Your credit reports are a record of your financial history, featuring important information about your credit cards and loans.
This information is used to calculate your credit score: positive information, showing responsible behavior, will improve your credit score. Negative information, like late payments and collection accounts, indicate irresponsible behavior and will lower your credit score.
There are three credit bureaus (also known as credit reporting agencies) that produce credit reports: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
You have a separate credit report from each of these companies, but for the most part the information in each report will be the same. However, in some cases you might notice some differences because not all lenders report to the same credit bureaus.
The layout of these reports is slightly different depending on the source, but if you’re exploring any of your credit reports you can focus in on the following four key parts.
Sections in Your Credit Report
Personal Identification Information
First, take a close look at your identifying information to make sure everything is correct – the spelling of your name, your current address and phone number, your Social Security number, birth date, and current employer.
One small mistake in any of that information can lead to headaches and declined credit down the road. If something is wrong, take steps to fix it right away by contacting the credit reporting agency that issued the report.
Accounts – Credit History
Next up is a list of your current accounts and detailed information about each one. This section will include all accounts you currently have with banks, credit card companies, retailers, and any other lenders, as well as accounts you have closed in recent years.
Each account is identified by the type of loan involved – a credit card, a home mortgage, a student loan, an installment loan, etc. Revolving accounts refer to credit cards and some other types, which have interest rates and terms that are subject to change. Installment loans have terms that are fixed at the outset and do not change.
In addition, you will see the date you opened the account, the amount of the loan or the credit limit on the account, and, most important, your payment history over the past two years. If you have been late with or skipped a payment, that will show up on your reports.
Even if you closed an account or paid off a loan, those accounts remain on your credit reports for a period of time. Each account has a “status” box that shows whether the account is open or closed, and either the current payment status or the payment status when the account was closed.
- “Closed/current” or simply “closed” means that the account is closed and that the payments were current
- “Closed/was XX days delinquent” means the account is closed and was delinquent by a certain number of days
- “Closed/never late” indicates that you closed the account and never made a late payment
- “Paid” indicates that you paid off that account, usually a loan.
- “Charged off” indicates that the debt on the account was delinquent and never paid in full.
Negative credit information, including delinquent and charged off loans or accounts, can remain on your credit reports for seven years. Your credit reports will also indicate if any accounts have been turned over to a collection agency.
This portion of your reports shows any public information available about your credit history, including tax liens, bankruptcy filings, wage garnishments, and monetary judgments.
Wage garnishment involves your employer taking money from your paycheck to settle unpaid debts, for example, for child support or delinquent student loans.
A monetary judgment is issued when a judge orders you to pay a certain amount following a lawsuit, and remains on your credit reports for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. Bankruptcies remain on your reports for ten years.
This section of the reports lists all lenders who received copies of your credit reports over the past year as a result of credit inquiries.
This information includes the date of inquiry and the name of the company that made the request. This includes “hard” inquiries by lenders that are made when you apply for credit of some kind, and “soft” inquiries that are routine check ups by current creditors.
In general, a high number of hard inquiries in a 12-month period can negatively impact your credit score.
Where Does Credit Report Information Come From?
When you form a relationship with a lender of credit or an issuer of a loan, that information is usually reported to the 3 major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Some types of activity or accounts are considered positive, meaning they improve your credit and cause your credit score to go up; other activity is negative and will harm your credit, causing your credit score to go down.
Different items will remain on your credit reports for different amounts of time, having either a positive or negative effect. It’s important to monitor your reports so you can identify any harmful item and take steps to remove them as soon as possible.
Negative Information on Your Credit Report
In many cases, severe financial setbacks are often the primary cause for credit-damaging delinquencies like late payments, collections, charge-offs, or worse. Recovering from these types of financial setbacks and the credit damaging after affects they leave behind can feel overwhelming. The silver lining, however, is that just because you have bad credit or bad credit scores, it’s not a life long sentence– bad credit doesn’t have to haunt you forever.
As the information in your credit reports changes, your credit scores will reflect those changes. In fact, the older negative information gets, the less impact it will have on your credit and credit scores. This is because credit scores place more emphasis on your credit patterns over the last 12 to 24 months.
The key to recovering from negative credit damaging problems is to jump right back into the mix and begin adding new, positive information to your credit reports. It won’t happen overnight but as you continue those new positive payment and credit management patterns, your credit and credit score will gradually improve over time.
The old negative information will remain in your credit reports and continue to impact your credit scores, it just won’t have as much of an impact the older it gets. Most negative information will stay on your credit reports for 7 years. There are also some exceptions:
- Negative credit accounts will remain on your credit reports for 7 years based on the date of the first missed payment that led to the delinquency.
