While a credit score offers a high-level overview of your current financial standing, a credit report offers an in-depth look at your lending history. It’s important to read through your credit report once a year in order to stay on top of any inaccurate, outdated or missing information.
If you’re applying for new credit, you should review your credit report before the creditor pulls your file and makes their decision.
What’s in a Credit Report?
A credit report breaks down your credit history into
four main sections:
- Personal information
- Open and closed accounts
- Public records
- Hard and soft inquiries
1. Personal Information
The first section in your credit report is your
personal information, which includes your:
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Social security number
- Phone number
- Employment information
Personal information is updated using data that you and
your creditors provide. Inaccurate information in this section can be a sign
that some applications were reported in error or that fraudulent accounts were
opened under your name.
If you notice any of the following red flags, it’s
important to submit a dispute seeking additional information.
- Names you don’t recognize: Multiple names could mean someone is using your information to apply for credit.
- Addresses at which you haven’t resided: Fraudulent accounts may be tied to a separate address in order to redirect mail and important documents away from you.
- Unknown phone numbers: Scammers offer separate phone numbers to creditors so that you won’t receive calls about fraudulent accounts.
- Incorrect social security number: Erroneous social security numbers can also be a sign of fraudulent activity. It’s important to correct it to ensure that only your information and activity are reported on your credit report—not someone else’s.
2. Consumer Statements
Any statements you have given to a credit bureau appear here. For instance, if you disagree with the results of a dispute, you can add a statement that’s included in your credit report.
3. Account Information
The account section of your credit report will display
all your accounts and lines of credit, including credit cards and loans,
reporting to the credit bureau. Typically, you’ll see info such as:
- Open accounts: Your open accounts will display all active lines of credit
that you’re currently using or are still paying off.
- Closed accounts: Your closed accounts contain a citation for why the
account was closed. Accounts closed due to inactivity or delinquency can all
negatively impact your credit score.
- Type of account: A credit card, student loan, etc.
- Dates accounts were opened and closed
- Payment history
- Credit utilization:
- Name and address of the creditor
- Whether you’re an individual or
joint owner of the account or simply an authorized user
It’s important to go through your accounts to check
for any issues that could be harming your credit score and/or could signify
Here are a few
- Accounts you’re not aware of
opening: If you notice any accounts you don’t recall opening, you
should contact the creditor for more information regarding the line of credit.
- Charges you don’t remember: Charges or account totals
can be reported in error. If charge numbers vary significantly, they can impact
utilization, which weighs into your overall credit score.
- Reported late payments that
you made on time: Late payments count as negative marks on your credit score and make you
a higher risk when you’re being considered for new lines of credit.
- Reported delinquencies you’ve
paid off: If
you’ve paid any delinquent or late debts it might be worthwhile to send a good faith removal
to the creditor.
4. Public Records
Public records cover information gathered from courts or other government agencies about legal matters associated with you. The most common public records are bankruptcies, tax liens and monetary judgments. Only public records pertaining to financial issues are reported in your credit history.
Expect bankruptcies to always appear on your credit report
and typically fall off after 7 – 10 years. Civil judgments and tax liens are
less likely to show up because there are new, stricter requirements set forth
by the credit bureaus.
5. Credit Inquiries
Hard and soft credit inquiries are listed on your
credit report and give you a good idea of what creditors are viewing your
- Soft inquiries: This includes times you have viewed your own credit report and
when creditors pre-qualify you for credit cards or loans. Soft inquiries will
not affect your overall credit score.
- Hard inquiries: These are conducted mostly by creditors as a part of their
application process. Hard inquiries should be checked thoroughly
for any issues, as they will affect your credit score for up to 2 years.
If you find any of the following issues on your credit
report, you may be able to submit a hard inquiry removal
to the creditor or the credit bureau.
- Inquiries you don’t recognize: Some hard inquiries are filed in
error and others could be signs of fraudulent accounts or fraudulent application
processes. If you do not recognize the creditor who filed the inquiry, it’s
best to dispute the instance and ask for its removal.
- Multiple hard inquiries from the same creditor: Occasionally the same creditor
might submit a hard pull for your credit multiple times. Even if you approved
the original inquiry, if the creditor was not upfront about the number of hard
credit pulls, you may ask for its removal.
How Do I Get My Free Credit Report?
AnnualCreditReport.com is an online portal that offers a free copy of your credit report, although it does not include your credit score. The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you the right to access a free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
How Does Credit Repair Impact My Credit Reports?
Credit repair helps clean up your credit reports by
thoroughly examining your report, finding inaccuracies and disputing
questionable negative items on your behalf.
Knowing how to read through your credit report
correctly will help you spot any signs of identity theft and erroneous or
unsubstantiated negative items that don’t belong on your report. The credit
repair consultants at Lexington Law can help you work to remove inaccurate
information and improve your credit score through our credit repair process.
Does Getting Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Both Spouses’ Credit?
While marriage can help you improve your financial situation, it does not automatically mean that you and your spouse will share a credit report. Your credit records will remain separate, and any joint accounts or joint loans that you open will appear on both of your reports. While this can be advantageous, it’s critical to remember that joint account activity can effect both of your credit scores positively or negatively, just as separate accounts do.
