Complete Guide on How To Read a Credit Report

Figuring out how to read a credit report is important to protect your identity and to correct errors that could affect your credit score.
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A credit report is like a report card for your financial life. Private companies, called credit reporting agencies, prepare these reports. You're identified by your Social Security number and lenders (and many other companies you do business with) tell the credit reporting agencies things like whether you've requested to open a new credit account and whether you've paid your bills on time.

Because your credit report plays a major role in your financial life, it is important to review it at least once a year to confirm the information on it is accurate. Checking your report regularly can help you identify errors so you can correct them, and it can make it easier to spot identity theft. Your report information can also give you insight into whether you may need to make some changes to how you're managing your borrowing.

This guide will explain how to read a credit report and what to look out for once you've obtained a copy of your credit report card.

In this article
How to obtain your credit report
What is in a credit report?
Personal information
Employment history
Credit history
Public records
Credit inquiries
Credit report vs. credit score
Credit report red flags
How to dispute your credit report
Credit report FAQs
Bottom line

How to obtain your credit report

Three major credit bureaus collect credit report data: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The credit reporting agencies prepare a detailed report about your borrowing history. Then, creditors (as well as employers, landlords, and insurance companies — among others) look at the reports to gain insight into whether you are financially responsible.

The first step to figuring out how to read your own credit report is learning how to obtain a copy of it from each of these bureaus. You have a few different options:

  • You can visit AnnualCreditReport.comFederal law entitles you to one free copy of your report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion every 12 months. is the website you can use to obtain it. Because you're allowed one free report from each of the credit reporting agencies, you can end up with a total of three free reports by visiting this website and requesting one from each agency.
  • You can visit the Equifax website or call Equifax at 1-866-349-5191: Every person in the U.S. is entitled to obtain a total of six free credit reports from Equifax each year through 2026.
  • You can contact the credit bureaus and request a free report under certain conditions: For example, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you receive a notice denying you credit; if you're unemployed and intend to look for a job within a year; if you're receiving public assistance benefits; if you have a fraud alert in your credit file; or if you have been the victim of identity theft.

    You can obtain your reports by visiting the website for Equifax or calling 1-800-685-1111; by visiting the website for Experian or calling 1-888-397-3742; or by visiting the website for TransUnion or calling 1-888-909-8872.

What is in a credit report?

Your credit report contains many different kinds of information that is reported by lenders or others who you do business with. Here are the sections you can expect to see when you obtain a copy of your credit report.

Personal information

Your personal details are included as the first key pieces of information on your credit report. This information can include:

  • Your name
  • Any names you have used in the past
  • The address where you live currently
  • Previous addresses where you have lived
  • Your date of birth
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your phone number

Employment history

Your credit record will also include a list of past workplaces and current jobs. Credit reporting agencies obtain this information when you provide details about your workplace on a credit application.

Credit history

Your credit history is typically the longest part of your credit report. It contains key details that lenders look at when deciding whether to loan you money and that the credit reporting agencies use to assign a credit score.

Some of the key aspects of your credit history that are included are:

  • A list of the credit accounts you currently have open
  • A list of past credit accounts that you closed within the past seven to 10 years, even those in good standing
  • The credit limit on revolving accounts (such as home equity lines of credit or credit cards where you are allowed to borrow up to a certain amount and you can keep borrowing and paying your balance down repeatedly)
  • The total amount you borrowed on installment loans (loans where you borrow a set amount and pay them down over time, such as student loans)
  • The current account balance or the amount you currently owe
  • Your payment history and whether you have ever been 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days past due on monthly payments
  • Whether you have had debt charged off or sent to collection agencies
  • The date you opened and closed your credit accounts
  • The name of the creditor

Public records

If you have legal action taken against you, this can become public record. Your credit report contains certain details from public records including:

  • Whether there are any tax liens on your property: For example, if you don't pay your taxes, the government could put a lien on the property.
  • Foreclosures: You could be foreclosed on if you do not pay your mortgage debt and the lender moves to sell the home to recoup their funds.
  • Bankruptcies: If you declare bankruptcy, this will be listed on your credit report.
  • Repossessions: If your vehicle or other secured assets are repossessed by a lender, this will be listed on your public record.
  • Civil lawsuits and judgments against you.
  • Overdue child support payments if reported by state or local governments or child support agencies.

Credit inquiries

When companies access your credit report, this is listed in a section on the report called credit inquiries.

If the inquiry is triggered by an application for credit, this is usually called a hard inquiry. There are also soft inquiries, which are credit checks that occur as part of a general background check but don't affect your credit.

A list of recent hard inquiries helps lenders see if you are taking on a lot of new debt. If you get too many hard inquiries in a short time, this can cause your credit score to drop and lenders to become nervous about how much you're borrowing.

