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Your credit history is one of the most important pieces of information in your financial life. Your credit report is a snapshot of your credit history.

Understanding your credit report may help you both protect and improve your financial health. The information contained in your credit report is used to determine your credit score. Lenders use this information to help them decide whether to give you a loan. If they decide to lend you money, it can factor into determining what your loan amount and your interest rate might be.

Because of this, it’s a good idea to check the information in your credit report each year.1 By reviewing it, you also keep an eye out for possible errors and spot potential identity theft.

There are three credit reporting agencies, also called credit bureaus or consumer reporting agencies: TransUnion®, Equifax®, and Experian®. You can request a free copy of all three of your credit reports annually from annualcreditreport.com. After receiving your free copies, you can still request additional credit reports but for a fee. Checking your own credit reports will not impact your credit score.

Looking at your credit report for the first time may be confusing. But it doesn’t need to be. We’ve broken it down to help you make sense of it all.

Infographic shows a sample credit report, including the five areas of a credit report: personal information, credit accounts, inquiries, public records, and collection items.

What is included in a credit report?

While each of the three credit reporting agencies might present your information differently, your credit report will include five important areas:

  1. Personal information
  2. Credit accounts
  3. Inquiries
  4. Public records
  5. Collection items

Each category contains information that you should review. Look for things you do not understand or that you believe to be inaccurate. Contact the credit reporting agency if you have any questions or disputes. This can be done free of charge and without affecting your credit score.

Infographic shows information that is included in the personal information section of a credit report. Information includes name, date of birth, Social Security number, phone number, address, and employer.

Personal information

The first section in your credit report shows your personal information. While the information listed does not affect your credit score, you should check that all the details are accurate and complete. Incorrect information may be a sign that you are a victim of identity theft or an error has occurred.

If you do see errors, contact the credit bureau to update the information. Lenders use these details to match your credit report with any new applications and may rely on them to send you communications.2

The personal information section may include:

  • Your name and any name you might have used in the past in connection with a credit account
  • Social Security number or taxpayer identification number
  • Current and former addresses
  • Date of birth
  • Phone numbers
  • Employment history
Infographic shows an example of the type of information that would be included in the credit accounts section of a credit report. Includes a list of credit accounts, including the creditor's business name, account number, date the account was opened, original credit amount, account balance, and account status.

Credit accounts

Your credit account information lists the companies that have issued you credit. It will include your current loans and loans or accounts you’ve had in the past. Some lenders don’t report information to all three credit reporting agencies. That’s one reason why it is important to review your credit report from each of the three. You will want to ensure that you recognize each account, and that the information is correct. Negative information could be the result of a mistake or the result of fraud and can remain on your report for up to seven years. Past accounts in good standing should remain on your report for 10 years.2

The credit accounts section typically includes :

  • Current and historical credit accounts
  • Name of creditor
  • Credit limit or amount
  • Account balance
  • Dates account was opened and closed
  • Account payment history
Infographic shows examples of information found in the inquiries and public records areas of a credit report. This information includes companies or people who have pulled this report in the past 24 months and bankruptcy filings from the past 7–10 years that appear in public records.

Inquiries

Credit inquiries, also called credit checks, occur if a company or person has a legally permitted reason to see your credit report. Only so-called “hard” inquiries are shown to potential lenders, though you might see “soft” inquiries when you review your own credit report. Too many hard inquiries in a short period of time may be a red flag to potential lenders that you are seeking too many loans.