Users Who Are Authorized
An authorized user is a user who has been added to an existing credit account and has been granted the authority to make purchases. Authorized users are typically issued a card bearing their name, and any purchases made by them will appear on your statement. The primary distinction between an authorized user and a shared account owner is that the account’s original owner is solely responsible for debt repayment. Authorized users, on the other hand, can always opt-out of their authorized status, although the principal joint account owner cannot.
If your credit score is better than your spouse’s as an authorized user, he or she may benefit from a credit score raise upon account addition. This is contingent upon your creditor notifying the credit bureaus of permitted user activity. If your lender does report authorized users, the activity on your account may have an effect on both you and your spouse. However, some lenders report only positive authorized user information, which means that late payment or poor usage may not have a negative effect on someone else’s credit. Consult your lender to determine how authorized users on your account are treated.
Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Your Credit Score
Opening a joint credit account or obtaining joint financing binds both of you legally to the debt’s repayment. This is critical to remember if you divorce or separate and your spouse refuses to make payments, even if previously agreed upon. It makes no difference who is “responsible,” the shared duty will result in both partners’ credit histories being badly impacted by late payments. Regardless of changes in relationship status or divorce order, the creditor considers both parties to be liable for the debt until the account is paid in full.
Whether you’re happily married or divorced, you and your spouse may decide to open separate credit accounts. Most creditors will enable you to transfer an account that was previously joint to one of your names if both of you agree. However, if there is a debt on the account, your lender may refuse to remove your spouse’s name unless you can qualify for the same credit on your own. Depending on your financial status, qualifying for financing and credit on a single income may be tough.
While creating the majority of your accounts jointly with your spouse may make it easier to obtain financing (two salaries are preferable to one), reestablishing credit independently following a divorce or separation is not always straightforward. To make matters worse, your spouse may wind up causing significant damage to your credit rating following the separation, either intentionally or through irresponsibility – making the financial situation much more difficult.
Before you rush in and open accounts with your spouse, take some time to discuss the shared responsibility of these accounts and what you and your husband would do in the event of a worst-case situation. These types of financial discussions can be difficult, especially when you rely on items lasting a long time, but a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s credit can go a long way toward keeping your score when sharing an account.
Should you pay down debt or save for retirement?
While establishing a comprehensive, workable budget is undeniably one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy financial life, it can also be one of the most difficult. For those who are struggling with personal debt, building a budget can be particularly challenging. When the money coming in has to stretch like a contortionist to cover expenses, it can be hard to determine where to focus — and where to trim.
Sometimes, the battle of the budget can come down to a choice between dealing with the present — and thinking about the future. When your income is running out of stretch, do you pay off your existing debt, or do you start saving for retirement? At the end of the day, the solution to that particular dilemma depends on the type of debt you have and how far you are from retiring.
If you have high-interest debt, pay it down
When considering how to allocate your budget, it’s important to understand the different kinds of debt you may have. Consumer debt can be categorized into two basic types: low-interest debt and high-interest debt, each with its own impact on your credit (and your budget).
In general, low-interest debt consists of long-term or secured loans that carry a single-digit interest rate, such as a mortgage or auto loan. Though no debt is the only real form of good debt, low-interest debt can be useful to carry. For instance, purchasing a home with a low-interest mortgage can actually save you money on housing costs if you do your homework and buy a house well within your price range.
High-interest debt, on the other hand, typically has a hefty double-digit interest rate and shorter loan terms, such as that of a credit card or payday loan. High-interest debt is the most expensive kind of debt to carry from month to month and should always be priority number one when building a budget.
To illustrate why you should focus on high-interest debt above everything else, consider a credit card carrying the average 19% APR and a $10,000 balance. If the balance goes unpaid, that high-interest credit card debt will cost $1,900 a year in interest payments alone. Now, compare that to the stock market’s average annual return of 7%, and it becomes clear that you’ll see significantly more bang for your buck by putting any extra funds into your high-interest debt instead of an investment account.
If you are having trouble paying off your high-interest debt, there may be some steps you can take to make it more manageable. For example, transferring your credit card balances from high-interest cards to ones offering an introductory 0% APR can eliminate interest payments for 12 months or more. While many of the best balance transfer cards won’t charge you an annual fee, they may charge a balance transfer fee, so do your research. You’ll also want to make sure you have a plan to pay off the new card before your introductory period ends.
Most balance transfer offers will require you to have at least fair credit, so if your credit score needs some work, you may not qualify. In this case, refinancing your high-interest debt with a personal loan that has a lower interest rate may be your best bet. Make sure to compare all of the top bad credit loans to find the best interest rate and loan terms.
If you’re nearing retirement, start to save
The closer you get to retirement age, the more important it becomes to ensure you have adequate retirement savings — and the more pressure you may feel to invest every spare penny into your retirement fund. No matter your age, however, paying off your high-interest debt should always remain the priority, as it will always provide the best rate of return (as well as likely provide a credit score boost).
