by Jim Surkamp
Kieran was looking to get a new car and stopped by a Honda dealer. She really wanted a particular Accord that they had. But was very upset when she learned they would not approve her for a loan. She was told it was due to a couple of things on her credit report showing unpaid and defaulted. Just recently, she happened to get a copy of her credit report for another matter; however she really didn’t understand it. But she knew those accounts were already paid. Later that day she called the credit bureaus and faxed in the receipts. However the Honda dealer said everyone has to wait 90 days to re-apply. The Accord she really wanted sold. This situation could have been completely avoided and Kieran would have gotten that Accord if she only understood what the credit report said. Then she would have known to get it corrected and update it, BEFORE she ever applied for that car loan.
And that is the reason for this article. You will be given a basic overview of consumer credit reports. This article will be an easy guide on learning how to read and understand a credit report.
There are only 3 major credit bureaus in America. Experian (use to be TRW), Equifax, and Trans Union. Any other bureau that may be in your local area is in some way affiliated with one of these three major bureaus. Any person, or company, that pulls your credit is getting it either directly or indirectly from one of these three bureaus. These 3 are the only credit bureaus that matter in the U.S.
So now the question… How do I read my credit report?
It is not surprising to hear that, Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union all do their reports differently. But overall it really doesn’t matter because all credit reports are basically divided into four sections: Your Identifying Information, Your Credit History, Your Public Records, and the Inquiries which have been done on you.
1) Identity Information: This Identity Information section tells anyone reading the credit report exactly who you are. Name, date of birth, and social security number. Names may be listed more than once to reflect each way it has been previously spelled. If you applied for credit before and someone misspelled your name on the inquiry, it will be on your credit report indefinitely. Then if you are a female you will see the maiden last name and the married last name, also if you were divorced then went back to the maiden last name, if you marred again after that, etc. There is a possibility that you will see a lot of variations of your name. The important thing is that you review it closely to look for anything you do not recognize.
Additional information in this section will be your current address, previous addresses with telephone numbers. Plus driver’s license number, the employer, all past employers, the spouse name, etc. Any info that helps to indentify you.
2) Credit History: This is also sometimes called the accounts list, or your trade lines. This section will list your current and active accounts as well as any credit you have had in the past that was reported to the credit bureau.
In general, this section is going to list everything in the past 7 years. Most agree that the credit bureaus computers automatically delete anything that has “the date of last activity” that exceeds 7 years. For example if you open a account at Sears in June 1995 and made payments every month, then got delinquent and made your last payment on March 2004. Then March 2004 is the “date of last activity” and when the 7 years will start counting down. Then, say you want to try and fix your credit and sent them a payment in Oct 2007. The 7 years will start all over again from Oct 2007.
Each account listed will include the name of the creditor and the account number. The Credit History section will also include:
* Date account was opened * If the account is in your name only or if there is a co-signer * Total amount of the loan, which is listed as the high credit limit, or highest amount on the credit card * Existing balance as of date of credit report * The fixed payments each month for loans, or the minimum due each month for credit cards * The status as of the date of the credit report (open, inactive, closed, paid, etc.) * How have the payments been made on the account
How well you paid on the accounts is one of the main things that everyone checking your credit is looking at. It is reflected in a two part code.
The first part of the code is a letter that will either be an R or a I. The I stands for installment or fixed loan, these are set loans with a set payment amount, like car loans, mortgages, student loans, etc. And R stands for revolving which are mainly credit cards, department store cards, or line of credit, etc.
The second part is a number from 1 to 9. The 1 indicates that there have been no delinquencies and the account is current and paid on time. The 9 indicates numerous delinquencies, missed payments, partial payments, etc. Obviously 1 is the best, then 9 is the worst, and then there’s all the stages in between. Bottom line, anything other than a 1 is not looked at too favorably.
The codes are not difficult to understand once they are explained. People want to see I1 and R1. However they frequently create questions. Experian has started to insert plain language description like… never pays late… typically 30 days late… defaulted… etc.
3) Public Records: You do not want to see anything in this section. Only negative stuff that are the resort of court actions are listed in this section. Judgments, wage garnishments, bankruptcies, tax liens, etc. Something listed in this section will bring down your credit faster that anything else.
4) Inquires: Just as the name says, this section contains a list of companies that have requested to pull your credit report.
There are two types of credit inquires. Soft inquires are from companies who want to send out promotional information to a group, or either your current creditors monitoring your account. Then there are Hard inquiries which are the ones that you made happen by applying for credit somewhere like a loan, car financing, credit card, etc.
Most people are overly concern about inquires having a negative impact on their credit. It is true but it usually takes an awful lot of inquires before it will affect you. There is a certain amount that is just expected and considered normal. And when you want to buy something like a car, or a home, it is expected that you will shop around, therefore two or more of these type inquires in a 14 day period counts as just one.
As stated earlier, there are many credit companies who all get information either directly, or indirectly, from one of the main 3 credit bureaus. Then they format their credit reports in many different ways, and list things in different order. However they all will contain these 4 basic sections.
It is extremely important to know how to read your credit report. And knowing exactly what is on it is very important.
Many in the credit industry estimate that as many as 80% of all credit reports contain some kind of misinformation, mistake, or have not been updated.
If you do see an error on your report. You then need to speak to each of the bureaus, Trans Union, Experian and Equifax. You can fax directly to them, if you have acceptable documentation like a receipt or invoice. If not the creditors will have to be contacted and will have 30 days to respond.
We hope that this has been a benefit to you. Our goal was to provide the basic information that will teach anyone how to read and interpret a credit report. This is the only way to determine if it is correct, or if you need to have it updated. When you are planning to finance a car, buy a home, or applying for any kind of credit, you need to know what is on your credit report before the people making the decisions see it. Remember that when you request your own credit report it is never counts as an inquiry.