Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are known as the "Big Three" in the credit reporting industry. These three companies are the largest consumer reporting agencies in the United States. That means that they handle personal information for nearly every United States citizen.
It is important to regularly review your credit reports from these credit bureaus. For help obtaining your reports, click here.
HOW TO READ YOUR CREDIT REPORTS
While the format and organization of the reports may vary, credit reports from the Big Three typically are organized as follows:
- Personal Information: This section will include your name, prior names you've used, current and previous addresses, phone numbers, social security number, birthdate, and employment history. This section can often reveal signs of identity theft, fraud, or a mixed file. Be on the lookout for names or addresses you do not recognize, a social security number that does not belong to you, or other suspicious information that does not match your information.
- Public Records: This section will include public record information about you, including bankruptcies, judgments, liens, lawsuits, and foreclosures.
- Accounts In Good Standing: This section includes all of your accounts that have not been defaulted on or sent to collections. Your credit report will include detailed information about each account, including:
- The name and address of each creditor;
- The status of the account (open, closed, transferred, charged-off, etc.);
- The account type (credit card, student loan, etc.);
- Your relationship to the account (owner, authorized user, joint owner);
- Balance and payment information; and
- Payment history.
You should pay careful attention to the payment history information to make sure it does not show any errors or inaccuracies, such as missed payments when you did make payments.
- Adverse Accounts / Potentially Negative Items: The negative information section lists accounts that have not been paid as agreed, have been sent to collections, or have been listed in bankruptcy. You should carefully review any negative information to make sure it is accurate. Negative information generally will stay on your credit report for seven years, and bankruptcies for 10 years.
- Inquiries: Your credit reports will list each time some third party has checked your credit report. Inquiries are usually separated into two categories: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. Hard inquiries occur when you authorize an entity to check your credit file as part of an application. Soft inquiries occur when you check your own credit or a third-party checks your credit report to send you a promotional offer. Hard inquiries can temporarily impact your credit score, and soft inquiries do not. If you see inquiries that you are not familiar, this could be as sign of identity theft or an impermissible pull of your credit report.
- Personal Statement: You have the right to add a personal statement to your credit report. This may help you explain information in your file to potential creditors. Consumers often use the personal statement to explain negative information such as the reasons for late or missed payments, to point out inaccuracies in the report, or to highlight a disputed account.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN YOUR CREDIT REPORT
You should look for any information on your credit report that is inaccurate or which does not belong to you. Here are some of the typical types of inaccuracies consumers encounter:
- Mixed Files. A mixed file occurs when information that belongs to a different person appears on your credit report. Signs of a mixed file can include accounts that you do not recognize appearing on your credit report, personal information that does not belong to you, and inquiries from businesses you don't recognize.
- Identity Theft. The signs of identity theft can be similar to those of a mixed file. ID theft can appear as accounts that do not belong to you appearing on your credit report, unexpected changes in your credit reports, collections accounts for accounts you never opened, and addresses or phone number you do not recognize.
- Inaccurate Account Information. This can include incorrect payment history (reporting you missed a payment when you did not); incorrect account status (e.g., closed accounts being reported as “charged off”); reporting an incorrect date of first delinquency; and reporting negative information that is older than seven years.
- Public Record Inaccuracies. The public records in your credit report must belong to you and must be accurate. You should watch out for civil lawsuits that you were not a party to; civil judgments that are older than seven years; bankruptcies you did not file; tax liens you paid more than seven years ago; evictions that are not yours; and non-conviction criminal records that are older than seven years (charges, arrests, etc.).
- Fraudulent Inquiries. If you do not recognize an inquiry, this could be a sign of fraud or identity theft. It could also indicate that a third party ordered a copy of your consumer report without a permissible purpose to do so.
If you are having trouble with your credit report and you think that the credit reporting agency may have violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, please contact the credit report attorneys at Weiner & Sand LLC for a consultation.