Many people believe that your credit report contains the intimate personal details of your life, ferreted out from interviews with your neighbors, your ex, and your business associates. Not true! You can rest assured that your credit report does not reveal whether you tend to drink too much at office parties, whether you sport a tattoo, or whether you had an eye lift or indulged in a wild fling on your last vacation to Mexico.
The information in your credit report is specific, purely factual, and limited in scope. What it lacks in scope, however, it makes up for in sheer volume of material and length of time it covers. When I talk to high school, college, or technical-school students, I tell them that if they cut a class, chances are no one will notice, but if they fail to pay a bill on time, a multibillion-dollar industry will notice, record it, and tell everyone who asks about them for the next seven years!
• Personal identification information such as your name, Social Security number, addresses (present and past), and your most recent employment history.
• Public-record information on tax liens, judgments, bankruptcies, childsupport orders, and other official information.
• Collection activity for accounts that have been sent to collection agencies for handling.
• Information about each credit account, open or closed (also known as trade lines), such as whom you owe, the type of account (such as a mortgage or installment account), whether the account is joint (shared with another person) or just in your name, how much you owe, your monthly payment, how you’ve paid (on time or late), and your credit limits.
• A list of the companies that have requested your credit file either for promotional purposes (like sending you a hot offer) or in response to your request for more or new credit. Note: The companies that look at your report for promotional purposes don’t appear on the report that prospective creditors see, but they do appear on the copy you can request for your own review.
• An optional message from you that can be up to 100 words in length and that explains any extenuating circumstances for any negative listings on your report.
• An optional credit score. Your credit score is, strictly speaking, not part of your credit report but an add-on that you have to ask for. Just as the information in your credit report may vary from one bureau to another, so your score may vary.
Credit reports used to be very difficult to read. Most of the data appeared in a nearly indecipherable numeric code, which was mystifying to the average reader. Today, although there’s still room for improvement, credit reports are more readily understood by the average person. Each of the three major credit-reporting agencies reports similar credit information but each in its own unique format. Remember: The credit-reporting agencies are competing with each other for business, so they have to differentiate their products.
Among the list of items not included in your credit report are your lifestyle choices, religion, national origin, political affiliation, sexual preferences, friends, and relatives. Additionally, the three major credit-reporting agencies do not collect or transmit data on your medical history, checking or savings accounts, brokerage accounts, or similar financial records.
• Equifax: Go to www.equifax.com and, from the “Products” drop-down menu, click on “Equifax Credit Report”; then click on “See Equifax Credit Report sample.”
• Experian: Go to www.experian.com/consumer_online_products/ credit_report.html and click on “View Sample Report.”
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