debt

What's in your credit report?

Steve BucciQuestionDear Debt Adviser,
Is there a way to have someone print my credit report and go over it with me, maybe a credit union or bank?
-- Adrian

AnswerDear Adrian,
Sitting down with someone in person to go over your credit report would be ideal. You could start with your bank or credit union, especially if you already have a relationship with one of their people. My experience is that the customer service reps you will likely encounter may go over your report with you, but won't print it out because of privacy concerns. So I suggest you first get your own copy. You can get a copy of each of your three credit bureau reports every 12 months for free online at AnnualCreditReport.com.

I can't vouch for the level of knowledge you'll run into at the bank or credit union. Some do a fine job of training their staff while others may not. So another option would be to contact a local nonprofit credit counseling agency where you could go in for a personal visit. To determine if there is a brick-and-mortar office near you, visit the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Many agencies offer a free or low-cost credit review service. If these all fail, or you just aren't happy with the level of detail you get from these sources, there are some excellent books available at your local library that can help you understand your credit report and guide you in correcting or deleting errors and out-of-date, erroneous information. You could ask for my book, "Credit Repair Kit For Dummies." Obviously, I think it does a good job in this area.

Because you took the time to write and because the information may be useful to my readers as well, I am going take this opportunity to quickly give you the basics of credit reports.

To clear up some common misconceptions, I want to first cover what is not included in your credit report:

These won't be included in your credit report:
  • Your gender.
  • Your race or ethnicity.
  • Your national origin.
  • Your religious preference.
  • Your political affiliation.
  • How much you earn.
  • Your checking or savings account information.
  • Details about your personal lifestyle or friends.

For purposes of my explanation, I will be describing what you can expect to find in an Experian credit report. A sample Experian credit report with explanations will help you follow along.

1. Your name and the number of your credit report request

You'll need this number to make any corrections or inquires.

2. Negative information, including public records

Here you will find listings of any accounts that were included in a court document such as a bankruptcy filing, unpaid tax liens or civil judgments. Next are accounts listed as past due, followed by collection accounts. Collection accounts are more seriously delinquent than just slightly past-due ones. They are often sent to outside collectors or attorneys for action.

3. Accounts in good standing

In other words, the accounts that you are paying on time and as agreed per the terms of the agreements.

4. Inquiries by others who have viewed your credit report

An inquiry is when a potential creditor requests your credit report as a direct result of you shopping for credit. For example, a lender will make an inquiry when you apply for a car or mortgage or if you apply for a credit card. Inquiries that you have made on your own behalf are included on your copy of the credit report, but are not shown on the copies that others receive.

5. Your personal information

This includes your name and any former names, such as a maiden or married name; your current address and date it was reported; previous addresses and dates reported; your telephone number, if available; one previous employer, including addresses, position and date employment was verified, reported and/or hired; and your Social Security number and date of birth, if available.

6. An optional consumer statement

You can choose to add a 100-word statement to your credit report to explain a negative listing or other item on your report if you choose.

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