Credit Infocenter Call Lexington Law at800-461-0524

Getting and Reading Your Credit Report

Written by: Kristy Welsh

Last Updated: March 17, 2017

There are many in's and out's of repairing your credit and we are here to help you on this journey to better credit. If you are willing to take the time and to be patient, you can repair your credit on your own. The first thing to do is to request and review all three of your credit reports. This article explains how to get your reports and then how to read and understand all of the information found on them. One wonderful resource we have availabe is our discussion forum - where you can ask questions for free. If you feel this process is a bit too overwhelming, we highly recommend Lexington Law for credit repair. Or, you can watch our informational video entitled What is a Credit Report.

How to Get a Free Credit Report

All credit bureaus are required to give out one free credit report per year. You can order your free annual credit report online at, or by calling 877-322-8228. When you order your reports, you will need to provide your name, address, social security number, and date of birth. To verify your identity, you may need to provide some information that only you would know, like the amount of your monthly mortgage payment.

If you want to order your score in addition to your free report, you will be charged an extra fee. The free reports are good for 30 days only, so make sure you print your reports and save them to a thumb drive. The other thing is that if you do any credit disputes after pulling your free report, the credit bureaus have 45 days instead of 30 days to pull your credit reports. Nothing is ever really free, is it? This could mean the difference, in all seriousness, in getting a deletion because of the extra time they have to investigate.

Are there any exceptions to getting only one free report per year?

There are exceptions to the one report a year rule.

  • If you are turned down for credit, employment, or insurance within the last 60 days. Mail a copy of the written proof of your turn down to the credit bureaus, requesting your free report.
  • If you were charged higher rates and fees or deposits based on a credit report issued by a credit bureau, you have the right to get a free copy from that bureau.
  • If you certify in writing that either you are unemployed and plan to seek employment in the next 60 days.
  • If you are on welfare.
  • If you were a victim of identity fraud.

What are all those codes on my credit report?

A separate key or explanation should be included with the report you receive. Sit down and spend some time going over it. If you gave it an honest try and it still seems a bit confusing, read our article on Decoding and Interpreting Your Credit Report.

What is a Credit Inquiry?

Whenever anyone asks for your credit report, the request is supposed to be noted as part of your credit history. If you apply for lots of credit cards in a short time, this will produce a flurry of "credit inquiry" notes on your credit report. Lenders often turn this around and assume that a lot of inquiries means you've recently applied for lots of credit, so they may turn you down on that basis even though the inference is not strictly valid.

If a lender cites "excessive inquiries" as a reason for turning you down, this is what has happened. The lender has guidelines for how many inquiries and in what period of time is too many. Unfortunately, you have no legal right to challenge this policy or even to know what the specific criteria may be.

Don't give your name or address to a merchant until you're actually ready to apply for credit there. Some merchants illegally run credit checks on you as soon as they have your name and address, even though you have not applied for credit, to give them an idea of what to sell you and how.

If lender A sees inquiries from B, C, and D but no new accounts, A may assume that B, C, and D turned you down for credit. Figuring "better safe than sorry," A may then turn you down just because it assumes B, C, and D turned you down. Again, this is a judgment call on the part of A, and you have no legal right to challenge it. If you have not applied for any credit recently but have been, say, looking at cars at several dealerships, you might want to let the lender know this in case it's taking unauthorized inquiries into account. Also, see our information on how to remove inquiries from your credit report.

What is a Charge Off?

Profit and loss charge offs are used most often by credit card companies. They write the debt off on their books as uncollectable rather than spending time and lawyer's fees to collect them. Charge offs are considered a serious black mark on your credit report. Only bankruptcy and foreclosure are worse. Here is more information on profit and loss charge offs.

Who makes sure that agencies and creditors follow the law?

The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for enforcing federal credit laws.

The other important governmental body is YOU! The credit bureaus are FOR PROFIT companies and they don't do a good job of following the few laws which exist. Don't be afraid to fight back! They are counting on public fear and inaction. Here is a good list of agencies to call or write.