The information that is contained in your credit reports can be categorized into 4-5 groups: 1) Personal Information; 2) Credit History; 3) Credit Inquiries; 4) Public Records; and, sometimes, 5) a Personal Statement.
These sections are explained in further detail below. We will also discuss the Credit Reporting Timeline (i.e. when information gets added or updated) as well as show you what each section looks like in your TransUnion credit report. Hopefully this will enable you to confidently navigate your way through the data and ultimately make the best possible decisions for your credit standing.
Each of your credit reports will contain the following basic pieces of biographical information:
- Date of Birth (DOB)
- Current & Past Addresses
- Name of Current & Past Employers
- Social Security Number (SSN)
The following graphic shows what the Personal Information section looks like on a TransUnion credit report.
It is unlikely that this information will contain errors, but in some cases you may need to notify a credit bureau that you have moved or found a new job. This will ensure that your current income levels are recognized and that you do not miss any important correspondence.
Your credit reports contain the following information for each account that you’ve opened with a credit card company, bank, or other creditor in the last few years.
- Date of account opening (and closing, if applicable)
- Credit limit (or loan amount)
- Monthly balance as of each statement date (contrary to what many people believe, credit reports do not list information about individual purchases or other transactions.)
- Monthly payment history that indicates whether or not minimum payments were made on time (credit reports do not list your exact payment amount)
This is what the Credit History portion of a TransUnion credit report looks like:
Consumers often wonder how creditors and credit bureaus “track” their everyday spending if they never use credit cards to make purchases and therefore never have a balance listed on their credit reports. It’s a fair question, and the answer is that they can’t. There’s simply no way for a creditor to determine how much you spend in cash, and major credit reports don’t include information about debit-based plastic. That’s not necessarily an issue, though, as creditors simply want to see that you’re using the credit made available to you in a responsible fashion. Not tapping into this available spending power fits that bill, which means if you don’t carry a balance on your credit cards, your accounts are still reported to the credit bureaus as being “in good standing” every month.
With that said, it’s important to note that closed or inactive accounts that have been paid as agreed may remain in your file indefinitely, but in most cases will be removed 10 years after the date of last activity (DLA). Accounts not paid as agreed will be removed after 7 years.
Finally, you should keep in mind that the presence of accounts that you did not personally open could indicate fraud. Fraudsters are often able to open financial accounts under other people’s names with some basic information, such as their SSN. It is imperative that you notify the credit bureaus and your bank upon discovering such an account, as unpaid balances could damage your credit and be quite difficult to sort out if too much time passes.
An inquiry is recorded whenever your credit report is “pulled” (i.e. viewed) by another party, such as a lender, credit card company, service provider, landlord, or insurer. Credit inquiries remain on your credit report for up to 2 years, and each can temporarily result in a slight dip in your overall credit standing.
The Credit Inquiries section of a TransUnion credit report looks like this:
If you wish, you can opt out from allowing companies to look at your credit report without your permission. This will simply remove your name and contact information from the lists that credit bureaus sell banks so that they can send people pre-approved credit card offers.
There are three main types of public records that can be included in credit reports. Each has a detrimental impact on your credit standing and may remain for up to 10 years.
Bankruptcies: Chapter 7, 11, and 13 bankruptcies can be listed on your credit reports. The length of time they will remain there and the damage done to your credit standing depends on the type of bankruptcy in question and whether or not you adhere to the terms of the bankruptcy.
But other than that, “there is no way to mediate how much a bankruptcy affects your credit score. It is what it is, regardless of the chapter filed,” according to Dr. Deborah Thorne, an associate professor of finance at Ohio University.
- Tax Liens: Courts often attach a notice known as a lien to property records in order to block the sale of the property until unpaid debts (e.g. unpaid taxes) are addressed.
- Civil Judgments: If a court finds that you owe another party money (e.g. child support), this will be reflected on your credit report.
You can check out “How long does negative information stay on your credit report?” for a more detailed breakdown of the implications and timeframes associated with different types of negative information that might find their way into your credit reports.
Experian credit reports as well as those from lesser-known credit bureaus may also contain a “Personal Statement” section, which allows you to explain any derogatory information contained in your file. This will likely have little or no impact on your overall credit standing or the decisions made by creditors and lenders, but it can’t hurt to provide a rationale.
This is how the Personal Statement section appears on an Experian credit report:
When Does Info on Credit Reports Get Updated?
We regularly get questions from readers who are curious about when a new account will show up on their credit reports and how often lenders report information to the bureaus. As a result, we reached out to a selection of the largest credit card issuers for answers. You can find information about their policies below.
|Issuer||When is a New Card First Reported?||How Often is Info Reported?|
|American Express||30-60 days after approval||Monthly|
|Bank of America||Within 30 days of approval||Monthly|
|Capital One||27 days after account opening||Monthly|
|Chase||Within 30 days of approval||At least monthly|
|Discover||30-60 days after approval||Monthly|
|USAA||First time account generates a monthly statement||Monthly|
|Wells Fargo||Within 30 days of approval||Monthly|
It is very important that you review your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion credit reports on a regular basis. This will enable you to check for errors and instances of fraud that could hurt your credit standing and cost you money. Your credit score is only as reliable as the information it’s based on, after all.
The fact that you are entitled to a free copy of each of your major credit reports once every 12 months means that you can review one of them every four months if you time things right.