Experian aims to make credit reports more readable

Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
I recently pulled up my free annual credit report through Experian. In reading through the report, I noticed language that I hadn't seen before. There were numerous references to items going off my record in 2014 and 2020, for instance. What does that mean? And why is there such a long period before some of these items going "off my record"? It almost sounds like a criminal's rap sheet.  -- John 

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Hey John,
There's a good reason you didn't notice that language before: Experian recently updated its credit reports to make them easier on the eyes. In doing so, they also made it easier to find something that's always been a feature of the reports -- an indication that certain items are removed after a set number of years.

You're certainly not being treated like a criminal. Unlike when you lose your right to vote following a felony conviction, notations on your credit history don't follow you to the grave. Instead, federal law requires most accurate but negative information to be removed from your reports after seven years. Chapter 7 personal bankruptcies remain for a decade. Accounts with no negative history, meanwhile, remain on Experian credit reports for 10 years from the date they are paid off and closed. So if you missed a payment in 2007 and closed an account in 2010, for example, those items or accounts would be scheduled for removal in 2014 and 2020, respectively.

Experian recently revamped their credit reports to provide more color, more white space and to generally improve readability. Click on the image above to see a full sample credit report.

While the other two major U.S. credit bureaus (Equifax and TransUnion) didn't respond to my request for comment on their own reports, Experian acknowledged that a recent change to its credit reports may have made those time frames more apparent.  

"Experian recently updated its consumer credit reports to make them clearer and easier to read," says Rod Griffin, Experian's director of public education. "As a result, the reader may have noticed the time frames for the first time."

So what exactly did Experian change? Perhaps most obviously, the credit report got prettier. "The report has received an overall facelift that incorporates more color and makes better use of white space," Griffin says. In addition, the credit bureau's reports now include:    

  • A table of contents.
  • A full color payment history grid.
  • An expanded balance history section and data showing consumers' monthly habits.
  • A banner across the top of each page that contains a watermark for added security.

Griffin says those changes, made in the past few months, weren't spurred by any regulatory or legal changes. "We periodically review the report and update it based on feedback from consumers and others. This was just part of that regular process," he says. 

Since credit reports can be confusing for consumers, the more efforts that are made to help make them more readable, the better.

Good luck!


See related: Free credit reports: How to get the actual free one, How to dispute credit report errors, How to cancel a credit card, Credit report anatomy: How to read, understand reports

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Updated: 03-23-2019