Understanding the Different Sections of Your Credit Report
When you get copies of your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, you’re ready to walk through what can be, at times, a confusing landscape of codes and language that may seem as foreign as Swahili to you. Perhaps the best way to get a handle on how a credit report comes together is to take it apart, starting from the outside and working in.
Each credit report contains the following generic elements:
Your 100-word statement(s) (optional)
Credit score (optional)
The following covers each of these parts of your report in detail. Bear in mind, though, that the three credit-reporting agencies use slightly different names for each of these sections.
Personal profile: It’s all about your details
This section of your credit report may be labeled “Personal Profile” or “Personal Information,” depending on which credit bureau issues the report.
Appearing first in the order of credit report elements, your profile section contains the key components that help you verify that the report is actually about you: your name (and any of your previous names if you’re married or divorced or if you use multiple spellings or nicknames like Steve instead of Stephen), Social Security number, address(es), and current and previous employers.
Be sure to check the personal profile section and verify that all the information is correct. Something as simple as a transposed number in an old address can cause someone else’s credit history to end up on your report.
Accounts summary: An overview of your financial history
Each of the three bureau reports has a summary of your credit or accounts that shows you a broad history of what’s included in your credit report. It includes open and closed accounts, credit limits, total balances of all accounts, payment history, and number of credit inquiries. If you have a short attention span, the summary provides a one-page snapshot of your credit history.
But don’t worry: If you’re hungry for painstaking detail, you can find it in the Account History section.
A quick review of the summary section lets you know whether you need to scrutinize something in more detail that appears to be inaccurate or isn’t related to your account at all. For example, if you don’t have a mortgage, finding a mortgage account listed in your summary is an immediate red flag.
Public records: Tallying up your legal losses
Ideally, the section of your report dealing with public records is blank. Public records are negative items that come from — you guessed it — a public record. You have a public record if you’ve been the object of a court proceeding, filed for bankruptcy, received judgments or tax liens, or (in some states) defaulted on child support.
Credit inquiries: Tracking who has been accessing your file
Knock, knock. Who’s there? The section listing inquiries into your credit file shows who’s been knocking on the credit bureau’s door, asking if you’re home. People who are legally allowed to view your credit information and have requested copies of your report are listed here. They include businesses and individuals you’ve given permission to, such as employers, insurance companies, and lenders, as well as yourself.
This section also shows the date of each inquiry and how long the inquiry will remain on your report. An inquiry that you initiated to, say, shop for or obtain credit stays on your report for two years.
Your own copies of your credit reports have information about credit inquiries. When you request access to your own credit file, you get some extra information in a separate section. Inquiries from creditors who looked at your credit report for the purposes of extending preapproved credit offers show up for only you to see. These inquiries aren’t revealed to others who request your report and don’t count against you.
Account history: Think of it as a payment CSI
Your account history section, sometimes titled “Account Information,” is the heart of your credit report. It shows all open and closed accounts with near forensic detail about payment history, balances, and account status over the last seven years
Each credit bureau displays these details in its own unique way. If you see negative items that you don’t recognize or that are more than seven years old, dispute them using the instructions included with your report and they’ll be removed.