  • Hard: A hard inquiry is made when you apply for credit, including a mortgage, credit card, personal loan, or car loan.
  • Soft: A soft inquiry may occur for several reasons, including if you are researching possible loans, if employers are conducting a background check, or if lenders are deciding whether to send you a pre-approved offer.3

Public records

This area of your credit report refers to public records that might affect your creditworthiness.4 Up until recently, this may have included bankruptcy filings, liens, civil judgments. However, bankruptcies are now the only public record reporting agencies list, though other records continue to be publicly available elsewhere. Because a bankruptcy filing might make obtaining new loans more difficult and expensive, it is important that you check any items here to ensure that they are accurate. Remember that any bankruptcy filing should be removed from your report after 7 to 10 years.5

Infographic shows what information is included in the collection items area of a credit report. This information includes companies that own the account, the account name, account number, amount due to collector, the original account balance, and when the account was opened.

Collection items

A collection item is an account that became past due and was moved to a collections department or sold by the lender to a separate collection agency or debt collector. When that occurs, the account is listed in this section of your credit report.6 As with other information in your report, you would want to ensure that these items are valid. Keep in mind that a late payment or an account that has moved into collections may have a negative impact on your credit score. It might make obtaining a loan more difficult or more expensive. These items can remain on your credit history for seven years after you first miss a payment.

  • The information in this section typically includes:
  • Account information
  • Date the collection account was opened
  • Name of original creditor
  • Original loan amount and current amount owed
  • Your statement of explanation or dispute

What is not included in your credit report

While much of your credit history is contained in your credit report, there are significant areas of your personal and financial life that are not. These include your income, your investments, your bank account balances, any medical information, criminal records, level of education, marital status, or your race, religion, ethnicity, political affiliations, or disabilities.

Know your rights

Your credit report might also include an overview of your rights as found in the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and elsewhere. This would typically be included at the end of the report. Knowing your rights helps ensure that you know what protections you have as a consumer.

While it is important to review your credit report for correct information, know that some details only stay on your report for a set number of years, as determined by laws and regulations.4 Hard inquiries remain on your credit report for two years, but only those from the past 12 months will affect your credit score. Closed accounts that had a history of on-time payments could remain up to 10 years, while accounts with negative information may only stay up to seven years.6 And some medical debt is protected from being listed on your credit report.7 It is important to verify that all information is up to date and adheres to current consumer protection laws.

You also have the right to add certain statements to your credit report. These might include identity theft, service member alerts, or a notice to freeze any credit activity.

Are credit reports the same as credit scores?

No, credit reports and credit scores are not the same. Your credit scores are not contained in your credit reports. The scores are calculated by separate companies that use the information from your credit reports. But because so much of your financial life depends on your credit score and your score is built on the history in your credit report, it is important to understand what your credit report contains and what it means.

Why your credit reports matter

It is recommended that you review your credit reports at least once a year as an important step to protect your financial health. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau even provides a checklist to help you review your credit reports. And with a detailed list of your credit accounts and balances, you might be well positioned to adjust your borrowings, create an effective budget, and save money on interest.

How you can use your credit report to improve your credit health

In addition to being a vital tool for lenders, your credit report could provide you with valuable information about your own financial health.

When you review your credit report, for example, you might notice accounts that you did not remember you had or late payments you did not know existed. You could also see recent balances on your existing accounts. This may help you assess whether there are steps you could take to simplify your finances and save money.

One key step might be to consolidate several accounts into a personal loan. Personal loans may be used to consolidate credit card debt. Combining multiple higher-rate balances into a single loan with one set regular monthly payment might save you on interest.

Learn About Debt Consolidation

Articles may contain information from third parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third party or information.

1 https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_adult-fin-ed_check-your-credit-report.pdf
2 https://www.transunion.com/how-to-read-your-credit-report
3 https://www.transunion.com/article/credit-corner-whats-an-inquiry#:~:text=Simply%20put%2C%20a%20credit%20inquiry,from%20a%20company%20or%20person
4 https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/public-records-that-appear-on-your-report/
5 https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/public-records-that-appear-on-your-report/
6 https://www.transunion.com/blog/credit-advice/how-long-do-closed-accounts-stay-on-credit-report.
7 https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/medical-debt-anything-already-paid-or-under-500-should-no-longer-be-on-your-credit-report/