- Positive credit accounts, on the other hand, stay on your credit reports for as long as the account remains open and active. Closed accounts in positive standing usually remain for 10 years from the date the account was closed but that’s not based on law, it’s a credit bureau policy.
- A collection will remain on your credit reports for 7 years from the date the account went into serious delinquent status, typically the date of the first 180-day late payment.
- The FCRA does not allow collection agencies to “re-age” collection accounts when they are purchased from the original creditor in an attempt to keep a negative account on credit reports longer. If a collection agency tries to re-age an account by manipulating the FCRA compliance date that is illegal.
NOTE: There is no difference between a paid and unpaid collection. Paying a collection does not remove it from your credit reports.
- Accounts with a charge-off status should be purged from your credit reports 7 years from the date the charge-off occurred
- Chapter 7 bankruptcies remain for 10 years from the date filed
- Completed Chapter 13 bankruptcies remain for 7 years from the date discharged or a maximum of 10 years
- Judgments remain for 7 years from the date filed. If the judgment is re-filed and thus has a new filing date, it will remain for 7 years from that new date
- The purge date for paid tax liens is 7 years from the date the lien was released. Unpaid tax liens have no purge fromdate and can remain indefinitely if the credit bureaus so choose. Withdrawn federal liens are removed immediately
- Credit inquiries are required by law to remain on your credit reports for 2 years. As far as your credit scores are concerned, however, only inquiries within the last 12 months are considered
- You can expect a repossession to be removed from your credit reports 7 years from the date your auto loan went into default (or 7.5 years from the date of first delinquency on your auto loan that lead to the default)
New York State Residents
- Satisfied judgments remain for 5 years from the date filed
- Paid collections remain for 5 years from the date of last activity
California State Residents
- Paid and released tax liens remain on your credit reports for 7 years from the date released
- Unpaid tax liens remain for 10 years from the date filed
What’s Not in Your Credit Report?
Believe it or not, there’s a lot that’s NOT included in your credit report, including information about:
- Your income, assets and other wealth metrics
- Your level of education
- Checking or savings accounts
- Debit cards or prepaid debit cards
- Your gender, national origin, race, religion or marital status
- Your medical history
- Your political affiliation
- Criminal records
You also won’t normally see utility accounts like cable television, internet, gas, water, or cell phone service. However, if you default or go delinquent on any of these types of payment obligations, they may end up on your credit reports if the account is sent to collections and the collector reports it – which should be avoided if at all possible.
Why Isn’t My Credit Score on My Credit Report?
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (hereafter “FCRA”), each of us are entitled to one free copy of our credit reports every 12-months from each of the three national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
As part of the credit report ordering process, each of the three credit reporting agencies will offer you the option to add a credit score to your free annual credit report. However, if you opt to include a credit score, you’ll have to pay a fee. This is because credit scores are not actually a component of you credit reports, so it doesn’t have to be given to you for free.
The right to access your credit reports for free wasn’t actually granted until 2003, with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act – FACTA for short, which officially amended the FCRA to give us the rights as we know it today. Still, only about 4% of free credit reports are claimed every year.
Too Many Credit Scores
One of the main reasons why free credit scores have not yet been made an official part of the FCRA has to do with the number of credit scores on the market. In the past, the FICO score was the most well-known and widely used score, making it the one and only score that mattered to lenders. This is still true, but there’s a twist.
Other credit bureau risk scores, like the VantageScore credit score, and custom scoring models designed by the lenders themselves, have made for a crowded market where we all have dozens of scores rather than just a single one. There are over 50 different versions of the FICO credit score alone and three versions of the VantageScore credit score.
Even if your credit reports included credit scores, it’s unlikely they would be the same score type a potential lender would use, which would lead to a huge mass of confusion for the consumer. And even if you were somehow given EVERY single one of your credit scores today, it’s very likely they’d be different in a few weeks as your credit reports are updated.
Credit Score Disclosure Rules under Dodd-Frank
Before you cry foul at the unfairness of it all, things are getting better for the consumer. Thanks to Dodd-Frank consumers are entitled to see their actual credit scores, but only when they’ve been denied because of that score.
Add that to the long-existing requirement to provide the consumer with a credit score disclosure notice when they apply for a mortgage loan, and the shift toward more score availability is continuing. It’s certainly not perfect but it’s getting better.
The free educational scores you find online offer a great way to get a general idea of where you stand, but it doesn’t guarantee that the score your lender will use will be the same – or anywhere close to the score you get for free (or even pay for). This is what makes the Dodd-Frank rule so valuable.
Again, if you apply for a loan and the lender uses your credit score as a determining factor in denying your loan, or offers you terms that are less than the best terms available, they must legally disclose the score they used along with your adverse action letter
Why Is My Credit Card Not Showing up in My Credit Report?
