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With more people using credit cards and racking up new debt during the pandemic, it’s as important as ever to stay on top of your credit report.
Around 120 million Americans have credit card debt, and how they use their cards and manage that debt will have a big impact on their credit score. Still, credit card usage is just one factor in the complex mix that determines your creditworthiness.
Simply put, your credit report is a summary detailing the history of how you handle your finances. It’s used by lenders, employers, insurance companies, and landlords to determine if you are worthy of their investment. It’s also used to calculate your credit score, a crucial three-digit number that summarizes your creditworthiness. The better the financial behaviors, such as paying your bills on time, the higher the score.
By breaking down what goes into your credit report, you can better understand how to stay on top of it — and give yourself the best opportunity to get favorable terms the next time you need to borrow.
What Information Is On Your Credit Report
Past lenders report any name used with lending accounts. The names you will see are based on what you provided and can include maiden names, married names, names with or without middle name or middle initial, misspelled names, and even short names (such as Bill for William or Joe for Joseph). The report will also show your date of birth and Social Security number.
Current and past addresses
Anywhere you have registered for mail will show up on your credit report.
Your employer’s name could appear on your credit report if you provided it to one of your lenders.
Bankruptcies, repossessions, and foreclosures are publicly recorded through the court system and will appear on your credit report.
Accounts in collection
If an account goes unpaid, it may be sent to a collection agency, which will appear on your credit report.
Your payment history is the most heavily weighted credit behavior, and all your accounts will report on-time or late payments to the credit bureaus. Payments late by 30 days or more appear on your credit report as delinquent, which docks points from your credit score for seven years. The more missed payments you have and the longer they were late, the more serious an effect it will have on your score.
The amount of debt you currently carry will be reflected on your credit report. Your debt owed is measured using your credit utilization ratio, or the amount you owe divided by the total amount of credit available to you. The credit bureaus like to see credit utilization ratios below 30%. Note this only applies to revolving credit, such as credit cards.
Age of credit history
The number of years your accounts have been open shows up on your credit report. Keeping old accounts open and maintaining regular activity is beneficial to your score — as long as you are responsible with them.
New credit accounts
Your credit report will reflect the total number of new credit accounts and hard credit checks you recently opened. A hard credit check is when a potential lender requests a copy of your credit report after you applied for a credit line. Having too many of these inquiries in a short period of time will make you look like a riskier borrower. According to FICO, those with six or more credit inquiries in a short time have an increased risk of dangerous credit practices, such as bankruptcies. Each inquiry will expire after two years.
All active and closed installment loans will appear on your credit report. An installment loan is one with regular payments toward a fixed amount for a set term, such as a car loan, mortgage, or student loan.
Active and previously closed revolving accounts are on your credit report. They are extensions made to your credit line you can use repeatedly, such as credit cards.
How to Check Your Credit Report for Free
Now that you understand what you’ll find on your credit report, here’s where you can access it for free. You will fill out a form, choose which bureau’s credit report you want to view — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion — and answer questions to prove your identity.
Typically you can do this for free only once a year, but due to the pandemic the three bureaus are offering free access to credit reports on a weekly basis until April 2021. So take advantage while you can.
Experts recommend checking each bureaus’ report about once a year — and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) reports one out of five people finds an error when they do. That’s why it’s important you check your report regularly and dispute and fix any errors, which can help boost your score.