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CREDIT CARD HELP: The basic fundamentals of credit cards

All about credit reports and credit scores

Credit report anatomy: How to read, understand reports

Sample credit report shows examples of common features

By Fred O. Williams

You can get a free credit report. But do you know how to read and understand it? This interactive guide will help. First we'll look at how to acquire your report, then how to read and understand it once you get it.

One free report every 12 months
Everyone is entitled by law to look at their credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once every 12 months free of charge, or you can buy a credit report from each of the three bureaus if you want to view your report more often.

The three large U.S. credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- were required by a 2003 federal law to set up AnnualCreditReport.com as a central online resource for report requests. You can also request your reports by calling 877-322-8228 or by downloading a request form and mailing it to:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Upon visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, users are directed to a form page and asked to provide personal identifying information, including name and address, Social Security number and date of birth.

After submitting your basic information, you go to a page allowing you to select reports from the three large credit bureaus by checking boxes next to the Equifax, Experian and TransUnion logos. You can select one or all of the credit bureaus. Instructions discuss whether you should review all three reports immediately, or whether you should spread the requests over a period of time.

The next step is designed to verify your identity. A page of questions appears about your creditors, loan terms or other details on the credit report that you're expected to know. You need to select the correct answers get access to the credit report. The AnnualCredit.Report.com site is integrated with the websites of the credit bureaus, making the transition from one to the other seamless. After requesting one report, you may return to the main site to repeat the process with another credit bureau.

Many consumers have a difficult time understanding their credit reports and piecing the three reports together, so here are examples and explanations of the most common elements that appear in each of the three free credit bureau reports. Roll over the information icon (Information icon) for explanations.

 
Personal information Personal information
Name: JOE Q. CONSUMER
Other names: CONSUMER, JOSEPH Q.
Report number: XXXXXXX Report number
Report date: July 4, 2013
SSN: XXX-XX-6789 Social security number
Date of birth: 04/1965
Date of birth: 04/1965
Telephone number(s): 555-1212
CURRENT ADDRESS: Current address
123 MAIN ST., NEW YORK, NY 12345
PREVIOUS ADDRESSES:
17 BROOKLYN AVE., LONG ISLAND, NY 56789
EMPLOYMENT DATA REPORTED Employment data reported
Employer name: CREDITCARDS.COM
Location: New York, NY
Date reported: 06/2011
Employer name: UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS
Location: TX
Date reported: 08/2009


Position: PROGRAMMER
Hired: 05/2010

Position:
Hired: 03/2003

 

 
Public records Public records
ROCKWELL MUNICIPAL Docket#: 9B004875
 5468 MLK AVE., SUITE 300, ROCKWELL, TX 97845

Type: Civil judgment
Court type: Municipal
Date paid: 07/2008
Assets: $1,089

Date filed: 12/2007
Responsibility: Participant on account
Plaintiff: BANK OF TEXAS
Plaintiff attorney: RICHARD PERRY
Amount: $1,089

Estimated date that this item will be removed 06/2015 Date removal

 

 
Adverse accounts, potentially negative items Negative items
COLLECTION RECOVERY SVC #321568
123 CHARLES ST.
SUITE 202
CORONA, CA 92877-0137
(909) 898-4424
Balance: $0
Date verified: 06/2007
Original balance: $243
Original creditor: SEARS ROEBUCK
Credit limit: $500
Past due: $0
Terms: $72 for 23 months
Pay status: Payment after charge off/collection Payment after charge off
Account type: Installment account Installment account
Responsibility: Individual account
Date opened: 03/2004
Date closed: 05/2010
Date paid: 05/2010
Remarks: >Paid collection<
Estimated date that this item will be removed: 08/2014
DONOVAN & WILSON
1045 MAIN ST., SUITE 105
RIVERSIDE, CA 92501
(909) 781-1248
Balance: $12,745
Date updated: 06/2008
Original balance: $15,243
Pay status: 120 days
past due 120 days past due
Account type: Revolving account Revolving account
Responsibility: Individual account
Estimated date that this item will be removed: 06/2014
The following item is suppressed pending credit grantor update: Suppressed pending credit grantor update
DISCOVER FINANCIAL SVC
#6053000570658798
123 SMITH AVE.
UNIT 55G
WILMINGTON, DE 19850-5316
Phone number not available
Balance: $2,145
Date updated: 08/2008
High balance: $25,463
Collateral: 2002 Chevy Collateral Past due: $136
Terms: $68 for 260 months
Pay status: 60 days past due
Account type: Installment account
Responsibility: Individual account
Date opened: 11/1998
Loan type: Student loan
Remarks: Repossession
Maximum delinquency of 60 days in 07/2008 for $400
Estimated date that this item will be removed: 06/2014

 

 
Accounts in good standing, satisfactory accounts Accounts in good standing
GMAC FINANCING #640006137129
78901 JENKINS CIR
FLOOR 15
MIAMI, FL 33025
Phone number not available
Balance: $1,145
Date updated: 08/2013
High balance: $10,000
Collateral: 2008 Dodge Ram Credit limit: $10,000
Past due: $0
Terms: $295 for 36 months
Pay status: Pays as agreed Payment status Account type: Installment account
Responsibility: Individual account
Date opened: 11/2009
Date closed: 11/2012
Date paid: 11/2012   
Loan type: Automobile
Remarks: Paid by insurance
Estimated date that this item will be removed: 12/2013

 

 
Credit history requests Credit history requests
CALTECH EMPLOYEE FCU
555 W. ADAMS
SUITE 202
LA CANADA, CA 91012
(818) 555-1212
Requested on: 11/01/2013
Inquiry type: Individual Inquiry type
Permissible purpose: Credit transaction Permissible purpose
SUNSHINE APARTMENTS via RENTPORT
678 MARINE STREET
SUITE 999
LOS ANGELES, CA 90210
(818) 555-1212
Requested on: 05/01/2013
Inquiry type: Individual
Loan type: Real estate
Loan amount: $90,000
Permissible purpose: Tenant screening Permissible purpose
CHASE CARD MEMBER SVCS
666 W. SMITH
PHOENIX, AZ 87853
Phone number not available
Requested on: 11/01/2013
Inquiry type: Individual
 

 

 
Personal statement Personal statement
ID SECURITY ALERT: FRAUDULENT APPLICATIONS MAY BE SUBMITTED IN MY NAME OR MY IDENTITY MAY HAVE BEEN USED WITHOUT MY CONSENT TO FRAUDULENTLY OBTAIN GOODS OR SERVICES. DO NOT EXTEND CREDIT WITHOUT FIRST VERIFYING THE IDENTITY OF THE APPLICANT. I CAN BE REACHED AT 917-555-1212. THIS SECURITY ALERT WILL BE MAINTAINED FOR 90 DAYS BEGINNING 10-29-13.

Updated: Nov. 7, 2013

See related:  10 things to know about credit scores, reports, 5 factors that create a FICO score

CREDIT CARD HELP: The basic fundamentals of credit cards


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