Credit report vs. credit score

Your credit report is a detailed record of your borrowing history. It is used to determine your credit score, but it is not the same thing. Credit reporting agencies use many different pieces of information from your credit report to give you a score that lenders can use to quickly assess your creditworthiness and whether you are a responsible borrower.

Credit scores usually take into account things like your payment history, your average age of credit, how much of your available credit you are using, how much credit you've recently applied for, and the types of credit you have.

Each of the credit reporting agencies assigns you a credit score, but there are many different scoring formulas and individual companies or lenders can create their own scoring system as well.

When you obtain your credit report, you will not see your credit score on the report. If you want to see your credit score, you will need to explore other options. You can get your score from:

  • A mortgage scoring notice that a lender sends you after you apply for a mortgage
  • An adverse action notice if you apply for and are denied credit
  • A risk-based pricing notice if you get credit on less favorable terms than the lender offers to most borrowers
  • A financial service provider, as many companies now offer free credit scores to their customers (e.g., Chase offers free scores for anyone who signs up even if they are not a Chase customer)
  • Nonprofit credit counselors, who often provide free scores (there is usually a charge for their services)
  • Credit monitoring agencies (there's usually a charge for their services as well, learn how they work in this guide to credit monitoring)

Credit report red flags

It is important to check your credit regularly to determine if there are errors and to spot red flags that could suggest identity theft. Some red flags to watch for when checking your credit report include:

  • Accounts you did not open
  • Inquiries you do not recognize
  • Public records showing liens or judgments against you that you weren't aware of
  • A name or address on your credit report you do not recognize
  • Payments you didn't make
  • Closed accounts being reported as open
  • Accounts with incorrect balances
  • Accounts with incorrect credit limits
  • Closed accounts being reported as open
  • Correct payment due date and payment status

Some of these signs would indicate that your identity has been stolen. For example, if a credit account shows up that you didn't open, chances are someone used your Social Security number to open it. Other incorrect negative items could suggest a simple mistake, such as your credit card issuer reporting a late payment when you actually paid on time or reporting the wrong balance.

If you spot these red flags, you'll want to take action. For example, you might dispute incorrect account information and/or freeze your credit if you are worried someone may have been trying to use your credit information.

How to dispute your credit report

If there are errors on your credit report, credit report disputes could enable you to get this inaccurate information removed. You can report the problem to the credit reporting agencies, which must then investigate whether the info you are disputing is accurate. If it is not correct, it must be removed from your record.

You can dispute your credit report online, via phone, or by mail. The table below shows the contact information for the three credit reporting companies for each method.

Method Equifax Experian TransUnion
Online Fill out this form Fill out this form Fill out this form
Mail Send this dispute form to:

Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30348

Send a letter explaining the dispute to:


P.O. Box 4500

Allen, TX 75013

Send this dispute form to:

TransUnion Consumer


P.O. Box 2000

Chester, PA 19016

Phone Call 800-864-2978 Call 888-397-3742 Call 800-916-8800

You should include documentation with your dispute including evidence showing there is an error, such as canceled checks proving you paid on time or an identity theft report filed with the police.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is an important law that protects consumers’ rights. The FCRA requires that any inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable information be removed from your credit record within 30 days after you dispute the information.

Credit report FAQs


How do I view my credit score?

You can view your credit score on many different websites. Some financial service providers, such as Chase, provide free scores for anyone, even if you are not a customer. Companies you do business with may offer you a copy of your score as well. For example, if you apply for a mortgage, you should receive a mortgage scoring notice containing your score.


What is factual data on my credit report?

Many types of factual data are found on your credit report including your contact details; past employers you reported on credit applications; and information about your open accounts and your payment history. If any of the data on your credit report is not factual or correct, you can dispute it with the credit agency reporting the inaccuracy.


Who can access my credit report?

Under federal law, you are allowed to get a copy of your credit report. Lenders who you apply for credit with can obtain a copy as well. This can include lenders providing loans, credit cards, or car leases. Auto insurers and landlords or others renting apartments are also allowed to get a credit card. Also, current or potential employers can obtain your report, but only if you give written permission.

Bottom line

Checking your credit regularly is important to make sure no information on it was put there erroneously or that could suggest identity theft.

Ideally, you should check your report every few months so you are always on top of what's happening with your credit history. You can take other steps to protect your identity as well, such as learning the difference between a credit lock vs. a credit freeze and deciding whether either is right for you.

Damaged credit can have a big negative impact on your life, so it's worth making the effort to ensure inaccurate information doesn't hurt your finances.

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Author Details
Christy Rakoczy, an experienced identity theft expert with over a decade of experience, specializes in cybersecurity issues and laws related to identity fraud. With a J.D. from UCLA’s School of Law and a background in teaching college courses on legal issues surrounding internet privacy, she offers valuable insights across a range of cybersecurity topics.