Reading a Report
Once you’ve obtained a copy of your credit report, you’ll be able to see what your creditors are saying about you. There’s just one problem — credit reports can be a little confusing. Never fear! CCCS-OC is here to help. In the following paragraphs you’ll find a step-by-step explanation of how to read and interpret each section of your credit report.
Here you’ll find identifying information like your:
- current address
- social security number
- date of birth
- spouse’s name (if applicable)
Easy, right? But don’t just skim over this section. Read all the entries to make sure everything is correct. One bad piece of information and the credit history listed on your report could be wrong.
This is the meat of the report. It contains a list of your open and paid credit accounts and indicates any late payments reported by your creditors. Although it may seem a little tedious, it’s essential that you read through this section very thoroughly. If you find any information that is incorrect or accounts that don’t belong to you, you’ll need to submit a dispute letter to the credit-reporting agency. The basic format for the credit history section (see sample) is as follows:
- Company Name – identifies the company that is reporting the information.
- Account Number – lists your account number with the company.
- Whose Account – Indicates who is responsible for the account and the type of participation you have with the account. Abbreviations may vary depending on the reporting agency but here are some of the most common:
- I – Individual
- U – Undesignated
- J – Joint
- A – Authorized User
- M – Maker
- T – Terminated
- C – Co-maker/Co-signer
- S – Shared
- Date Opened – This is the month and year you opened the account with the credit grantor.
- Months Reviewed – Lists the number of months the account history has been reported.
- Last Activity – Indicates the date of the last activity on the account. This may be the date of your last payment or last charge.
- High Credit – Represents the highest amount charged or the credit limit. If the account is an installment loan, the original loan amount will be listed.
- Terms – For installment loans, the number of installments may be listed or the amount of the monthly payments. For revolving accounts, this column is often left blank.
- Balance – Indicates the amount owed on the account at the time it was reported.
- Past Due – This column lists any amount past due at the time the information was reported.
- Status – A combination of letters and numbers are used to indicate the type of account of the timeliness of payment. Abbreviations for the type of account are as follows:
O – Open
R – Revolving
I – Installment
Abbreviations for Timeliness of Payment varies among agencies. Numbers are used to represent how current you are in your payments. Current or paid as agreed is usually represented by 0 or 1. Larger numbers (up to 9) indicate that an account is past due.
- Date Reported – Indicates the last time information on this account was updated by your creditor.
If you’ve had any accounts referred to collection agencies in the last seven years, this is where they will be reported. The name of the collection agency will be listed along with the amount you owe and, in some cases, their contact information. If a collection is listed on your report that doesn’t look familiar to you, contact the credit bureau and submit a dispute letter. For your own piece of mind, you may also want to contact the collection agency to determine the nature of the account. Here’s why. You may find out that the collection account is NOT yours. Perhaps it belongs to someone whose name or social security number is very similar to yours. If this is the case, ask the collection agency to acknowledge this fact in writing. They should send a copy of the letter to you AND the credit reporting agency so that the mistaken information can be cleared from your report. You may find out that the collection account IS yours. If so, it is in your best interest to determine the accuracy of the amount of the collection account and make arrangements to satisfy your obligation as quickly as possible. Once the collection account has been paid, you should request a letter from the collection agency to this effect. Again, make sure the credit reporting agency gets a copy of the letter so that they can list the account as paid.
This section may also be referred to as Public Records. Here you’ll find a listing of public record items (obtained from local, state and federal courts) that reflect your history of meeting financial obligations. These include:
- Bankruptcy records
- Tax liens
- Collection accounts
- Overdue child support (in some states)
Look closely at all the information listed here. If anything is mistaken, contact the credit bureau and submit a dispute letter.
This section consists primarily of former addresses and past employers as reported by your creditors.
Contains a list of the businesses that have received your credit report in the last 24 months. If you find the names of businesses that sound unfamiliar, you should find out who they are and why they’re looking at your credit! The credit-reporting agency may be able to help you with contact information. Remember, only companies that have received your written authorization should be able to check your credit history.
Time information is retained
The length of time that information remains in your file varies.
- Credit and collection accounts will be reported for 7 years from the date of the last activity with the original creditor.
- If you’ve filed a Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy, this information will be reported for 10 years from the date filed.
- All other courthouse records will be reported for 7 years from date filed.