• Credit Report FAQs

    by Brandon Cornett, Home Buying Institute, © 2011

    Statement of Neutrality - Please Read
    This resource was created by Brandon Cornett, publisher of the Home Buying Institute. We do not represent or work for any of the credit-reporting agencies. We offer this list of credit report FAQs as a public service. This information is completely objective.

    1. What is a credit report?
    2. What's the difference between credit reports and scores?
    3. What's included in my report?
    4. Who can access my credit report?
    5. How do I get a free copy of my credit reports?
    6. Why is there so much marketing of credit reports?
    7. How do I read my report?
    8. When should I check my credit report?
    9. How often should I check my credit report?
    10. How do I correct errors in my credit report?
    11. How do I update my address on my credit report?

    What is a credit report? How does it relate to me, as a consumer? And why do I see them advertised on TV all the time? These are just a few of the questions we will answer in this list of credit report FAQs.

    1. What is a credit report?

    You can think of your credit report as a record of your previous financial activity. In particular, it shows how you have borrowed and repaid money over the years (through loans, credit cards, etc.). In the United States, consumer credit files are maintained by three different credit-reporting companies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Authorized lenders and creditors can request a copy of your credit report(s) to see how you've repaid your debts in the past.

    2. What's the difference between credit reports and scores?

    Your credit report is a record of financial activity. Your credit score is a number that's based on the information found within the report. Your FICO credit score (the one used by most lenders) is a number between 300 and 850. You have three scores, as shown in the image below.

    Credit Score History

    3. What's included in my credit report?

    Remember when you pulled that girl's pigtails in the third grade? That's in your credit report. Just kidding. Your reports will include the following information:

    • Personal information such as your name, SSN, current address, employer, etc. This comes from the information you give to creditors and lenders.
    • Information about your credit accounts, past and present. This comes from lenders and creditors who report on each credit account you have with them. They will report the type of account it is, when you opened it, the credit limit, and your history of making payments.
    • Public records. This includes any legal judgments that have been made against you (of a financial nature). It includes bankruptcy filings, tax liens, and other monetary judgments.
    • Inquiries. Whenever somebody "runs your credit," it will show up on your report. It should also show the name of the company or individual who requested your credit file.

    You may find other information in your credit report, in addition to what is listed above. But these are the most important items.

    4. Who can access my credit report?

    According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, anyone with a "legitimate business need" can request copies of your credit reports. This includes (but is not limited to) creditors, lenders, landlords, insurance companies, etc. An employer or potential employers can check your credit report, but only with your consent. State or local authorities can review your credit report if you're in a child-support arrangement, in order to verify your income.

    5. How do I get a free copy of my credit reports?

    You can do this by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the official website that is jointly owned by the three credit-reporting companies. It's also the only site that's regulated by the federal government. Why does this matter? Because there are literally thousands of websites that offer free credit reports, but most of them are trying to sell you something to go along with it (like credit-monitoring services). If you want that other stuff, then go for it. But if you only want your free credit report, you should use AnnualCreditReport.com.

    Yearly Credit Report Website

    6. Why is their so much marketing of credit reports these days?

    Many companies will offer you free credit reports or scores as an enticement to buy something else. Most of the time, they want you to sign up for some kind of monthly monitoring service. These services are often labeled as identify-theft prevention or credit monitoring. In order to obtain your credit reports in this manner, you would have to provide a credit card number. The company would then bill your card for the cost of their monthly service.

    If you visit one of these websites, you'll notice a lot of fine print. If you read and understand all of the fine print, and you still want to sign up for their services, then there's nothing stopping you. But if you only want your credit report (and none of the other stuff), refer to the previous question above.

    Learn more about credit report marketing.

    7. How do I read my credit report?

    Start with the personal information, such as your name, address and Social Security Number. Make sure all of this information is correct. Next, review the status of your various accounts. If you see a credit account that is not yours, you need to have it corrected. Check the status of your legitimate accounts, to make sure they are accurate. Check the public records section to make sure there aren't any erroneous items listed there (like a bankruptcy that never happened, or a judgment that's labeled incorrectly). 

    8. When should I check my credit report?

    It's a good idea to check your credit report before you apply for financing, such as an auto or mortgage loan. That way, if you find any errors on your reports, you can get them corrected before applying for the loan.

    9. How often should I check my credit report?

    That's up to you. Some people go their whole lives without ever seeing their credit reports. Other people check their reports every year, perhaps because they are concerned with identity theft. It's a good idea to review your reports before applying for a loan, as mentioned above. Aside from that, it's a personal choice.

    10. How do I correct errors in my credit report?

    You would start by contacting the company that produced the erroneous report. Remember, the credit reports maintained by TransUnion, Equifax and Experian are unique. They do not share information between themselves. Much of the information will be the same across all three reports, but they are still individual documents. So you need to dispute the error through the appropriate company.

    All three of the credit-reporting companies have a "disputes" section of their websites. You can find it by visiting the home page of their websites. You can also do a Google search for the company's name followed by the word "dispute," as in this example: TransUnion dispute

    You can dispute credit report errors by mail or online. There are some advantages to disputing the error online, through the company's website. It's faster, for one thing. It also allows you to check the status of your request by logging in to the website.

    If you have any documentation that supports your dispute, be sure to provide that as well. Mention the documents when you submit your request for correction. You can then follow up by faxing the items, if the reporting company asks for them.

    The thing to remember is that these companies are required by law to investigate any disputes. If their investigation shows that you are correct, or if they cannot make a determination one way or another, they must remove / correct the disputed item.

    The following quote comes from Section 611 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act:

    "If the completeness or accuracy of any item of information contained in a consumer's [credit report] file at a consumer reporting agency is disputed by the consumer ... the agency shall, free of charge, conduct a reasonable reinvestigation to determine whether the disputed information is inaccurate and record the current status of the disputed information, or delete the item from the file." They must do this within 30 days of receiving your request.

    Here's more information about correcting credit report errors:

    How to dispute credit report errors

    Writing a letter to dispute errors

    11. How do I update my address on my credit report?

    Refer to the previous question. The same process applies for updating your address. Eventually, your credit report data will catch up with your change of address. As creditors report the new address to the reporting companies, your information will be updated automatically. But if it's important to you, use the steps explained in the previous question.