How to read a credit report

A credit report is a summary of a person’s credit activity and history. Lenders often use credit reports when deciding whether to approve an applicant for a loan or credit card. Credit scores are also calculated using information from credit reports.

So you can probably see why credit reports are so important. And knowing how to read your credit reports is an essential part of financial literacy. Find out how to monitor your credit reports, what’s on a credit report and what to look out for when reviewing them.  

Key takeaways

  • Credit reports will generally include sections on personal information, credit history, credit inquiries, public records and collection accounts, if applicable. 
  • It’s important to regularly review your credit reports so you can find and dispute any errors. Plus, it can help with spotting signs of identity theft or fraud.
  • You can access free copies of your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus by visiting
  • With CreditWise from Capital One, you can also access your free TransUnion credit report and VantageScore 3.0 credit score as often as you like without hurting your credit score. 

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How to get a copy of your credit report

You can get free copies of your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureausEquifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®—by visiting

You can also access your TransUnion credit report and VantageScore 3.0 credit score as often as you like with CreditWise from Capital One. It’s free for everyone, even if you’re not a Capital One cardholder. And using CreditWise won’t hurt your credit. 

What’s on a credit report?

Credit reports from different bureaus might be organized differently and contain slightly different information. But generally, they’ll include these sections: 

Personal information

The personal information you’ll find on your credit report may include your:

  • Name and any names you’ve used in the past.
  • Social Security number.
  • Birth date.
  • Current and previous addresses.
  • Phone numbers.

Make sure to review all the personal information on your credit reports to make sure it’s accurate and doesn’t show any signs of identity theft or fraud.

Credit history

The credit history, or credit accounts, section is often the longest part of a credit report. This section will likely include:

Credit accounts will appear on your credit report as either satisfactory—also called in good standing—or negative accounts. 

A satisfactory account generally means the account holder has complied with the terms of the credit agreement by doing things like paying on time. A negative account might be one that’s past due or in collections.

Credit inquiries

A credit inquiry is when an organization or individual requests to look at your credit report. The requester might be a lender, employer or yourself. There are two different types of credit inquiries: hard inquiries and soft inquiries

The main difference between the two types of inquiries is that hard inquiries may affect your credit scores while soft inquiries don’t. Here’s a little more detail:

  • A hard inquiry is typically when a lender reviews a credit report to assess an applicant’s creditworthiness. Lenders will be looking at things like how often and how recently someone applied for credit. And hard inquiries can stay on your credit report for up to two years. But they usually only affect credit scores for one year. 
  • A soft inquiry, on the other hand, doesn’t affect your credit scores at all. This type of inquiry happens when you request to check your own credit report or when you apply to be pre-qualified or pre-approved for credit. Soft inquiries can also happen when someone like a potential employer requests your credit report.

Public records

The public records section of a credit report may include things like bankruptcies, repossessions, liens, foreclosures and civil judgments, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). 

Most bankruptcies fall off a credit report after seven to 10 years. But certain kinds of bankruptcies can stay on a credit report for longer. 

Collection accounts 

Creditors may turn unpaid accounts over to a collection agency if the account goes unpaid for a certain amount of time. And accounts that are in collection can show up on credit reports and impact credit scores. But according to the CFPB, a debt collector has to follow certain steps before sending information about an account to credit reporting agencies.

What’s not included on a credit report?

Credit reports contain a lot of information about you and your history with credit. But not everything is included. Generally, you won’t find the following on your credit reports: 

  • Credit scores.
  • Savings and checking account balances.
  • Investments.
  • Purchase transactions.
  • Income.
  • Certain public records, like arrests or divorces.
  • Medical bills that aren’t sent to collections.
  • Personal information like race, ethnicity, disabilities, and religious or political affiliations.

What to look out for on a credit report

It’s a good idea to regularly review your credit reports. That way, you can spot errors that might affect your credit scores and watch for signs of identity theft or fraud

The CFPB recommends reviewing each section of your credit reports carefully and checking for errors. And if you find an error, dispute it as soon as you can. You’ll learn more about how to dispute credit report errors below. 

But take note: You can only remove information from your credit report if it was reported in error. 

According to the CFPB, you shouldn’t pay to repair or fix your credit. That’s because there’s no quick way to build or repair credit. And you should know how to spot and avoid debt relief scams. But there are credit counselors who may be able to help with managing debt and getting credit in order over time.

How to dispute credit report errors

If you spot an error on your credit report, the CFPB recommends contacting the credit reporting agency and the company that provided the incorrect information. 

The CFPB’s guide on disputing credit report errors also includes a dispute letter template and contact information for each of the three major credit bureaus. 

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit reporting agencies to investigate dispute claims. And if the information is found to be inaccurate, it has to be removed from your credit report.

Reading credit reports in a nutshell

Understanding how to read your credit reports is an important part of financial literacy and using credit responsibly. Plus, regularly checking your credit reports can help you spot any errors and track your progress toward your financial goals

If you want to learn more, check out these guides on monitoring your credit and improving your credit scores.

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