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So, you’ve heard you need to review your credit report, but you can’t help but wonder: What am I really looking for?

It can be frustrating to learn financial to-dos only to realize we’re not sure how to properly execute on the list. However, let’s remember that these are things few of us were taught in our homes growing up, and almost no one learned in school. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re already doing great!

Now, let’s talk about the simple things you should look for when you’re reviewing your credit report.

1. Check That You Have the Right Reports

First of all, we should talk about where you can get your credit report — and make sure you have all of them.

That’s right, we all have more than one credit report.

There are three credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Equifax, Experian, TransUnion. It’s important to get one credit report from each agency since they could contain differences.

If this seems a bit extreme, consider this: Financial institutions don’t necessarily report your information to all three CRAs. Therefore, you might see accounts on one or two of your reports that you don’t see on the others. What’s more, if there’s a reporting error, that error could also end up showing on only one report.

Luckily, it’s easy to get access to all three of your credit reports at once. Simply go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request each of your three reports. Make sure you have one from Equifax, one from Experian, and one from TransUnion and follow the rest of the steps as you review each one.

2. Take a Close Look at Your Personal Information

Before you dive deep into the sections about your various accounts, take a few minutes to examine your personal information on each of the reports. The goal here is to make sure your name is spelled correctly, any addresses listed are or were yours, that your social security number has been entered correctly, and so on.

Believe it or not, a mistake relating to your personal information can be one of the most damaging to your credit report, and thus your credit scores.

Imagine this. You’ve never checked your credit report, but you’ve also never made a late payment. There’s no need to check, you might think, because you’re on top of your credit game. Then, one day, you get your credit report and notice a few accounts that aren’t yours listed. So you look more closely and find that the social security number has transposed two of your digits. What’s happened here?

In that instance, it could be that someone else’s accounts — a person who actually has the social security number that’s been mistakenly entered on your report — is showing up on your report. This isn’t good to start with, but now imagine what could happen if that person goes delinquent on their accounts. Your report and your credit scores are the ones that’ll suffer.

Don’t skip this step and don’t pass go until you’re 100 percent sure that all of your personal information has been entered correctly on all three of your credit reports.

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3. Compare a List of All Your Accounts

This is a step you can take before you pull up your credit reports if you want to make the overall process more efficient. Simply make a list of all of your financial accounts and have it ready to go. Here’s what you’ll want to include:

  • Student loans
  • Credit cards
  • Car loans
  • Retail store cards
  • Mortgages
  • Personal loans
  • Any accounts that have gone to collections

When you make your list, include your current balance, the open date, and any name associated with your account that shows up on your bill. One of the most frustrating things about reviewing a credit report can be that it’s not easy to see what an account might be. For example, if you have an Amazon card, it might not show up as Amazon on your report — instead, you might see the name “Synchrony Bank,” who actually issues Amazon credit cards.

Here’s what you’re looking for once you have all of this information compiled:

  • Make sure every account on your credit report matches to one on the list. If not, it could be that you forgot one or it could be that there’s an account on your credit report that shouldn’t be there.
  • Check out the status of the accounts to see if they’re open or closed. Closed accounts don’t drop off your report right away, and that’s okay. Just make sure that closed accounts aren’t showing up as being open and vice versa.
  • Review the current balances but understand they might not be totally accurate. You can easily see an up-to-date balance on most of your financial accounts online, but lenders might only report once a month to the CRAs. All you need to see is that the balance is pretty close to what it should be, or at least was the amount shown at one point in the previous month.
  • Payment history. Check each account to make sure your payment history is accurate, meaning you’re not seeing any late payments when you know you paid on time.

4. Examine Public Records

Never heard of public records? You’re not alone. Here’s how Merriam Webster defines the term when it’s being used in the context of the law:

“A record required by law to be made and kept:
a: a record made by a public officer or a government agency in the course of the performance of a duty
B: a record filed in public office.”

In the context of your credit report, public records you might see include bankruptcies, civil suits and judgments, foreclosures, and liens.

According to Experian, bankruptcies are now the only public record being reported. However, if you happen to see one of the others mentioned on your report, make sure it’s accurate.

5. Watch Out for Errors

You might be noticing a theme here: the main thing you’re looking for when you review your credit report is errors.

Credit reporting errors can be costly to your credit scores, which can be costly to you. Think about it this way: If you’re looking for a new loan or line of credit, your credit scores will determine not just approval, but interest rates. And every small uptick in the interest rate can cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars over the life of a loan or line of credit.

So, even if you aren’t worried about your credit report for any other reason, remember that not checking it and reporting errors can cost you money.

If you do spot an error of any kind, all you have to do is dispute the error with the CRA showing it. Once you do, they have 30 days to review the credit report dispute and respond to you.

Why You Should Regularly Review Your Credit Reports

Now that you know what you’re looking for when reviewing your credit reports, remember that you should be doing this regularly. It’s one of the most important steps to take in maintaining your financial health and, after you’ve done it once or twice, it becomes fairly routine.

AnnualCreditReport.com gives you free access to your three credit reports once per year. You can also review your TransUnion credit report even more often if you sign up for Upturn, a company that shows you the items on your TransUnion credit report as often as you want to see them, and updates every ten days.

So, go ahead and mark it on your calendar or do whatever it is that’ll remind you to stay on top of your credit reports at least every year. Then dispute credit report errors if they come up or rest easy knowing your report is exactly as it should be.

[FREE Tool: Are there errors on your credit report? Find out at fix them for free with Upturn Credit’s credit repair tool!]

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