It’s very important that you regularly review your credit history to catch errors and inaccuracies early. Errors can take months to remedy and it’s not something you want to worry about when you are trying to get a mortgage or car loan. So, I recommend that every four months you request a credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com, the only website you should use to get your annual free credit report as mandated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
This week, I requested my credit report from Equifax and will take you briefly through the report to explain what the sections are and what to look out for. Each of the three bureaus structures their reports slightly differently, so I’m hoping this guide and walkthrough will help illuminated anything that looks strange.
As with every bureaus, Equifax gives you online access to your report for thirty days. During those thirty days, any changes will not appear on your history, your report is accurate as of the day you requested it. Let’s take a look at my Equifax report.
Reviewing your Equifax Credit Report
Here’s the first screen you’ll see:
The overview page gives you a snapshot of your credit report and gives you an opportunity to catch any glaring problems. I would pay special attention to everything within the blue box at the bottom, as it’ll list a summary of all your accounts. See too few or too many listed? It’ll give you an early indication of where you may run into problems.
I can see that my oldest account as from 10/1998, which was a mere two months after I started college. My most recent account was a Capital One card I opened last September because we were going to London, England and I wanted to avoid foreign transaction fees. My most recent inquiry was also last year when I opened an ING Direct Electric Orange account – everything looks good there.
To view your full report, you simply click “View Full Report.” (I drew a green box around the button). Also, if you want to view your entire credit history on one page, circumventing their navigation, click Print This Report (I drew a yellow box around it).
Equifax Report Sections
From there the report is broken up into the usual sections (the navigation is to the left, with the five important sections in the red box):
- Credit Summary: Which repeats what was seen on the Overview page.
- Accounts: This will list your various credit accounts, in one of four categories (Mortgage, installment, revolving, and “other” accounts.) In each category, accounts will be listed in open and closed account tables. Mortgage and installment accounts will usually be your loans, revolving accounts will usually be your credit cards, and the “other” will have everything else.
- Inquiries: This will list all the requests for your credit history and are separated into two lists. The first are “Inquiries that may impact your credit rating,” known as hard inquiries. The second are “Inquiries that do not impact your credit rating,” known as soft inquiries.
- Negative Information: This section has three categories: negative accounts, collections, and public records. Negative account lists any accounts that have a negative status, which include accounts that were not paid as agreed or are past due. Collections list any account you have that’s been turned over to collections. Public records refer to bankruptcies, liens, or judgments from government public records.
- Personal Information: It’s important to review your personal information and keep it accurate because your personal information is often used to confirm your identity when you apply to various accounts. It’s also good to keep accurate because if you see a new account opened by someone in another state with your information, you could use your personal information as a means of explaining how it isn’t your account.
When you look at this section, note the prefix to the inquiries because they show what type of inquiry it was. I had a few AM/AR, which indicate a “periodic review of my credit history by one of my creditors, and a bunch of ND, which are general inquiries not displayed to credit grantors. One category listed that may surprise you is EMPL, which is an employment inquiry.
I didn’t take individual screenshots of the other pages because they are exactly as I described in the above list.
Saving Your Report
It’s important that you keep a copy of your report but printing it out is not necessary (and a waste of paper). On any of the report pages, look for the “Print Report” link at the top right. Click this and you open a window that contains your entire report. Right click and select “Save as…” to save your report. I save the filename as [Credit Bureau Name] – [My Name] – [Month/Year Requested]. So this latest report is saved as “Equifax – Jim Wang – 5-2009.htm.” Then I put the HTML file and the directory (which contains images) in my financial archives. Please save the file instead of printing it out because chances are you will never review it within the next twelve months and by then you can get another one for free.
Disputing Equifax Errors
It’s important to dispute any errors you find in your report. They could be signs of a bigger problem. For example, several years ago I reviewed my TransUnion report and saw that they listed an additional social security number and address. In fixing that problem, I also discovered there was an outstanding telephone bill, associated with the erroneous address. Even if you don’t think it’ll affect your score, you should still strive to get your report as accurate as possible.
Here are the errors you can dispute online: If it’s an error in your name or date of birth, you’ll need to send them a copy of your Driver’s License. If there’s an error in your current address, you’ll need to send a copy of a driver’s license or utility bill. If the Social Security number is wrong, you’ll need to send a copy of your Social Security card or a W-2 form.
Otherwise, you can dispute inaccuracies in writing to:
Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
Or by calling their dispute center 866-224-9235.
It’s important to check your reports regularly (I stagger them every four months) to make sure they have accurate information. To learn more about how credit reports affect your FICO credit score, I invite you to read the Foundation article on FICO credit scores.