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Understanding Your Credit Reports

There are three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian (formerly TRW), and Trans Union. Most smaller local credit bureaus are affiliated with one of "The Big Three."

If you have ever used or even applied for credit, these companies will most likely have a file on you. They compete with each other, and do not share information, so the contents of each credit bureau's file may be somewhat different. It is important to get copies of all three. Some outside companies offer a "merged" report showing all of the information held by all of the bureaus.

While the formats are different, all of the credit bureaus list the same types of items:

Identification - This will include your name, address, Social Security Number, and date of birth. There may also be variations on your name (such as maiden names for married women) and possibly a phone number. This information generally comes from credit applications that you have previously submitted to creditors, and from your requests for copies of your credit reports.

Accounts - These may also be called "trade lines," and may include credit cards, loans, checking overdraft credit, and so forth. Each item will specify what type of account it is, when it was opened, the date of the most recent activity, and information on your payment history. If there have been any problems with the account, ranging from a late payment to a charge-off, it will be mentioned here.

Public Filings - This would include bankruptcies, lawsuit judgments against you, tax liens, fines, and other government-related negative items.

Inquiries - A list of companies that have ordered copies of your credit report. This will include credit checks related to applications which you have submitted to creditors along with periodic monitoring/review by companies where you already have accounts, and promotional sweeps for "pre-approved" offers.

Additional Information - This may include previous addresses, and/or employers.

Warnings - If the credit bureau considers any of the information in your file to be suspicious, there may be a notation such as, "Multiple Social Security Numbers Reported," or, "This address has been previously associated with fraud," or whatever it is that they are concerned about. Your address can even be red-flagged as a result of the misbehavior of a previous occupant, or even a neighbor in a multi-unit apartment building.


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