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Understanding Credit Reports, Credit Report Monitoring, and Credit Bureaus

One way or another, you need to know what the credit reporting agencies are saying about you in your credit reports. Because if your reports are inaccurate, it could affect your ability to get a loan or a job. It could also mean you have been a victim of fraud. Fortunately, there are numerous ways for you to see what's on your credit reports — once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com and year-round through various credit monitoring services (some free, some for a fee).

If you are not sure which credit report company you should use, check out our credit report comparison guide. Or, if you already have your credit reports and are not sure what it all means, read our credit reports FAQs. Beyond that, check out our extensive credit report coverage in the comprehensive articles below.

How to Monitor Your Credit Reports

How to Use AnnualCreditReport.com — Of all your credit monitoring options, this is the bare minimum and must-do. Every 12 months, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and order free copies of your credit reports - that you are entitled to by law - from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. (See below for supplemental services to monitor your credit all year long.)

Understanding Your Credit Reports — This article will help you order your credit reports and after you have them, understand what it all means.

Credit Monitoring FAQs — How do credit monitoring services work? Which credit monitoring service is best? How much does credit monitoring cost? Get answers to these and other commonly asked questions about credit monitoring programs.

Credit Monitoring Comparison Guide — Wondering what the difference is among all of your credit monitoring options? We break it down for you in this credit monitoring guide, including detailed descriptions of both free and paid services.

Top 5 Free Credit Monitoring Services: Review — Some free services monitor different credit bureaus than others. Get details on the top five, including the two we recommend for the ultimate free credit monitoring combo.

The Work Number Database — Though not technically a credit report, your Work Number Employment Data Report may be used when you are being considered for a new line of credit or a new job. Find out how to get a copy of this report that companies may use to verify your employment and salary.

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Understanding Credit Reports

Guide to Credit Reports: 11 Things Simply Explained — What's on a credit report? How are they organized? Who can see them? Which ones do you need to see? How can you use them to repair your credit? Get answers to these and other commonly asked questions about credit reports.

Why Credit Reports Matter More Than Scores — Your credit score is nothing more than a numeric representation of what's in your credit reports. So learn how to focus on your credit reports and your credit score will fall into place.

The Accuracy of Credit Report Information — Everything that's on your credit reports comes from a source known as a data furnisher. The credit bureaus are responsible for reporting this history accurately, but they don't always get it right. See stats and get the facts on what to do when they get it wrong.

What's on Credit Reports 

Red Flags on Your Credit Report — What can do the most damage to your credit? See the seven biggest red flags that can show up on your credit reports. Avoid them if you can or, if the damage is already done, focus your credit repair efforts there first.

Why Collections Are on Your Credit Report — Being late on a payment will not automatically send your account to collections. Find out how long it takes to wind up there and what you can do to try and have it removed from your report.

What a Charge-Off Really Means — Contrary to what it might sound like, a charge-off does not mean a creditor has wiped out your responsibility for a debt. Get the facts about what a charge-off does mean and the possibility of having it removed.

How Long Negative Items Stay on Credit Reports — Though credit disputes or negotiations can remove negative items, you're stuck with any that are proven to be accurate or that collectors won't budge on. Find out how long it takes for negative listings to fall off your credit report naturally.

Reading Credit Reports

Interpreting Your Credit Report — You may have a general knowledge of what's on your credit reports, but much of what's there can be overwhelming or downright confusing. Make sure you're interpreting it right.

Understanding Risk Factor Reason Codes — Lenders use risk factor codes to determine your credit worthiness, so make sure you know what they mean. Use this chart to interpret these codes.

The Role of the Credit Bureaus

How the Big 3 Credit Bureaus Work — This comprehensive post will give you a thorough understanding of Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — everything you need to know about how the big three credit bureaus work so you can make them work for you.

Overview of Credit Reporting Agencies — Though there are only three major credit bureaus, there are numerous credit reporting agencies (CRAs). Get the facts about CRAs and how their reports affect your credit.

List of Credit Reporting Agencies — Who are all of these credit reporting agencies and what are they saying about you? Check out this detailed list of companies (with links).

CFPB White Paper on the Credit Reporting System — See a summary of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's analysis of the credit reporting system, including organization of data, quality control, inaccuracies, and disputes.

Identity Theft and Fraud

Signs of Fraud Found in Your Credit Report — There is no surefire way to prevent identity theft and fraud. That's why it's so important to know the signs to look for in your credit report — so you can act fast and minimize the damage.

How to Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports — If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, you can help protect your credit by placing a fraud alert on your credit reports. Here's how to do it.

How to Place a Security Freeze on Your Credit File — In the wake of the devastating Equifax hack, many experts and regulators recommend everyone place a security freeze on your credit reports. Find out what this means exactly and how to do it.

Other

3 Worst-Case Scenarios When You Don't Check Your Credit Reports — Getting turned down for a loan is bad enough, but your credit situation can get a lot worse — worst-case scenarios you may know nothing about unless you check your credit reports.

Who Can Pull Your Credit Report — Not just anyone can access your credit. Find out what entities can (and can't) use what's called permissible purpose to legally pull your credit report.

How to Build Up a Thin Credit File — Not much in your credit reports? You have what's called a thin credit file. It's better than having bad credit, but thin credit can make it equally difficult for you to be approved for loans. Find out how to build it up.

What it Means to Be an Authorized User — One way to build credit is to become an authorized user on someone else's credit card. Get the facts about what this means and how it affects your legal responsibility.

Making Changes to Credit Reports

Disputing Errors 

Information to Include When Disputing an Item on Your Report — In addition to specifics about the item in question, there is some basic information you need to include with a credit dispute. (The same is true if you are requesting your credit report.) Don't forget these details. 

Why Disputing Errors Is Easier Than Ever — Attorney generals from 31 states reached a settlement with Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion to implement a broad list of consumer-friendly reforms, the credit dispute process among them.

Contact Information For the Three Credit Bureaus — When disputing an error with a credit bureau, do it via certified mail with return receipt requested. This contact list includes the addresses for Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

e-Oscar — Meet the computer that handles credit disputes. This automated tool may be good for the credit bureaus, but it's not necessarily good for you.

How the Credit Bureaus Investigate a Dispute — If you dispute report errors with the credit bureaus, they are required by law to investigate. See what that process looks like.

What to Do If a Credit Bureau Refuses to Investigate — If you disputed an inaccurate item on your report and the credit bureau refused to investigate, don't give up. There are effective ways you can aggressively pursue the matter.

100 Word Statement — Should you add a statement to your credit reports that explains away a negative item? Weigh the pros and cons.

What to Do If Your Credit Report Says You're Dead — It happens more often than you might think. Learn what to do if this happens to you. 

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