Indeed, no matter how tempting it becomes, you should avoid reallocating money you’ve dedicated to paying off high-interest debt to save for retirement. Instead, the focus should be on re-evaluating your budget to find any additional savings you can. To be successful, you will need to make a strong distinction between want and need — and, perhaps, make some tough lifestyle choices.
Though simply eliminating your daily coffee drink won’t magically provide a solid retirement fund, saving a few bucks by homebrewing while also eliminating a pricey cable bill in favor of an inexpensive streaming service — or, better yet, free library rentals — can add up to big savings over the course of the year. The ideal strategy will involve overhauling every aspect of your lifestyle, combining both large and small cuts to develop a lean budget structured around your long-term goals.
Of course, while you should never allocate debt money to your retirement savings, the reverse is also true. It is almost always a horrible idea to remove money from your retirement account before you hit retirement age — for any reason. Withdrawing early means you will be stuck paying hefty fees for withdrawing money early and, depending on the type of account, you may also have to pay significant taxes.
Aim for both goals by improving income
As you take the necessary steps to pay off debt and save for retirement, you may have already stretched the budget so thin it’s practically transparent. In this case, it is time to consider ways to improve your overall income. Increasing the amount you have coming in not only provides extra savings to put toward your retirement, but may also speed up your journey to becoming debt-free.
The easiest solution may be to look for ways to increase your income through your current job; think about taking on additional shifts or overtime hours to earn some extra cash. Depending on your position — and the time you’ve been with the company — consider asking for a pay raise or promotion, as well.
If you do not have options to make more money at your day job, it may be time to find a second job. Look for opportunities that provide flexible schedules that will accommodate your regular job; many work-from-home positions, for example, can easily fit into most work schedules. Doing neighborhood odd jobs, such as babysitting and dog walking, may also provide a solid income boost without interfering with your existing job.
For some, the need to pay off debt and improve retirement savings can be more than just a source of stress — but a hidden opportunity to begin a new career adventure. Instead of being weighed down by yet more work, use the desire to better your budget as a reason to explore the profit potential of a passion or hobby. Starting a small online store, part-time consulting service, or other small business can be a great way to improve your income and your overall happiness.
While it may sound intimidating, starting a side business can be as simple as putting together a professional looking website and doing a little marketing legwork to spread the word. And no, building a website isn’t as scary — or expensive — as it seems, either. A number of the top website builders now offer simple drag-and-drop interfaces perfect for putting together a professional-looking web page in minutes (without breaking the bank).
How does a loan default affect my credit?
Nobody takes out a loan expecting to default on it. Despite their best intentions, people sometimes find themselves struggling to pay off their loans. These types of struggles happen for many reasons, including job loss, significant debt, or a medical or personal crisis.
Making late payments or having a loan fall into default can add pressure to other personal struggles. Before finding yourself in a desperate situation, understanding how a loan default can impact your credit is necessary to avoid negative consequences.
30 days late
Missing one payment can further lower your credit score. If you can pay the past due amount plus applicable late fees, you may be able to mitigate the damage to your credit, if you make all other payments as expected.
The trouble starts when you (1) miss a payment, (2) do not pay it at all, and (3) continue to miss subsequent payments. If those actions happen, the loan falls into default.
More than 30 days late
Payments that are more than 30 days past due can trigger increasingly serious consequences:
- The loan default may appear on your credit reports. It will likely lower your credit score, which most creditors and lenders use to review credit applications.
- You may receive phone calls and letters from creditors demanding payment.
- If you still do not pay, the account could be sent to collections. The debt collector seeks payment from you, sometimes using aggressive measures.
Then, the collection account can remain on your credit report for up to seven years. This action can damage your creditworthiness for future loan or credit card applications. Also, it may be a deciding factor when obtaining basic necessities, such as utilities or a mobile phone.
Other ways a default can hurt you
Hurting your credit score is reason enough to avoid a loan default. Some of the other actions creditors can take to collect payment or claim collateral are also quite serious:
- If you default on a car loan, the creditor can repossess your car.
- If you default on a mortgage, you could be forced to foreclose on your home.
- In some cases, you could be sued for payment and have a court judgment entered against you.
- You could face bankruptcy.
Any of these additional consequences can plague your credit score for years and hinder your efforts to secure your financial future.
How to avoid a loan default
Your options to avoid a loan default depend upon the type of loan you have and the nature of your personal circumstances. For example:
- For student loans, research deferment or forbearance options. Both options permit you to temporarily stop making payments or pay a lesser amount per month.
- For a mortgage, ask the lender if a loan modification is available. Changing the loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate, or extend the life of the loan so your monthly payments are smaller.
Generally, you can avoid a loan default by exercising common sense: buy only what you need and can afford, keep a steady job that earns enough income to cover your expenses, and keep the rest of your debts low.
Clean up your credit
The hard reality is that defaulting on a loan is unpleasant. It can negatively affect your credit profile for years. Through patience and perseverance, you can repair the damage to your credit and improve your standing over time.
Consulting with a credit repair law firm can help you address these issues and get your credit back on track. At Lexington Law, we offer a free credit report summary and consultation. Call us today at 1-855-255-0139.
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