Credit reports: They’re complicated. You can’t really argue with that sentiment: They are long and often unwieldy; there are three major versions of them, and they can affect more facets of your life — like, say, your ability to get certain jobs — than you may think.
Fortunately, there are some things that are true, no matter what credit report you’re looking at. Here are six universal truths about credit reports.
1. They’re All Going to Have the Same Type of Information on Them
A credit report is a detailed account of your credit history. They’re compiled by the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — which all receive information from creditors. And while it is possible for a particular account to appear on one and not the others (some lenders don’t report to all three), the type of information you’re going to find on any credit report is going to be the same. This includes a record of your credit card and loan payments, new credit inquiries (generated whenever you apply for a loan), collection records and public records such as bankruptcy filings and tax liens. You can learn more about making sense of the information on your credit reports by using this handy cheatsheet.
2. Most of That Info Determines Your Credit Scores…
The accounts listed on your credit report will show your payment history along with details like your credit limit, the date the account was opened, the type of account it is (installment, revolving), etc. And that information will be used by a lender to calculate a version of your credit score in order to determine whether they feel comfortable giving you a loan and/or what interest rate they will charge you. (You can see two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.)
3. …But Some of it Will Not
Personal information, including your name, current and former addresses and your employer (if available), will appear on all of your credit reports, but they’ll be excluded from lenders’ underwriting algorithms. Credit scores are determined by five main categories — payment history, amount of debt, credit inquiries, credit age and mix of accounts — and scoring models ignore personally identifying information.
4. Certain Information Will Be Straight-Up Excluded
This may come as a surprise, but you won’t see your salary listed on your credit report. You also won’t find any of your bank or investment accounts listed — remember, lenders aren’t trying to decipher your net worth, so much as your propensity for paying back what you borrowed. And because federal law prohibits discrimination in lending, you won’t see any information about your race, ethnicity, religious affiliation or gender.
5. You Can Get Your Credit Reports for Free
And that means from every bureau — including agencies that provide specialty credit reports to landlords, insurers, employers and so and so forth. That’s because the Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles consumers to one free credit report every 12 months from each nationwide credit reporting agency. You can request your reports from the big three at AnnualCreditReport.com.
6. You Can Dispute any Errors That You Find
FCRA also requires the credit reporting agencies maintain accurate records and allows consumers to dispute any errors they find on their credit reports. Under the law, the credit reporting agencies have 30 days to investigate your claim and remove the item, unless, of course, they believe the dispute to be frivolous. (You can go here to learn more about disputing errors on your credit reports.)