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How To Read a Credit Report (and Dispute Errors)

Fraud and errors on your credit reports could be damaging your credit score. Learn how to read your credit reports and dispute any incorrect information.

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      Are There Errors on Your Credit Report? 

      When Jose Rodriguez applied for his first apartment, he never thought he’d be denied. But after ordering a copy of his credit report to investigate the issue, Jose was hit with a terrifying reality — his credit history was littered with purchases, student loans, car loans, and even criminal charges that weren’t his [*]. 

      Unfortunately, Jose’s story is far from unique. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*]:

      American consumers lost nearly $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022 – nearly 30% higher than the year before. 

      Many people first realize they’re victims of identity theft and fraud when they find fraudulent charges and false accounts on their credit reports.

      Yet, only 33% of Americans have reviewed their credit reports in the past year [*]. 

      An error on your credit report may not always be serious, but it can still affect your credit score. It might also signal that something more malicious is going on. 

      In this guide, we’ll explain how to check your credit file for errors and dispute any inaccuracies.

      {{show-toc}}

      What Is on Your Credit Reports? How Can You View Them?

      Your credit reports document a wide variety of credit-related activities and statuses, such as your loan payment history and credit account balances, which lenders use to determine your creditworthiness.

      While positive items can increase your credit score, negative items can stay on your report for up to 7–10 years and lower the loan amounts for which you qualify, increase your interest rates, or bar you from new credit altogether [*]. 

      Here’s what information you’ll find on your credit reports:

      • Personal information. Your credit report will include Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as your name (and former names), Social Security number (SSN), current and previous addresses, and date of birth. 
      • Employment history. Your report should also include the latest employment information given to your creditors and lenders. 
      • Consumer statements. This includes optional statements that help explain negative information or disputes. 
      • Credit history. Details include the types of credit you have, credit limits, account balances, and payment history. Open accounts, closed accounts, and accounts sent to a collection agency also appear.
      • Public record. Some public information appears on your credit report, such as bankruptcies. Tax liens and civil judgments no longer appear on your credit report [*].
      • Credit inquiries. Two types of inquiries appear on your credit report: soft and hard. Soft inquiries result from credit checks and monitoring. Hard inquiries come from credit applications. 

      The easiest (and safest) way to obtain your credit reports is by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

      Due to the sharp increase in fraud since the start of the pandemic, you can obtain a free copy of your credit report each week from all three bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — until the end of 2023.

      Since the major credit bureaus receive different information, you need to monitor reports from all three. You can also sign up for a three-bureau credit monitoring service that does the work for you. 

      🛡 Safeguard your finances with award-winning protection. Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution has been rated #1 by Money.com, USNews.com, Forbes, and more. Try Aura free for 14 days and protect yourself against future fraud.

      What’s the relation between credit reports and your credit score?

      Lenders use the information in your credit report to determine your credit score — however, this doesn’t mean that you will have the same credit score across all lenders. 

      Instead, lenders use different criteria and scoring models to determine your score — including the types of accounts you have, the credit reporting agency polled, and the scoring model used [*]. 

      The two main scoring models are FICO score and VantageScore. 

      Both models use payment history, credit history, and credit utilization in their calculations. But since they use different time frames and criteria, their scores may differ.

      For example, when you apply for personal loans or lines of credit, the lender looks at your credit score, but may also review your credit report for additional information. Late payments and past due accounts hurt your score and can damage your chances of getting preferable interest rates.

      That's why it's so important to keep tabs on your own credit report. The quicker you identify errors, the more effectively you can dispute them.

      How To Analyze Your Credit Report

      1. Review your personal information for errors and mistakes
      2. Make sure you recognize all of your listed employers
      3. Confirm that any public records are valid
      4. Scrutinize your credit history for signs of fraud
      5. Verify the collection agency account information
      6. Look for unrecognized hard inquiries and other signs of identity theft

      Analyzing your credit report is a critical step in the personal credit protection process. These records may look confusing at first, but we'll break down the sections and show you what to look for.

      Note: Credit reports use special codes as short forms for payment descriptions, business classifications, and account designators. These guides outline the unique codes used by each credit bureau: 

      1. Review your personal information for errors and mistakes

      The personal information section of your credit report includes your name, address, and SSN. Errors in this section could indicate that your identity has been compromised. By changing your address or phone number, for example, scammers can prevent you from receiving fraud alerts. 

      What to look for in the personal information section of your credit report:

      • Are your name, address, and phone number correct? Look for changes to your name or any outdated contact information. While these won’t necessarily impact your credit score, they can cause confusion or even warn you that someone has altered your information or stolen your identity.
      • Do you have the right SSN listed? An incorrect SSN might be a typographical error, or it could signal fraud. Your credit report may also combine with another person’s report, meaning you could be building credit for someone else. 

