The Credit Game

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How to read a credit report

Anyone who has ever had debt—such as loans or credit cards—has a credit report. When’s the last time you took a close look at yours? With so many financial obligations and accounts to keep track of, it can be easy to put off reviewing your credit report, but learning how to read a credit report provides you with a good overview of your credit history and gives you a chance to make sure everything listed there is up to date.

As it turns out, you actually have three credit reports, one from each of the credit bureaus that maintain a file on your credit history: TransUnion®, Experian® and Equifax®. While the appearance of these credit reports differs slightly, the information they contain tends to be similar. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find in each of your credit reports:

What's in your credit report?


Provides a high-level overview of your current accounts, balances and negative items

Credit history

Shows details about all of your revolving, installment and mortgage accounts, including balances and payment history by month

Consumer statements

Contains any statements you've provided that dispute or give context for items in your credit report

Personal information

Lists information about your name, address, Social Security number and birthday, as well as aliases and former residences


Notes both soft and hard inquiries, which are used by lenders and other institutions to access your credit history

Public records

Catalogs public records related to debt, like discharged bankruptcies


Supplies details about unpaid debts that have gone to a collection agency

FCRA information

Presents key information about the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which provides consumer protections, including the ability to dispute items on your credit report

Below, we’ll take a closer look at all of these items, including information about where to get a credit report, what to pay close attention to and how to file a dispute if you find inaccurate information in your report.

Where can you get a credit report?

Everyone is entitled to a free credit report from each bureau once a year at, which is the easiest way to access your report. After filling in your personal information and verifying your identity, you’ll be able to download your report immediately.

Some people choose to get reports from all three bureaus at the same time to compare information, while others spread out their reports throughout the year. In any case, remember that a credit report is different from a credit score, which is commonly provided by many finance apps, banks or credit card companies.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, credit reports have been accessible weekly, though it’s uncertain how long this opportunity for more frequent access will last.

Notably, a credit report does not contain information about your income, gender, race, ethnicity or marital status. Instead, you’ll find the following sections: summary, credit history, consumer statements, personal information, inquiries, public records, collections and FCRA documentation.

Keep reading to learn how to read a credit report and what to look out for.


The summary of your credit report will include a basic overview of the report, including information about your overall debt load, the average age of your credit and the age of the oldest account you have.

The summary acts as a table of contents for the rest of your credit report, since you’ll be able to see here if you have any consumer statements, inquiries, public records or collections—which you’ll find detailed in the report itself.

What to look for: if something doesn’t look accurate—like a high balance or a large number of inquiries—jump immediately to the relevant section to get a more detailed look.

Why it matters: having a clear overview of your credit helps you determine what needs to be prioritized in your financial life.

Accounts and credit history

Your accounts and credit history will be recorded in this section, which should include all open credit accounts as well as accounts closed within the last seven to 10 years.

The accounts will usually be separated into several categories:

  • Revolving which includes credit cards and other lines of credit

  • Installment which includes fixed-payment debt like student loans or car loans

  • Mortgage which is used to purchase a home

  • Other like child support or other financial obligations that are legally required to be listed on your report

For each category, you’ll see information about all of your accounts, including current balances and historical payments. Your balance may not be completely current, as information is not reported every day to the credit bureaus, so a recent payment might not appear when you access your credit report.

Missing or late payments will also be noted here, and the report will show whether each account is in good standing. Overall, credit history is one of the most influential factors in your credit score, so you’ll want to review this section carefully.

What to look for: keep an eye out for accounts you don’t recognize or for an inaccurate payment history.

Why it matters: payment history is the single most important factor in determining your credit score, so you’ll want to keep an eye on late payments or high balances.

Consumer statements

A consumer statement is a note you write for your credit report to provide context or indicate disagreement with some piece of information that the report mentions. Often, people will include a consumer statement if a dispute fails to have a negative item removed.

What to look for: if a statement that you’ve submitted is not included in your credit report, you’ll want to contact the credit bureaus directly to determine why this happened.

Why it matters: even if your dispute isn’t successful, you still may want to provide potential lenders with crucial details to explain negative aspects of your credit report.

Personal information

The personal information listed on your credit report is used to identify you. In general, you can expect to see the following information:

  • Name

  • Former names or aliases

  • Birthday

  • Social Security number

  • Current address

  • Former addresses

Contrary to popular belief, information about your race, ethnicity, gender, marital status and income do not appear in your credit report.

