Your credit report is a history of your credit behavior, or how responsibly you manage your money and your debt.
This history — compiled by credit reporting agencies that receive your financial information from banks, lenders, and other various creditors — is used to generate your credit score. Lenders and creditors then use this report, and the credit score associated with it, to determine whether they will make a new loan to you, give you a credit card, or increase your limit on existing credit cards. Your credit history also affects the interest rate you receive.
To help you become more familiar with the critical elements of your credit report, check out the four major sections of a typical credit report. Learn what’s included, understand why it's important to check your report, know what to do in cases of inaccurate information, and learn how to decipher your credit score.
Section A: Personal information
Sample Credit Report
|Date of Birth
||100 Tree Leaf Ln
||200 Branch St
||TTM Financial Services
Sample consumer statements
- There was a fraudulent attempt to gain credit from my Social Security number on Sept. 17, 2012. This was reported to all three bureaus on Sept. 19, 2012.
- I did not make the payment to Sam’s Carpet Land on Nov. 12, 2012, because they delivered the wrong carpet. They refused to ship me the carpet that I ordered and would not allow me to return the one that was sent, so I refused payment.
Sample public record information
||Bankruptcy – Chapter 7
This section consists of personal information that can include your name, Social Security number, date of birth, and current and former addresses and employer(s).
Check to ensure that your Social Security number and the rest of your personal data are correct. If not, contact each credit agency immediately. Doing this helps protect you against identity theft.
The consumer statement section contains any comments submitted to the credit bureau to be included in your credit report.
Usually this statement is an explanation of why a negative credit item is appearing on your report and will be taken into consideration by creditors and lenders. Check each credit agency's website for information on how to add or remove a consumer statement.
Public record information
Public record information from local, state, and federal courts shows any legal item that may affect your credit such as bankruptcy, judgments, suits, liens, foreclosures, collection items, and items past due.
This section includes information about the type of record, whether the case is open or has been closed, the date the case was filed, a record identification number, a closing date, and which court has jurisdiction over the record.
In cases of bankruptcy, your public record will include information about liability (the amount you are legally responsible for as decided by the court), exempt amount (the amount claimed against you that you are not legally responsible for), and asset amount (the value of total personal assets that can be used to pay down your debt).
See our questions about your credit report for more information.
Section B: Credit score
A credit score is a grade of your credit behavior. Credit scores are frequently referred to as FICO scores — a name derived from Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that invented credit scores.
Credit scores range from 300 to 850 — the higher the better.
According to MyFICO.com, FICO scoring is based on five related categories. The percentages show the "weight" each one carries:
- History of payment (35%). Your payment history shows whether you pay your bills on time, the number of past-due accounts (and how long they are overdue), any accounts referred for collections, any bankruptcies, and other payment-related behavior. The better you are about making your monthly payments on time, the better your credit score will be. Late payments demonstrate higher credit risk behavior.
- Balance and available credit (30%). Not only do lenders want to know how much money you owe, they are also interested in the ratio between outstanding debt and available credit. In other words, the closer you are to "maxing out" an account, the more negative the impact on your credit score.
- Length of credit history (15%). The longer your accounts have been open and active, the more credit points you'll score. The less time your accounts have been open, the less time you've had to prove yourself. You need at least six months (preferably 9-12 months) of credit activity to build a credit score.
- Number of accounts and types of credit held (10%). If you have many open credit accounts, you have greater potential to accrue more debt and your score may be reduced. As for types of credit held, more variety shows you have more experience with different accounts, reducing your possibility of being a credit risk. Highest scores usually involve a mix of revolving and installment accounts, showing that you know how to handle various types of credit.
- New credit (10%). How frequently and how recently have you applied for new credit? Many outside inquiries into your credit, especially within a 12-month period, can lower your credit score.
If you’re lagging behind in other areas of your credit score, such as having a history of late payments, opening new accounts could imply you may be about to go into default and are looking for a way to stay afloat. Also, keep in mind that too many inquiries made by lenders and creditors will be more harmful to a younger credit history than to an older one.
To learn more about the benefits of a good credit rating, the troubles a bad score can cause, and ways to improve your credit, visit the ins and outs of your credit score.
Section C: Account history information
Sample account information summary (tradelines)
||555 5555 5555 5555
||777 7777 7777 7777
||$100 30 days past due
Information regarding all credit accounts in your name
- Company name: Person/agency who gave you the credit account.
- Account number: Number that identifies your account.
- Condition: Account status as of the last reported date (open or closed).
- Type: Type of account (common types include real estate, revolving, and installment).
- Responsibility: Is it an individual or joint account?
- Opened: Date the account was opened.
- Limit: Maximum amount of charges allowed on a credit card.
- Last reported: Date the information was last reported to the credit bureau.
- Reported balance: Amount owed (at time last reported).
- Recent payment: Most recent payment made on your account (at time last reported).
- Past due: Amount left unpaid after the due date of payment and number of days past due (at time last reported).
Accounts that are included on a credit report
Some common account types include real estate, revolving, and installment.
- Real estate accounts include home mortgage loans.
- Revolving accounts (such as credit cards) have varied payments.
- Installment accounts (for example, student loans and auto loans) have regular payments.
Accounts can be joint or individual. A joint account means that access to and responsibility for the account are shared by two or more people. The account history will show up on the credit reports of each party. An individual account is the sole responsibility of the borrower.
What if my Account Information Summary is incorrect?
If you find a mistake, get reports from all three credit agencies and look for errors in other versions as well. Once you have done that, you must contact the agency to correct the mistake.
You can generally request an investigation (which the agency must complete within 30 days) and rectify a dispute with each credit bureau online, by phone, or by mail. Visit the credit agencies' websites for more detailed information: Equifax.com, Experian.com, and TransUnion.com.
Section D: Inquiry information
|Credit card company
|Credit card company
|Credit card company
The inquiry section lists details about each query made into your credit history, such as the name of the inquirer and the dates of inquiry. There are two kinds of inquiries:
- 1. Hard inquiries are made by lenders and creditors when you have filled out a new loan or credit application. They can count against your credit score if too many are made within a short time. Remember, 10% of your credit score is affected by new inquiries.
- 2. Soft inquiries are made when you request a copy of your credit report or when your credit is checked for marketing purposes, such as when a credit card company sends you a “pre-approved” application.
See Sallie Mae's three easy ways to protect your privacy to stop companies from sending you pre-approved credit applications.