What Does Your Credit Report Show? And How to Interpret the Data

Photo illustration to accompany article on the contents of your credit report Grant Crowder and Getty Images
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Whether you’re rebuilding your credit score or preparing to apply for a mortgage loan, it’s always a good idea 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.

How To Access Your Free Credit Report 

You can access your credit report from all three credit bureaus for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. Generally, you’re entitled to one report from each bureau every 12 months, but through April 2022, you can get weekly access to your credit reports. 

AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website authorized by the Federal Trade Commission to provide the credit reports you’re entitled to under law; so be watchful for imposter sites you might come across. 

Here’s how to request your report:

  1. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com and click “Request your free credit reports.”
  2. Fill out the request form. You’ll need to include your name, date of birth, Social Security number, and address (you may be asked your previous address if you’ve recently moved).
  3. Choose which credit bureaus you want credit reports from.
  4. Verify your identity with each bureau. You may be asked detailed questions about your credit history for security purposes, and these questions will differ for each bureau.
  5. View your credit reports online. You can print or save your reports to your computer.

You can also submit a request by phone or by mail, if that is a more accessible option for you. 

What Information Is On Your Credit Report 

Personal information

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. 

Employment information

Your employer’s name could appear on your credit report if you provided it to one of your lenders. 

Public records

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. 

Payment history

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.

Debt owed

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.

Installment credit

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. 

Revolving accounts

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

Use the above steps to check your credit report for free on AnnualCreditReport.com. Remember, you can access your reports from all three bureaus weekly through April 2022, 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.