What to look for: any incorrect personal information could indicate that someone has stolen your identity or that inaccuracies are on your credit report in other categories.

Why it matters: personal information is used to identify you when you’re accessing your report or when lenders pull your credit, so accurate information is key.


Inquiries are notations that indicate when your credit file has been accessed. Both soft and hard inquiries will be noted on your credit report, and the difference is important to understand.

Soft credit inquiries are used for pre-approval or when you pull your own credit information. Some credit monitoring software also uses soft inquiries. These inquiries have no effect on your credit score.

Hard credit inquiries are authorized by you for certain transactions, like getting a new loan or credit card. These inquiries fall off your report after a couple of years, but having too many on your report at once could drop your credit score.

Inquiries aren’t inherently bad, but you do want to generally be careful to space out when you authorize hard credit inquiries—otherwise, your score could take a hit.

What to look for: make sure that you recognize all the lenders and institutions who have made inquiries into your credit.

Why it matters: too many hard inquiries all at once can drop your credit score, so you’ll want to keep an eye on how often your credit is accessed and who accesses it.

Public records

Some public records may also appear on your credit report if they’re directly related to your finances. Generally, the only public records that are likely to appear on your report today are bankruptcies. While it used to be common for tax liens and judgments to show up, new policies from the credit bureaus have led to these typically being left off.

What to look for: if you have a listed bankruptcy but never actually filed, you’ll want to investigate. Also, if your bankruptcy is older than 10 years, it’s likely that it should no longer be listed on your credit report.

Why it matters: bankruptcy is one of the most debilitating marks you can have on your credit report, so you’ll want to continue to monitor how it’s affecting your overall credit health.


Accounts that are currently in collections will be listed on your credit report as well. These accounts, which have been turned over to a collection agency who seeks to have the debt repaid, are typically delinquent. That means that payments haven’t been made on the account for anywhere from 30 days to 120 days or more.

Collections accounts have a serious negative effect on your credit score, and the accounts are likely to be listed even if you pay them off—though they’ll be noted as closed.

What to look for: if you have collections accounts erroneously listed, you’ll want to file a dispute with the credit bureaus to have them removed.

Why it matters: collections accounts can have a significant negative effect on your credit, so working to get these accounts resolved and removed is important.

Information about the Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a consumer protection law that outlines how credit bureaus, debt collectors and lenders can act and what they are allowed to do with your information.

Your credit report will include detailed information from the FCRA, including how to file a dispute if you believe that inaccurate information appears on your report. Below, we’ll talk more about how to initiate a dispute if you’ve found an error.

How often should you review your report?

It’s advisable to review your credit report at least once a year, though many people stagger pulling their free credit reports so they can see their reports three times a year.

Additionally, you should aim to review your credit report if you’ve made any recent changes to your credit behavior or you’re planning to get new credit soon.

For example, if you paid off a significant debt, you’ll want to review your report to make sure that the new balance is reflected—but be mindful to wait at least a month to check, as it can take some time for the credit bureaus to get new information.

If you’re planning to open a new credit card or obtain a loan (like a car loan or mortgage), reviewing your credit report gives you an opportunity to make sure everything is in order before a lender reviews your credit history. If anything inaccurate is listed, you can file a dispute to make sure that your credit score is as high as possible before applying for new credit.

How to dispute inaccurate information

After reviewing your credit report, you may have noticed inaccurate information that you’d like to have removed. These errors on your report could include incorrect personal information, inaccurate balances or credit accounts that you never opened.

Fortunately, the FCRA offers a path for you to get that information removed or updated in just a few steps:

Gather evidence in support of your dispute.

Initiate the dispute by sending a letter to TransUnion, Equifax or Experian (you can also file over the phone or online, but a letter is recommended).

Wait for the results, which can take 30 days from the time the credit bureau receives your dispute.

Many people look for support when filing a dispute, as it can be helpful to know the ins and outs of the process. For that reason, working with a credit repair company is often useful, as they have detailed knowledge of the dispute process and can help you improve your score by removing inaccurate information from your report. If you’ve reviewed your report and have questions about filing a dispute, contact our team of credit repair advisors to get started.