      💡 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your Personal Information?

      2. Make sure you recognize all of your listed employers

      The employment section of your credit report shows your last listed employer. This information comes from lenders and credit card issuers.  A fraudulent credit application under your name could change your employment information.

      What to look for in the employment section of your credit report:

      • Is the employment information out of date? Outdated employment information won't affect your credit, but you should still update it. While most lenders ignore this section, it might help you in job and rental applications.
      • Is an unknown employer listed? An unrecognizable employer noted in your report is likely a warning sign of fraud. Your file may have combined with someone else's, or it could signal identity theft.

      💡 Related: How To Tell If You're a Victim of Employment Identity Theft

      3. Confirm that any public records are valid

      Since July 1, 2017 [*], tax liens and civil judgments no longer appear in the public records section. Now, only bankruptcies within the past 7-10 years show up. Incorrect information here could tarnish your good credit. It could also mean identity thieves filed for bankruptcy in your name.  

      What to look for in the public records section of your credit report:

      • Is there an unfamiliar bankruptcy? Bankruptcies have a significant impact on your credit. An unfamiliar bankruptcy could be a clerical error or a sign of something criminal. For example, fraudsters might file for bankruptcy in your name to avoid debt repayments and delay foreclosures. 
      • Are the details of your bankruptcy correct? Make sure all of your bankruptcy details are accurate, including the dates, amounts, and account numbers. This information can change how much the bankruptcy damages your credit and when it discharges. 

      💡 Related: How Long Does It Take To Repair Your Credit?

      4. Scrutinize your credit history for signs of fraud

      The credit history section contains some of the most important information in your credit report, including your credit accounts, monthly payments, and current balances. While inaccuracies in these accounts can be reporting errors, they might also inform you of fraudulent new accounts or theft.

      What to look for in the credit history section of your credit report:

      • Do you recognize all adverse accounts? Investigate the adverse details in this section, including the account names and numbers, late payment specifics, and the balances. If you're a fraud victim, it'll likely show up here. Make sure on-time payments aren't miscategorized as late because these can stay on your report for up to seven years. 
      • Do you recognize all satisfactory accounts? Don't overlook an account just because it's in good standing. Make sure the names, balances, and credit limits match your records. Take note of any duplicate accounts or outdated information. 
      • Are the account statuses accurate? Ensure that the accounts accurately state if they are open or closed. Accounts you closed should indicate "closed by consumer" — otherwise it could affect your available credit limit. 
      • Is the authorization information correct? Verify that you're listed correctly as an authorized user, co-signer, or owner on all of your accounts. A mistake here could make you responsible for debt that isn't rightfully yours. 
      🛡 Don’t let signs of credit fraud slip past you. Try Aura free for 14 days and get three-bureau credit monitoring with the industry’s fastest and most reliable fraud alerts.

      5. Verify the collection agency account information

      The collection section highlights any past due accounts either sent to a collection department or sold to a collection agency. Even minor errors in this area can impact your credit rating. You might also spot someone piling up debt in your name.

      What to look for in the collection section of your credit report:

      • Do you recognize the accounts in this section? Make sure you know about all of the accounts in this section. Monitoring these accounts helps you stay on top of forgotten debt, mistaken debt, and fraudulent actions. Debts and settlements remain on your report for up to seven years, so it's important to clear up any errors. 
      • Are there mistakes in the entries? Check for misprints in the account name, number, and type. Most administrative details won't affect your credit; but incorrect account balances and dates can.

      💡 Related: Credit Score vs. Credit Report — What's The Difference?

      6. Look for unrecognized hard inquiries and other signs of identity theft

      The inquiry section of your credit report includes hard and soft inquiries. 

      Hard inquiries result from credit applications, stay on your report for two years, and impact your credit for up to one year. Soft inquiries come from credit checks and pre-approved offers and don't affect your credit. Unauthorized inquiries can damage your credit and tip you off to fraudulent applications.  

      What to look for in the inquiries section of your credit report:

      • Are the hard inquiries known to you? Go through the names and dates of the hard inquiries, and verify all of them. Since account names can vary, consider calling the inquirer directly. This will help you catch any harmful mistakes or identify fraudulent credit applications.
      • Are there suspicious soft inquiries in your name? While soft inquiries can't affect your credit, you should still look through them. They might alert you to persistent pre-approval offers or even potential identity fraud.

