Your Credit Report Your Adult Money Report Card
3 Most Important Things To Understand
If your Credit Report is WRONG, it could COST you a lot of money unnecessarily. ☹
Credit Reports are the basis for your Credit Score. (And the financial decisions you make daily are the basis for your Credit Reports.)
Your Credit Reports are as important to your financial future as how much money you earn. They are used by lenders, insurers, employers, landlords and others to see how well you pay your bills and manage money.
Jump To A Specific Topic
Questions For You to Answer
(see info below for how)
Are all 3 of my Credit Reports correct? (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) www.AnnualCreditReport.com
If any information on my Credit Reports is wrong, have I done everything I can to get it fixed?
Am I willing to do what’s necessary to make my Credit Reports better (and thus my Credit Score) so I can save myself a whole lot of money?
What are Credit Reports?
If you think of your Credit Score as your financial “grade” (remember school?) then your Credit Report is the list of all the homework you did (or didn’t do), and how well you did on your test & quizzes.
You will have 3 Credit Reports if you have had a school loan, credit card, car loan, or other source of credit for at least 6 months (or if someone has stolen your identity and established credit in your name). Once you’ve had credit, the 3 credit tracking agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) will continue tracking you for the rest of your life.
Your Credit Report contains information on most* credit cards, loans, and other forms of debt or credit that you have had in the last 7-10 years.
*There is a new form of credit company that works mostly with stores (computer, furniture, appliance, etc.) that does NOT report information to the credit bureaus.
Your good and bad bill-paying and credit-related decisions will stay on your Credit Reports for 7-10 years and WILL affect how much you will have to pay to borrow money. The better your Credit Reports, the less you’ll pay; the worse your Credit Reports, the more you’ll pay (for credit cards, car loans, car insurance, cell phone plans / purchases, mortgages, etc.).
Why Do I Care about My Credit Reports?
What’s in your Credit Reports affects you every day. It still affects you even if you choose to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. If you choose to learn about and manage it, you can make it better and save yourself a lot of money in the future.
Your Credit Score is based on what’s in your Credit Reports. The lower your Credit Score, the harder your financial life will be. The higher your Credit Score, the easier your financial life will be.
Banks, credit card companies, landlords, some employers, utility companies and others will judge you based on the information in your Credit Reports.
3. If any of the information in your Credit Report is wrong, it could unnecessarily cause you to:
🙁 Be charged higher interest rates on any credit you do have
🙁 Pay more for your car / rental / house insurance
🙁 Be turned down for a new loan / credit card / lease
😲 Lose that new job you applied for (potential employers often pull your Credit Report as a way of determining how well you handle money and if they can trust you)
4. Your Credit Reports can show if someone has stolen your identity.
Technical Stuff: You can “freeze” your Credit Reports for Free. By “freezing” your Credit Reports, no one will be able to get your Credit Report in order to open any new credit in your name without the password (including you). This is a strong defense against identity theft. You will have to temporarily un-freeze your account if you need someone to get your Credit Report e.g., when placing a rental application, etc.
How Do I Know What’s on My Credit Report?
You can get a FREE copy of each of your Credit Reports at least once a year from www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Three different agencies will have a report on you - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
TIP: Set a phone alarm to remind you to pull your Free Credit Reports, one at a time, every 4 months (e.g., Experian in January, TransUnion in May, and Equifax in September). This will allow you to keep track of what is happening and watch for identity theft without paying anything. Since the information on each report should be the same, pulling them one at a time works fine.
Some Real-Life Stories
3 people who’ve pulled their Credit Reports recently and were surprised by what they found. . .
The first was a young woman who I asked to give me feedback on this module. When I asked her when she had last pulled her Credit Reports she said, ‘Oh, I don’t have a Credit Report. I’ve never had any credit.” She was rather adamant about that but I finally convinced her to go to the free Credit Report site and put in her information. Low and behold she DID have Credit Reports!! She had totally forgotten that she had college loans in her name that her father was paying back for her (I know, lucky lady!). Thankfully her father was paying them on time and her Credit Reports looked great (as did her Credit Score!).
The second was a young man who had school loans with payments that were supposed to have been postponed because of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. He had recently checked his Credit Score since he was looking for an apartment to rent and wasn’t particularly happy with the number but assumed it was correct and didn’t check his Credit Reports. Turns out something went wrong and the school loan payments that were supposed to have been postponed were being reported to the credit agencies as being unpaid!! Those missed payments on his Credit Reports are what tanked his Credit Score. (He was lucky to have qualified for the apartment at all!) This is a great example of when an error can cause lots of problems. He called the loan agency involved and got them to fix the records and his Credit Score improved dramatically!
The third was a financially responsible late-20s man who always paid his bills on time and paid his credit cards in full each month. He wasn’t worried about checking his Credit Reports because he figured they were perfect. When he did finally check, he discovered that he had an account in Collections! Apparently, he forgot to give forwarding information to a utility company he had used at his last house and they had been trying to track him down to get their final bill paid and then sent it to Collections. He called the utility, apologized for the problem, and paid the bill. The utility company removed his account from Collections and fixed the information on his Credit Reports.
3 stories that show - you never know what you’re going to find until you look!
P.S. Even if you don’t use credit at all, I’d still recommend trying to pull your Credit Report. If someone has stolen your identity, looking at your Credit Report is an easy way to find out.
What Should I Look for on My Credit Report?
You are checking your Credit Report to make sure that all the information is correct. Read through all the sections but pay special attention to the "Personal Information" and "Credit Inquiries" sections and EXTRA Special Attention to the "Account Information" section since it has the most impact on your Credit Score and life.
