Credit Report Interpretation
Knowing you should monitor your credit report and actually doing it are sometimes two different things. This is especially true if you are looking at your credit report for the first time and it seems to make little sense. However confusing your report may look, it is essential that you take the time to learn the fine art of credit report interpretation, both to ensure the accuracy of the information it contains, as well as protect yourself from fraud or identity theft.
Although each of the major reporting agencies may format information differently, all include five to six major sections. These include personal or identifying information, credit account information, public record information, employment history and a listing of recent credit inquiries. If at any time you add a personal statement to your credit file, such as an explanation of a negative item, either a portion or all of the statement will appear in a consumer statement section. While it is important to review and understand each of these sections, your credit account information is often where much of the confusion lies.
Credit Account – Creditor/Account General Information
Each entry in the credit account information section will start with the name of your creditor, as well as your account number, and from that point include a variety of letter and/or number codes, each of which has a different meaning. First are a group of letter codes that identify the type of account, such as I for an individual account, A for authorized user or C or cosignor. Next come a group of dates and numbers that identify the month and year you opened the account, the number of reporting months and the date of your latest payment or charge. You may also see another set of letters that identify the account as an open, revolving or installment account using the letters O, R and I.
Credit Account – Financial/Payment Status Information
Financial information comes next, with numbers that identify the credit limit or loan amount of your account as well as the highest amount you charged to the account, if applicable, and finally, the current balance. Numbers next to the balance, usually ranging from zero to nine, identify the payment status. Zero usually represents a new account with no activity or balance and one represents “paid as agreed.” All remaining numbers identify a degree of late payment history, with a nine usually representing a charge-off.
If you have no public record information, such as past due child support, judgments, a bankruptcy or tax liens, this section will be blank. Information on your employment comes from your creditors rather than employers and this section may additionally contain previous address information. The final section will contain a list of any company or individual requesting a copy of your credit report within the last 24 months.
It is important to review your credit report at least once each year, verify all information and notify the reporting agency if you see any discrepancies. You can access a free copy of your report once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.