      Did You Find Errors on Your Credit Report? Here’s What To Do

      Finding errors on your credit report can be alarming, but it isn't uncommon. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received nearly 1.2 million credit reporting complaints between 2020 and 2023 [*].

      Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act [*], American consumers have the right to dispute errors on their credit report. The steps below will help you fix these mistakes and repair your credit:  

      Freeze your credit reports

      If you see potential fraud on your credit report, you will want to freeze your credit. This free service will stop any fraudsters from accessing your credit. You can lift freezes temporarily or permanently [*]. 

      To request a freeze, you’ll need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus individually, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax:

      Experian
      Equifax
      TransUnion
      1-888-397-3742
      1-800-685-1111
      1-888-909-8872
      Experian Security Freeze — P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
      Equifax Information Services LLC — P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348-5788
      TransUnion LLC – P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016

      Report fraud to the FTC and other authorities (if applicable) 

      If you see signs of identity theft or fraud on your credit report, inform the authorities:

      • Start by filing a report at identitytheft.gov 
      • Then, report any fraud to your bank, impacted companies, and the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov 
      • Finally, you may also want to submit a police report with your local law enforcement

      Contact the information furnisher

      In some cases, you can bypass dispute formalities by going right to the source of the problem. If you notice a mistaken hard inquiry, call the information furnisher that is responsible. Share the details of the error, and ask them to remove it. 

      To update your credit report phone number and address, make the changes in your creditor file. This information will then be sent to the credit bureaus so it can be reflected on your credit report. 

      Create an official dispute letter

      To fix reporting errors, dispute debts, or remove hard inquiries that couldn't be done by other means, you need to write a dispute letter. Your letter should include your full contact and account information. Provide a detailed explanation of the error as well as the reasons for its removal. 

      You need to include copies of all relevant documents that prove there has been an error. It might help to include a copy of your credit report with the errors highlighted. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.

      File your dispute 

      Start by filing a dispute with the information furnisher — the original lender, creditor, or collection agency. This will trigger an investigation, and the results will be shared with you and the credit bureaus. 

      You can also file a dispute with the credit bureaus directly. They will respond to your dispute within 30 days [*]. While you can file by phone, mail, or online, you should consider lodging a written dispute for your records. 

      Phone:

      • Equifax: 886-349-5191
      • Experian: 888-397-3742
      • TransUnion: 800-916-8800

      Online:

      Mail: 

      • Equifax: Equifax Information Services, LLC, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374
      • Experian: Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
      • TransUnion: TransUnion Consumer Solutions, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA, 19016

      Is Credit Monitoring Worth It? 

      Yes, credit monitoring is a powerful tool that helps you stay on top of your personal finances and protect yourself and your family from fraud. 

      You can monitor credit reports on your own, but you need to commit to doing it on a regular basis. Otherwise, early warning signs of identity theft and fraud could slip through the cracks. 

      Credit monitoring services can also keep tabs on your credit for you — around the clock. These services automatically check your credit reports and alert you in near real-time of any changes or suspicious activity. 

      For added security, credit monitoring can be bundled with identity theft protection and digital security tools to help protect all of your data and accounts. 

      Here are some of the features that the best credit monitoring services provide:

      • Monitors all three of your credit reports and alerts you of any changes (legitimate or suspicious) in near real-time
      • Tracks your credit scores and provides monthly and annual reports 
      • Instantly locks and unlocks your credit files with a single click, stopping anyone from accessing your credit
      • Protects against identity theft with alerts of new accounts and suspicious PII activities
      • Provides digital security including Safe Browsing tools, password managers, virtual private networks (VPNs), and antivirus software
      • Dark Web monitoring that scans for your personal information and notifies you if anything is detected
      • Insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft — usually at least $1 million
      • 24/7 access to Fraud Resolution Specialists who walk you through the mitigation and remediation process
      🏆 Try award-winning credit and identity protection — for free. Aura’s all-in-one solution has been rated #1 by major publications including Money.com, Security.org, Forbes, and more. Try Aura free for 14 days for peace of mind and financial security.

      The Bottom Line: It Pays To Keep Tabs on Your Credit Reports

      With financial fraud at an all-time high, credit risks have never been greater. Fraud can damage your credit score and your financial freedom. Safeguard yourself and your family from the worst consequences by keeping a vigilant eye on your credit report and disputing any errors that arise.

      You can also sign up for a credit monitoring service like Aura, and let the experts manage your financial and online safety for you. Take comfort in having credit locks one click away, constant three-bureau credit monitoring, and top-notch identity theft protection.

      Keep your bank account safe from scammers. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      Award-winning identity theft protection with AI-powered digital security tools, 24/7 White Glove support, and more. Try Aura for free.

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