In the Personal Information section:
Make sure your social security number is correct. (If not, they may have your information mixed in with someone who has the same name.)
Make sure you’ve actually been associated with all the addresses listed. (If not, someone may have stolen your identity and is using a different address to use your credit.)
In the Account Information section:
Make sure you recognize all of the accounts listed. It should contain your history of mortgages, student loans, car loans, credit cards, lines of credit, and other types of credit accounts. (If there are accounts you don’t recognize, you may have an identity theft issue.)
Make sure you agree with the open / closed status listed (e.g., accounts you have closed are listed as closed).
Make sure you agree with the payment history which shows which bills were paid on time and which were late or unpaid.
Make sure you agree with the balances listed (how much you still owe) and the credit limit information (how much you are allowed to borrow on that account).
In the Credit Inquiries section:
Make sure you recognize each of the Hard Inquiries made on your Credit Report. (Inquiries you don’t recognize is another sign of potential identity theft. Soft inquiries do not matter.)
For more information on how to read your Credit Reports follow these links:
What If I Find a Mistake?
You can ask the credit reporting agency to check into and fix any mistakes by following each agency’s dispute process. You can find how to do this at the end of your Credit Report or on their website.
TIP: If you find a mistake on one Credit Report, it may be on your other reports too. You’ll want to check your report from each agency and make sure any mistakes get fixed on all of them. That way, no matter which report a future creditor or employer pulls, they will get correct information.
MONEY SAVING TIP: If you find a mistake in the Account Information section on any of your Credit Reports, you may be paying higher interest rates and fees than you should be for the credit or loans you already have.
After the mistake is fixed, you may want to contact your current creditors and insurance agents to tell them about the mistake and how it has been fixed and ask them if that qualifies you for a better rate (see “Why Do I Care about My Credit Report?” section and the Expert Adulting Credit Score module).
What Kinds of Things Do Credit Agencies Track?
Active accounts you are paying as agreed
Closed accounts that you paid as agreed
Bad / Very Bad
Late or missing payments
Collection or charged off accounts
Evictions / Foreclosures
How Can I Make My Credit Reports Better?
Here are some ways you can immediately start to improve your Credit Reports:
1. Pay your bills ON TIME - Showing responsibility with money will save you, literally, thousands ($) and thousands ($$) and thousands ($$$) of dollars over time. Paying your bills on time will improve your Credit Reports (and Credit Score). This will also get rid of late fees and start the process of qualifying you for lower interest rates.
2. Keep the number of hard inquiries made about you as low as possible - A ‘hard inquiry’ is what is reported when you apply for any kind of credit – whether you get it or not.
CAUTION: MAKE SURE YOU MEET ALL THE REQUIREMENTS of the credit you want to apply for (e.g., rental application, car loan, credit card) BEFORE you give them your application.
ASK!!!! the person at the company (whose job it is to make these decisions) what credit score, income, time on the job and other things they require before they will approve an application. Compare that information to your situation BEFORE you submit any application. If you don’t qualify, don’t apply! (Since many times there is an application fee, knowing if you qualify or not before you apply may also save you that money!)
If you apply when you don’t meet the creditor’s ‘must haves’, you will still get a bad mark (hard inquiry) on your Credit Report. This hard inquiry stays on your Credit Report for 2 years and may cause another creditor to turn you down if you end up applying somewhere else.
MONEY SAVING TIP: Limit the damage: If you have to submit more than one application for some reason, bunch them up within a two-week period and the credit agencies will count them as just one hard inquiry. (Note: doesn’t apply to credit card applications.)
3. Search the phrase “how to improve credit score”, skip the ad listings that will show up at the top of the page (they are trying to sell you something), and then read 2 or 3 of the articles near the top of your results page to learn about more in-depth options you may want to try.
Save Money - DON'T FALL FOR THE MARKETING
➤ You DO NOT NEED TO PAY ANYTHING or “create an account” with any company to get your Credit Reports. The U.S. government has made them available to you for FREE at AnnualCreditReport.com.
➤ The government recommends that you check each Credit Report once a year. You do not need to constantly check your Credit Report or pay for credit monitoring. (Suggestion: instead of paying a credit monitoring company, you could use that $29.95/mo. to help pay off your bills which will actually improve your Credit Reports and Credit Score!) 😊
➤ If you are turned down for credit or find a mistake on your Credit Report, you are allowed a free copy so, again, no need to pay for a monitoring service.
➤ By creating a “free” account with a specific company to get your Credit Reports, you give them the ability to try to sell you everything else they, and their partner-companies, have to offer. If you don’t want that, just use the government site (AnnualCreditReport.com).
What To Do Now
Pull 1 of your free Credit Reports and go through it in detail to make sure it is correct.
Submit a dispute to the credit agency if you find any information that is incorrect and be sure to follow up to make sure it is corrected on all 3 of your Credit Reports.
Set up a way (e.g., phone alarm) to remind yourself to pull your Free Credit Reports, one at a time, every 4 months (e.g., Experian in January, TransUnion in May, and Equifax in September).
Think about your Credit Score when you make financial decisions from now on. Will your decision help your Credit Score (and thus your financial future) or hurt it?
Can you think of anyone who might want to know this? If so, please share!
Learn More (My Sources)
Credit Reports General – Government Sources
What’s On a Credit Report and How Long It Stays
https://www.investopedia.com/how-long-does-negative-information-stay-on-your-credit-report-4769774 (January 12, 2021)
https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/102814/how-long-does-it-take-items-show-my-credit-report.asp (February 25, 2021)
https://www.credit.com/credit-repair/how-long-do-things-stay-on-your-credit-report/ (August 24, 2020)
What Is “Credit”?