Why do you need to know how to read and analyze your credit report? You are ready to rebuild your credit and you have ordered your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. But what exactly are you looking at? What do all of these numbers, letters and codes mean? What should you look for first?
Regularly reviewing your credit report is a good financial habit that will help to keep your credit score healthy for years to come. When you learn how to analyze your credit report, you will learn to quickly spot discrepancies and errors so that you can have them corrected immediately. By creating this good financial habit, it will also help you spot any fraudulent activity on your report.
We go over step by step what you should be looking for when analyzing your credit report. Now that you are armed with a copy of your credit reports from all three bureaus, we will go through each area of information so you know what to look for when analyzing your account.
This is where you will find any and all personal information such as your name(s), addresses, birth date, last four of your social and employers, both previous and current.
Do not be surprised if you see different variations of your names. You will often see it spelled differently, with or without a middle initial and for women you may see previous married names and maiden names, etc. You may see missing employment information as well.
Here is what you need to be concerned about. Additional addresses on your credit report are a red flag that someone may be obtaining credit in your name fraudulently. While little mistakes are not a huge concern, larger errors, like an address you have never lived or received mail at are a major concern.
A credit repair tactic that is often used will be to dispute all previous addresses from your credit report even if they are accurate. This will not raise your score but it may help in the credit dispute process once you get started.
People who have disputed credit report errors by mail, or sought validation of your debt, have found that responses to credit disputes were sent to their old address, rather than to where they currently live. Sending mail to an old address is a tactic that unscrupulous debt collectors use to get around the law and string you along.
Just below the section with your name and address, you will see any reported fraud issues that are associated with your social security number. These will tell you if there have been any reported incidents of fraud or identity theft. If you have never reported any of these types of incidents and you see it then this is a red flag and they should be investigated. Conversely, if you have reported a fraudulent situation and you do not see it then that should also be investigated.
This will be the section that reports every credit account you have had such as credit cards, installment loans, auto loans and mortgages to name a few. The accounts section is the most important to understand when you are repairing your credit. Any inaccurate information will need to be disputed so that it can be potentially removed. Here is what to look for:
- The creditor’s name and address.
- The date you opened any credit accounts or took out any loans.
- Type of credit offered like mortgage or credit card.
- The current balance on each account. Remember this can lag for 30 days.
- Your payment history and whether or not you are current.
- Status of the account, Whether it is open, closed or has been transferred.
- The credit limits and total loan amounts.
You will also see corresponding letters next to each account explaining the type of credit the account is. Below is an example.
O Open Account (30, 60 or 90 days)
R Revolving or Option
C Check credit (line of credit)
Your accounts and credit history is the section that will make up the majority of your credit report. Every account listed will include a lot of information. If you’ve ever had issues paying off your debts, this is the main area where those debts will show up.
Negative remarks and other information.
If there is any negative information on your credit report it may read like this. You will be looking for late payments, repossessions, charge-offs, bankruptcies, etc. You will want to review this information to make sure it is accurate.
- Public Records
- Derogatory Accounts
- Unsatisfactory Accounts
All of these are bad and in that order. Usually, your reports will be in sections that are actually titled. Some will say “Accounts in Good Standing”, “Negative Accounts”, “Derogatory Accounts”, etc. Your credit history is the section that
will make up the bulk of your report.
Each account listed will include a lot of information, from the creditor’s name to the type of credit offered to the total amount owed to your history of repayment. If you’ve ever had issues paying off your debts, this is where they’ll show up.
Here is an example from Transunion who offers a chart to help understand their codes for their credit report.
CODE DESCRIPTION FOR MANNER OF PAYMENT
01 Pays as agreed
02 30–59 days past the due date
03 60–89 days past the due date
04 90–119 days past the due date
05 120 days or more past the due date
07 Paying or paid under Wage Earner Plan or similar arrangement
8A Voluntary repossession
8P Paying or paid account with MOP 08
09 Charged off to bad debt
9B Collection account
9P Paying or paid account with MOP 09 or 9B
It will take time to go through your reports, but once you spot these sections, you will then look at each account reporting and analyze what is being listed for each account.
Public records are the worst entry that can happen on a credit report. These include bankruptcies, tax liens, judgments, and other items of “public record” that anyone can see.
Typically when you have a public record, you will get inundated with letters from lawyers who promise to help you. The letters are usually from lawyers who purchased your information from the credit bureaus, in order to try to sell you their
expensive services. Some will try to scare you. The more creative firms will send you letters that look handwritten. They aren’t. Be very careful with these.
It is important to know this number from all three credit reporting bureaus because if there is one credit score that is dramatically different from the other there could be an error that is causing the lower score. You can read more about FICO credit scores but for a quick reference here are the credit score ranges that will be on a credit report.
|Credit Score||Rating||% of People|
- People with good credit scores pay less for the money they borrow.
- People with lower scores will often be charged at a higher rate.
- When people are desperate because they are in a bad situation will end up taking those terms even if it is not in their best interest. Buy here, pay here auto loans are a great example.
Your credit report should also include notations next to your score that explains which factors have most influenced it. These are basically telling you what needs to be improved on your credit report. You can take these remarks and use them as a guide to helping you increase your credit score.
Inquiries show when a creditor has pulled your credit to review. There are two types of inquiries.
- Hard inquiries happen when you authorize a potential creditor to check your file as part of an application. These will cause a small dip in your credit scores. However, credit can be denied based on your hard inquiries.
- Soft inquiries, which don’t affect your credit scores, happen when you check your own credit or a potential creditor sees if it wants to send you a promotional offer. The creditors purchase this information from the bureaus to determine who they will market to for credit products.
Often you will see multiple hard inquiries when you purchase an automobile. The auto dealer will have multiple lenders pull your credit to see who will offer both the dealer and you the best interest rates and terms.
I typically will have my financing in place before I purchase the car to avoid this scenario. Although the credit bureaus do not hit you as hard as if you were getting the hard inquiries spread out over time, they still do affect your credit score.
Finding Errors and Disputes
Once you have reviewed all of the information and requested that your previous addresses be removed you can move forward with disputing inaccurate information.
You can do this online with each bureau’s online dispute centers, but as always, we recommend that you instead send real letters by certified mail. It will help you, in the long run, to be more successful with repairing your credit.
Improving Your Credit Scores
Once you have finished disputing the errors on your credit report it is time to come up with a plan to restore it. Through some effort, you can very quickly get a decent credit score. However, this can take time depending on your resources.
The fastest way to raise your credit score is through a friend or family member that is willing to add you as an authorized user. Once you are on their account it will be easy to obtain a few credit cards that will be beneficial. You can also purchase a tradeline account through a reputable company.
If tradelines are not an option for you there are several secured credit cards that will assist you in getting the credit you deserve.
Understanding how to read your credit report will go a long way in taking responsibility for your credit health. This is an important step in your journey to achieve a high FICO credit score.
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