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Originally Published: Jul 10, 2024
Originally Published: Jul 10, 2024 Last Updated: Jul 15, 2024 6 min read

If you plan on applying for a new credit card or loan, maybe even an apartment, your credit report will play a big role in whether you get approved or not.

Checking your credit report can help you find errors that might be lowering your score. It can also help you spot signs of identity theft, like credit accounts you didn't open yourself.

This guide will explain what information is included in your credit report and what you should look out for when reviewing each section of your report.

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How to read your credit report

While each of the main credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Transunion) uses a slightly different format to organize their credit reports, they all include similar sections.

Here’s the information the bureaus feature and what you should look out for:

Personal information

You credit report will most likely start off with a personal information section, which will include your:

  • Name
  • Social security number
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Birth date
  • Past and current employers

Note that the information in this section is simply meant for identification purposes and it doesn’t directly impact your credit score.

Keep in mind you might come across different versions of this information, such as your full name with or without your middle initial. Other variations, such as married or maiden name, might also show up. These differences happen because lenders report all the personal information they have gleaned from your credit applications, whether old or new.

While slight differences on your personal information are normal, you should keep an eye out for phone numbers, employers, addresses or any other details you don't recognize. These might signal identity theft — especially if you also find credit accounts you don’t remember opening.


This section lists all of your existing credit accounts, such as credit cards, personal loans and mortgages. You’ll also find closed accounts in good standing that were active within the last 10 years.

Each account listed will include information such as:

  • Payment history
  • Account type
  • Outstanding balances
  • Name and address of creditor
  • Account opening and/or closing date
  • Credit limit or loan amount
  • Account status

Payment history will sometimes be recorded as a grid reflecting months and whether a payment was on time or was reported as late. Late payments will reflect the number of days it was delayed — 30, 60, 90 or more — and sometimes will be marked in red.

When reviewing this section, look out for errors like on-time payments mistakenly reported as late or incorrect balances. Note, however, that it can take up to 30 days after you pay your bill for the balance to be updated on your credit report.

Negative accounts

Collection accounts are usually listed on a separate section of your credit report and will include information such as the name of the collection agency and original creditor, the date the account went into collections and the owed amount.

If you have government actions such as bankruptcies or tax liens, these are listed separately under a public records section.

These negative accounts stay on your credit report for seven years, except for Chapter 7 bankruptcy which is reported for 10 years. If you spot an account that shouldn't be included in these sections, contact your creditor and the credit bureaus immediately, as these significantly lower your credit score.


Your credit report will also include a list of credit inquiries, which are instances when someone has checked your report.

Credit inquiries might be separated by type: soft inquiries and hard inquiries. Soft inquiries — that is, inquiries that are not related to a formal credit application — do not impact your score. Some examples of these are when you check your credit report through free credit monitoring services or when a creditor checks your credit history to send you pre-approved credit card offers, for example.

Hard inquiries are credit checks carried out by a potential lender as part of an application for credit. This type of credit inquiry does impact your credit score, but only by a few points and for a short period of time.

When checking this section, make sure you recognize all of the inquiries listed. Also, note that inquiries older than two years should be removed from your report.

Disputing any errors you find

Per the provisions of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to an accurate and fair credit report. So, if you come across any incorrect or outdated items, you have the right to dispute the information with the credit bureaus.

You can file a dispute online here:

By law, the bureaus have 30 days to investigate your claims. Note that it might take some time and persistence to get errors or unfairly reported information removed from your credit report. If you have multiple errors in your credit, you might want to consider a credit repair service, which will dispute those mistakes for you.

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How to read your credit report FAQs

Why is it important to check your credit report?

When you apply for credit cards and loans, creditors use your credit report to decide whether you qualify or not. Your report is also used to determine your interest rates, credit limits and loan amounts. A single error on your report, like a payment incorrectly labeled as late, could lower your credit score by around 100 points and affect the credit offers you can get approved for. Also, the information on your credit report could even impact your chances of getting an apartment or the cost of your insurance premiums.

When do credit reports update?

Your credit reports are updated at least once per month when your lenders and creditors send over your credit usage and payment information to the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).

What information is not found on your credit report?

Your credit report will not include information regarding your salary or marital status. It also won't mention any other financial accounts that aren't credit-related, such as checking, retirement or brokerage accounts.

How often should you check your credit report?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends checking your credit report at least once per year. However, if you've been a victim of identity theft, you might benefit from reviewing your report more often, say, once every three months. This could help you spot fraudulent accounts early and help deter any damage to your credit score and finances.

What should you look for on your credit reports?

When reviewing your credit report, make sure your payments are reported accurately since your payment history is the most important credit scoring factor. Double-check your credit limits, outstanding balances and the opening and closing dates for each account, as these can impact your credit utilization ratio and credit age. You should also be on the lookout for accounts you don't recognize since these are a potential sign of identity theft.