If you’ve checked your credit report(s) and found that a credit card or other account is missing, it could either be an error or your lender may not report to the credit bureaus, although that’s unlikely.
Every lender and creditor has their own reporting policies, but most include some sort of regularly scheduled automatic update that transmits your account information electronically to the credit agencies every 30 days.
Based on the individual lender’s policies, they may report to all three credit reporting agencies, or they may only report to one or two. This is one reason why credit reports and credit scores vary from bureau to bureau.
Are Lenders Legally Required to Report?
What you may not realize, however, is that the credit reporting system is actually completely voluntary. The credit reporting agencies are essentially “data repositories” that accept credit data that is reported by your lenders and creditors. They don’t proactively go and collect this information from your lenders– it’s all based on what your lenders send them, which they do so freely and on their own accord.
Lenders are not legally required by any law, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act, to report account information to the credit reporting agencies and reporting this data comes with additional costs and support requirements.
When a lender reports information to the credit bureaus, they are legally obligated to provide accurate data and must respond to disputes for errors. This requires staffing and additional legal obligations that cost money to maintain and support. If you find a mistaken charge on your credit reports you should take the appropriate steps to dispute it.
Can I Make a Lender Report My Account?
For the most part, larger major lenders and credit card issuers will report to all three credit bureaus. However, there are instances with smaller lenders or financial providers that don’t.
If your lender isn’t reporting an account, you can always contact them directly to request that they do so. Legally, however, you can’t force your lender to report an account. Unfortunately, if they won’t honor your request, there’s really not much you can do because they aren’t legally obligated to do so.
What Can I Do to Avoid Lenders Who Don’t Report?
One way to avoid this problem is to ask potential lenders up front if they report to all three of the major credit reporting agencies before you make the decision to apply for the loan or financial product. This is a good idea any time you’re shopping for a loan but especially so if you’re working with a credit union.
Credit unions are known for offering better rates and service than larger banks but they’re also much smaller and some may only report to one of the credit reporting agencies. This isn’t to say every credit union works this way, but it’s definitely something to consider the next time you apply for a loan with a credit union.
Should I Add a Consumer Statement to My Credit Reports?
When you learn that an unexpected, negative account has shown up on your credit reports the discovery can be downright infuriating, especially if you believe it to be incorrect. Thankfully you have certain rights when it comes to items appearing on your credit reports with which you disagree.
One of these rights afforded under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows consumers to dispute accounts, which they believe to be inaccurate, with the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian). However, disputes do not always work out in the consumer’s favor.
Often times disputed accounts are verified as accurate by the lender or collection agency. If an account is disputed and the credit reporting agency verifies the validity of the account with the furnisher then the items can continue to legally remain on the consumer’s credit reports for up to 10 years, or longer.
The 100-Word Statement
Consumers who have unsuccessfully disputed an item on their credit reports are still legally afforded the right under the FCRA to tell their side of the story, albeit in a very concise manner. The “Statement of Dispute” as it is named in the FCRA, is described as follows:
“If the reinvestigation does not resolve the dispute, the consumer may file a brief statement setting forth the nature of the dispute. The consumer reporting agency may limit such statements to not more than one hundred words if it provides the consumer with assistance in writing a clear summary of the dispute.”
When written, the 100-word statement will become a part of the consumer’s credit reports and will appear whenever his credit reports are pulled in the future.
Credit Score Impact
Statements of Dispute, unfortunately for the disgruntled consumer, do not have any impact on a consumer’s credit scores. Consumer statements are not one of the factors considered by FICO, VantageScore or any other credit-scoring model. Therefore, if a consumer has a 640 score due to a collection account with which he disagrees, the consumer statement isn’t going to help or hurt that score at all. There is no way for credit scoring models to read and quantify consumer statements.
Are Statements of Dispute a Good Idea?
It can be very appealing to a consumer to tell his side of the story, especially when he feels like he has been wronged by a creditor or collection agency. Unfortunately, a statement of dispute is unlikely to have any impact whatsoever on a future lender’s decision regarding whether or not they wish to do business with that consumer.
The right to add one of these consumer statements has been around for over 25 years, well before credit scoring and automated underwriting systems. The idea behind the consumer statement was to allow lenders to actually read them while considering your loan applications. Today it’s rare that a lender will actually print and read through your credit reports, so the value of the consumer statement just isn’t there any longer.
Credit granting decisions are largely based on a consumer’s credit scores and the factual data in credit reports. If a consumer’s credit scores are too low to meet a lender’s minimum score criteria, or there are elements in the credit reports that raise red flags, then that consumer’s credit application is likely going to be denied whether a statement of dispute is present on the credit report, or not.