How to Read a Credit Report

At first glance, the information on a credit report can be very difficult to read. Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax are the three major credit reporting agencies and the credit reports created on you by these companies are basically laid out the same way. This article will explain what type of information is reported to your bureau and how to read your personal credit report.

what's on credit report holding credit report in hand | AutoCheatSheet.com

There are only a few minor differences between each one. The reason you want to get and review all three is because each individual company may gather different information. This may cause you to have a higher score on one report than the other two.

Read my chapter on credit reports and scores to learn more on why it's important to get and review your credit history and scores before applying for any type of credit or car loan.

Before applying for a car loan, familiarize yourself with how a car dealerships finance process works and the correct way to go about financing a car so you will not overpay on excessive interest rate charges or bank fees.

Understanding Credit Report Sections and Codes

There are basically 11 different sections to a credit report. I've listed them individually describing each individual section. They may appear in different places on your report however I've listed them in the order where they are most likely to appear.

Credit Report Heading

The heading of a credit report is normally found at the very top and right of the report. It will contain the Credit Bureau's information, the Companies name, address, phone number, and the date the credit report was pulled.

heading section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Personal Information

This section of the credit report is your personal information. It includes your name, social security number, date of birth, and phone number (if available), and up to three different addresses.

personal information section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Your most recent address appears directly below your name with your previous addresses appearing below your name in chronological order. Your employment and birth date information will appear to the right of your addresses and above the summary score. This information is only available if it was inputted when you applied for credit.

Employment History and Information

This section of the credit report will contain your employment history and information. This may include the company name, occupation, income, hire date, and release date if available.

employment information section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

This information along with personal information gets reported on your credit report by an individual inputting the information when you apply for credit.

Credit Report Accounts Summary

This section of your credit report is a summary of all your credit history. It will tell you the total number of accounts you have, accounts that are still active or negative, accounts that are paid off or past due, inquiries, public records, accounts in collections, total amounts still paying, or owed and breakdowns of those amounts.

This section may look different on different credit bureaus. Some report summaries may contain more or less information than others. The report summary usually is located towards the top of the credit report after the personal and employment information.

account summary section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Descriptions for the above chart

account summary definitions of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Credit Report Score or Scorecard Section

There are many names for the number score on your credit bureau, FICO, Beacon, Beacon Score, Bureau Score, or Empirica to name a few. It is normally located above your trade and credit information and is the overall rating of your credit history. There are up to 4 factors disclosed and are displayed based on their impact of the final score.

account summary definitions section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Collections Section

This section of your credit report will identify your accounts that have been sent to professional debt collecting firms. Collection information will include the name of the collection agency providing the information, the collector's kind of business designators, and the collector's account number for your account.

This information will also include the date the original creditor charged off the amount, date the amount was verified, the original dollar amount of the collection, balance owed as of the date closed or verified, explanation of current account status reported by the collection agency and the name of the original creditor.

scorecard section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Descriptions for the above chart

scorecard definitions section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Public Records

This section of your credit report will show if there are any civil actions with dollar amounts awarded, they normally appear towards the top of your credit report below the score summary in an area named Public Records. This information consists of liens, civil actions against you, foreclosures, and bankruptcies.

The public records section also includes the account's name and number, filing date with court, status date, if status is released, vacated, satisfied, dismissed or discharged, type and amount of public record, docket or certificate number and code describing your association to the public record item per the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The plaintiff name, asset amounts and liability for bankruptcies and voluntary indicator for bankruptcies also.

scorecard definitions of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Descriptions for the above chart

public records definitions of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Trades or Trade Lines

The trades' section of your credit report is where creditors report credit cards and loan amounts with their payment histories. The creditor's name is in the left column, credit amount is in the center, and the payment history is in the right column. This section provides a breakdown by month your payment history.

trade lines section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Descriptions for the above chart

trade line definitions section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Payment History and Codes

On the far right hand side of your credit report you will normally find your payment history for the past 24 months. Codes reflect the monthly status of your accounts and are displayed for balance reporting loans.

Charge-offs and collections are not graded. Some codes have different meanings on different credit reports. I have listed all the different meanings to each code. Here are the definitions of the codes.

payment codes and definitions section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

In addition to the above codes, beside each account on your report there will be a letter designating your relationship to that account. This is what those letters mean.

account codes and definitions section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Using the above coding you can go to the column on your personal credit report and the following alphanumeric combinations would be good indications that you have outstanding credit history: R1, I1, or O1. You would not want to find or see any of these 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,or 9's.

Credit Report Inquiries

This part of your credit report is a list of the companies that have inquired about your credit history, usually to extend new or additional credit to you. Numerous inquiries will lower your score by about 2 points per inquiry.

credit inquiries section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Descriptions for the above chart

credit inquiry definitions section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Warnings and Messages

The warnings and messages section of your credit report is usually the last section on the report. This section lists any messages that have to do about your credit, name, address or social security number. There may even be a persona message to call a number to verify that the person using your credit history is the actual person it belongs too.

credit warnings and messages section of a credit report | AutoCheatSheet.com

Don't let the car dealer know more about your credit history and score than you do. This puts you at a serious disadvantage and could end up costing you thousands of dollars.

Errors are commonly found on credit reports. They can be easily fixed but you need to find them and correct them before you're sitting in a car dealership wanting to buy your dream car. Not fixing these errors beforehand will cost you money over the life of your next new or used car loan.

Learn how to get your personal credit report and score online here.

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My Recommended Sites for Car Shoppers

MyAutoloan and InstantCarLoan are the quickest way to get a pre-qualified auto loan. These online sites will provide you with free, no-obligation quotes and the interest rates quoted are normally very good. You can also use these quotes to negotiate an even better interest rate with a dealership.

Share Your Tips - If you have any tips on how to read a credit report that will help other car buyers save money. Please tell us about it in the comments below, so we can share it with everyone.

Continue to my section on how to build a solid credit history >>

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Did You Know?


A credit report is like a report card for your financial well being. It will list creditors you owe money too and your history on how you pay them back.

What's on a credit report?

  • Your private information and history such as name, alias's, address, previous addresses, social security number, birth date and past and present employers.
  • Your credit history such as who you owe money too, who you've paid and if you pay on time.
  • Any public records like tax liens, judgments or bankruptcies.
  • It will also show inquiries of people or companies that have recently pulled your credit report.
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