Personal information

Identifying information is just the basics, such as name, address and social security number.

Look over this information to ensure it’s accurate because it is not unusual for there to be multiple spellings of your name or more than one Social Security Number. Your report may also include your date of birth, previous residences, driver’s license number, your employer and your spouse’s name. Don’t worry about this information too much, as it’s all confidential and security-protected.
Credit history

The main section to look at in your credit scores report is your “Credit History” or “Trade Lines.” Your accounts will fall into 1 of 5 categories:

Real Estate (first and second mortgage)
Installment (car loan, regular payments)
Revolving (credit cards)
Collection (seriously past due)
and Other.

Each account will list the creditor/lender’s name and the account number. Sometimes, more than one account will be indicated on your report from the same creditor, especially if it gets sold off into collection, but only one account should be marked “open” at a time.

You should be able to see the following:

First opened the account
Type of account
Total amount owed
How much you still owe
Status of the account (open, inactive, closed, paid) and how well you’ve paid the account. If it’s noted “charged off,” that means the credit made efforts to collect but gave up.

If you see a code like “R1,” then this generally indicates how well you’ve been at paying on a scale of 1 to 9. If you have had any late payments on your account, then you’ll see a little square with 30, 60, 90 or 120 in the box, indicating how late you were.

If you see a green OK and an “0“, you’re in good shape with high scores. If you see “charged off,” “bad debt” or “placed in collections,” then your account went 120 – 180 days past due and was sold off to debt collectors. Charge-offs and Debt Collections are bad since these poor credit scores remain on your report for seven years.

If you find a mysterious account or an incorrect amount owing on your credit score report, then you can fill out an online form to dispute the claim. The most recent estimate indicates that as many as 80% of all reports have some kind of inaccuracies.

Financial advisers recommend that you keep up with your credit score and check up on it at least once a year to ensure accuracy. Now that you understand some of the sections and terms, you’ll be better prepared.

Charge-offs on your credit score report will be the #1 reason you are denied credit. Often, in order to qualify for new loans, you’ll be required to pay any unpaid charge-offs. Once you pay the full or partial amount, it will be noted “paid charge-off.” This will remain on your credit for seven years and 180 days from the date of your first nonpayment.

You can hire legal advisors who may be able to get charge-offs taken off your accounts. A credit repair company specializes in professionally disputing and removing paid charge-offs to help you improve credit scores, which might be a good bet if you’re planning to buy a house or make a big financial investment.

You would be surprised at how many people could not tell you what their credit score is, or how many people know nothing about credit reports in general. There is a fear of numbers out there, and a lack of knowledge that is causing people to lose track of their finances. Even those few who do actually pull their credit reports don’t know how to read them. There are some basics that you should know when trying to read a credit report.

The first thing you need to be aware of is if your credit report is pulled by someone else other than yourself it will result in a credit inquiry on your report, which could affect your credit score. You will not be notified of this at all. The inquiry often counts as a penalty and will make a small difference on your score.

When you look at the top of a credit report, you will see the words “Prepared For” as well as “Attention.” Prepared For will tell you what lender the credit report was actually made up for (who pulled the report), while the Attention blank will give you the actual name of a person and not just the company. Usually the Purpose of the Loan is also shown; and the Report Type will explain whether the credit report is for an individual or for a joint partnership.

Other sections that will be included on your credit report will be:

Mortgage/Landlord Verification
Credit Summary (this can be the scary section)
Vendor Errors (located right under the Credit Summary so you don’t look completely incompetent, often times, depending on the section, they do)
Scoring. There is sometimes a reason that is labeled as to why the score is what it is, but not always. There is no rhyme or reason for these reports; the entire field is clearly not rocket science.

The Vendor Information works on a number score basis, and these scores will be listed.

A “0” will mean that the account is too new to rate for that vendor,
1 will mean that you paid them
2-6 will tell how many days you have been blowing the vendor off (for instance 5 means 120 days past due), 7 shows that you are bankrupt, 8 means that they had to come to your home and take away your things (repossession), and 9 means that you have bad debt issues.

If you get an X that means that they don’t have any information on you – yet. If you see an N this will mean that you have a zero balance. Make sure that you have provided the right calming essentials when reading this part of the report because a number 2-9 could give you a really bad day, or headache, so take your pick.

Trying to untangle your credit report can be, at the very least, frustrating and discouraging. There are benefits to it though. By learning to read your credit report you are taking control of your financial well being and not leaving it in the hands of chance. Be patient and try to understand what you’re reading. In the long run it will be worth it to you to figure it all out. By following these few steps you may find yourself coming out well ahead of the rest of the pack.

Author's Bio: 

John McConnell is a nationally recognized Credit Expert and Specialist in Personal Finance. Currently, John's work is focused on editing and providing informative and entertaining presentations about personal finance. He also provides consultation to the private and public sectors on issues involving all aspects of credit repair, crediting, lending, and information security.