What's in Your Credit Report?

Understanding the information contained in your credit report can help you resolve any issues that may appear and alert you to potential problems that can seriously affect your overall credit score. Essentially, a credit report is a history of your financial transactions, both negative and positive, and offers an overview of past and current payment habits as well as personal data used to identify you as the individual in question. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the three major credit bureaus; while each uses a slightly different format to present its results, the information contained in the report is typically much the same.

Personal identification
Your credit report will include your personal data, including:

• full legal name and any names you may have used in the past
• current and past addresses
• names of current and past spouses, if any
• names of any co-applicants for credit or loans
• names of dependents, when available
• date of birth
• current and past employers with dates of employment
• current and past telephone numbers
• Social Security number

This information is used to identify you positively as the person responsible for the financial information included in the report. Some credit reports list your income, dates of employment at each company, and dates of residence as well if this information can be determined.

Public records
This part of the credit report includes any judgments or legal actions that have been decided against you. Typically, the date the action was filed, the amount of the original claim, the outstanding amount due, and the date of resolution if any are all included in the entry, as well as the name and contact information for the court where the judgment was rendered. Bankruptcies are also listed in this section of the credit report; Chapter 7, 11, and 13 bankruptcies remain on the report for ten years.

Credit history
It’s a common misconception that only negative information appears on your credit report. In fact, positive information can remain on your credit report indefinitely, while negative information typically is only reported for seven years after the last transaction on the account. For each entry in your credit history, the following information is listed if it is currently available:

• name, address, and contact number of creditor
• account number
• current status of the account, including collections
• date opened
• type of account (installment, revolving)
• terms of the account
• credit limit or original amount of loan
• high balance
• monthly payment
• responsibility for the account
• date last reported to the credit bureau

This information allows lending institutions to determine your creditworthiness when you apply for a loan or other credit arrangement; by looking at your past history of payments, they can assess the risk entailed in offering you a loan. Higher risk profiles typically result in denied applications or higher rates of interest on loans and other financial arrangements.

The final word
All three of the major credit bureaus allow consumers to dispute or add statements regarding negative credit information that appears on their accounts. If you feel that some account information is incorrect or misleading, you can contact the credit bureaus directly to dispute it or to add an explanatory note to the account. Additionally, it is possible to add a general explanatory statement to your entire credit report that explains a period of late payments or apparent irresponsibility. If you had a good reason for paying late or failing to meet your obligations, some lenders may take your statement into consideration when deciding whether or not to offer you credit and at what terms that credit will be extended to you. In this way, you can have the final word even when significant negative information exists on your credit report.