You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs). This means that you have three opportunities to examine your credit report and assess how your credit behaviors and habits have impacted your credit file.
Your credit reports may differ slightly between the three national CRAs, but if you order a credit report from Equifax, here’s how your information will appear:
1. Credit summary
The credit summary is an overview of credit account activity. For each type of credit account you have, the credit summary shows the number of accounts, the amount of any outstanding balances, the amount available, the credit limit, the debt-to-credit ratio, and the monthly payment amount.
The credit summary also includes the average account age. A higher account average age shows lenders that you have a longer credit history.
2. Account information
The account information section lists detailed information about each of your accounts. It is divided into the different types of accounts: revolving credit accounts, which include credit cards and consumer debt, and installment accounts, which include student loans and other long-term loans. Mortgage accounts are listed separately. Other credit accounts, such as 30-day accounts like American Express cards, are also listed here.
The credit report should list the servicer information as well as data on the loan, including: its status, current balance, date of last activity, the date opened, and the date reported to the credit reporting agency.
If the status is listed as “pays as agreed,” it means your loan is in good standing with the creditor. Accounts paid as agreed, such as a mortgage that has been paid off, count as positive information and will generally stay on your credit report for up to 10 years from the date of last activity. A revolving credit account that is paid as agreed can stay on your credit report forever, as long as the account remains open.
Any request for your credit history is known as an inquiry. There are two types of inquiries: soft inquiries, which do not impact your credit score, and hard inquiries, which do.
Soft inquiries include your own requests for your credit history, as well as account monitoring inquiries and promotional inquiries. Only you can see these inquiries—a potential lender cannot—and they will appear on your credit report for 12 to 24 months, depending on type.
Hard inquiries occur when a potential lender reviews your credit history because you’ve applied for a line of credit. These inquiries will remain on your credit report for 24 months. The inquiries section will list the company name and date of inquiry.
4. Negative accounts
Accounts with negative information, such as late payments or delinquencies, will be listed in the negative accounts section in addition to the account information section. Any negative accounts on your report will show the date you were first delinquent, the amount owed, the balance, and the status of the payment. Late payment history generally remains on your credit file for seven years from the date of the late payment.
5. Accounts in collections
These are accounts that have been sold by a creditor to a third-party collection agency. An account in collections will remain on your credit report for seven years plus 180 days from the date the account first became past due.
6. Public records
The CRAs collect information from public records, including bankruptcies; tax liens; and judgments from federal, state, or U.S. court records. A bankruptcy can stay on your credit report for 10 years, though individual accounts in the bankruptcy may come off of your credit report seven years and 180 days from the start of the delinquency on the account.
Paid tax liens will typically stay on your credit report for seven years from the date paid, while unpaid tax liens can remain on your credit report for 15 years. A judgment will remain on your credit report for seven years from the date filed or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever time period is longer.
7. Personal information
This section contains your personal information including your full name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, address, and telephone number. If you have placed a fraud alert on your account, such as an initial fraud alert or an active duty alert, it will appear in this section as well.
If you have added a statement to your credit report, it will appear in this section.
8. Dispute file information
Your credit report should include instructions on how to file a dispute so that if you discover any incorrect information in your credit report, you can promptly ask the CRAs to begin an investigation into your claim. The investigation process should occur within 30 to 45 days after filing the dispute.
The CRAs are required to notify you of the results of the investigation. Depending on the results, the information will either be fixed or remain the same.
For more information on your Equifax credit report, including how often your credit report is updated and who has permission to view your credit report, click here.
Diane Moogalian is vice president of operations for Equifax Personal Solutions. Prior to joining Equifax in 2007, Diane held several strategic roles with leading financial services companies. Diane graduated from the University of Richmond with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (Marketing and Economics) and earned a Certificate in International Business from Virginia Commonwealth University.