What should you read in a credit report?

Reading credit reports can be very confusing. A credit report is divided into four sections: Identifying information, credit history, public records and inquiries.

Identifying information: Well, just that—information to identify you. Here’s where you will find your name, social security number, address, date of birth, drivers license number, employer and even your spouses name. Study it close and make sure that it’s accurate.

The next section is your credit history. Here’s where you will find the meat of the report. Your mortgage, car, credit cards, student loans, charge offs, collections and on time or late payment history. Each account entry will include the name of the creditor along with the scrambled account number for security purposes. The entry will also include:

The type of account. Installment loans such as mortgages and auto loans or revolving accounts like credit cards and department store cards.

Date reported. This is the last date that this creditor reported activity.

Date you opened the account.

The credit limit or total amount of the loan along with highest balance.

How much you still owe.

Whether or not the payments are fixed or there’s a minimum monthly amount.

Status of the account, open, closed or paid.

Payment history–on time or number of times past 30 days.

Whether the account is in your name alone or with another person.

Public records section is where you’ll find bankruptcies, judgments and tax liens. These three bad boys are the worst of the worst.

Finally there’s the inquiries section. Here you can see who’s pulled your credit report. These are divided into two categories. Hard inquiries are those that were initiated by you filling out a credit application. Soft inquiries are a result of current creditors pulling your report to either send promotional offers or to simply monitor your account. The biggest rumor here is that a large number of inquiries can lower your credit score. More than likely you have nothing to worry about. The credit scoring system allows you to shop for loans within a certain time period. For example, two hard inquiries within the same two week period are only counted as one.

After looking at thousands of credit reports over the past decade as a mortgage professional its second nature for me to scan a credit report and see it all. For the consumer that’s looking for the first time, it can be very frustrating.

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