Understanding Your Credit Report

Now that you are aware of how important it is to check your credit report, and you know how to request a credit report; it is important to understand the different parts of the report. Over the years reports have gotten easier to understand, and if you use an online platform to view your report there will be help buttons that you can click for more information.

However, if you choose to order your credit report by phone or mail and you are looking at a physical copy on paper there are going to be some terms and acronyms that you don’t understand. Listed below are links to websites or PDF files that the three big credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax have created to help you, the consumer, understand their reports. Look at the following links so you can better understand your credit report. Personally, I found the Experian user guide to be most helpful.

Credit Guides From Each Bureau:

  • TransUnion Credit Report User Guide
  • Equifax Credit Report User Guide

The Four Main Categories

1. Identifying Information

This section of the credit report contains personal contact information about you such as your: name, birthday, social security number (SSN), who you work for, place of address, past registered addresses, and your legal significant other. Check this information to ensure that it is correct and accurate. This section will not directly affect your credit score but if the information is wrong it could indirectly impact you, because of the comingling error.


This section contains information about all lines of credit open in your name. Most of the time it will be broken down into categories such as mortgages, car loans, credit cards, student loans. Go through each one of these sections with all your bank documents and payment stubs and verify two things.

  • Make sure that all credit account in this section are yours and you are aware of starting them. This is important for a couple of reasons. The first being if someone stole your identity, they would be using your personal information to obtain things like credit cards or loans, all of that will show up here on your credit report. The second thing is to make sure that information from someone else’s credit report with either a similar name or SSN is not on your report. If you find any of these errors, make sure you take note so that you can dispute them. For more information on disputing credit report errors click on the link to our blog, How to Dispute Credit Report Errors.
  • Double-check your records of payment and account status such as balance, the amount paid, and payment time is correct. (i.e. on time or late). This information could be wrong for a couple of reasons but if a payment says late or never paid and you have in fact paid it then it is negatively impacting your credit report and score. Also, before you file a dispute with the credit bureau make sure you follow up with your bank or creditor and verify their information is correct and consistent with yours. You might be able to fix the problem and then when the credit reporters check their sources, (the creditors) they will be able to make the appropriate changes.

When you are looking at this section of the credit report it will be helpful to click the links listed at the beginning, for the corresponding credit report user guide. This will help with any credit jargon or acronyms that they use in the report.

3. Credit Inquiries

There are two types of credit inquires, hard inquiries, and soft inquires. Only you can see the soft inquiries when you pull a credit report. The hard inquiries are visible to both you and any other individual that checks your credit report.

  • Hard inquires: These influence your credit report and credit score and are visible to anyone that pulls a credit report on you. These inquires will stay on your report for two years. Most credit reports will give you a date that the inquire will expire on your report.
  • Soft inquires: These occur for various reasons: when you check your credit report, or when you give someone permission to check your credit report, also when a business like credit card companies, lenders, and insurance companies check your report to pre-approve you for offers. This information is only available in credit reports that you request and also does not impact your credit report or credit score.

4. Public Records

The public records section contains any information about your financial accounts that are related to legal action. Typically having any information in this account will have a negative impact on your credit history and credit score. Below is a list of legal related actions based upon financial account and how long each of these will remain on your credit report. In regards to all information in the public records section, there will be an updated status next to the corresponding record; indicating if a judgment is paid, or a bankruptcy discharged.

  • Civil Judgements will remain on your credit report for 7 years from the filing date.
  • Bankruptcies
    • Chapter 7 will remain on your credit report 10 years from the filing date.
    • Chapter 13 will remain on your credit report for 7 years after the filing date.
  • Tax Liens
    • Unpaid will remain on your credit report for 15 years.
    • Paid will remain on your credit report for 7 years after the paid date.