account that’s listed as open, or an account that doesn’t even belong to you. If you spot any incorrect information when you check your credit report, be sure to dispute it as soon as possible.

You can reach out to the credit agency directly or ask the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB for support. Most credit agencies will require you to send them a letter that describes the error. They’ll have about 35 days to investigate it and respond to you. Disputing faulty information is essential as it can affect your ability to get approved for loans, credit cards, insurance policies, and even jobs.