YOU and YOUR CREDIT: Credit Reports1

Joan P. Elmore, Sarah M. Ellis, Michael S. Gutter, and Travis P. Mountain 2

Credit Report Basics

Whether or not you are considering making a major financial move, it's a good idea to check your credit report. It is best to find out if you have a credit problem before you need credit! That way you can know about any problems and take care of them before they jump up and derail your plans.

If you've made mistakes in paying previous loans, made late payments, or had other problems, you may still be able to reduce the amount of damage they will do to your credit by explaining special circumstances to the potential lender, especially for major installment loans.

Free Credit Report

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), along with the 2003 amendment known as the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act or FACTA), gives you the rights to do the following:

  • Learn what your credit record contains.

  • Correct inaccurate or incomplete information.

  • Obtain a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting agencies (CRAs)—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

Under FACTA, consumers are able to access their credit report via mail, telephone, or through the government-authorized website,

The three credit bureaus are:


PO Box 740241

Atlanta, GA 30374



2 Baldwin Place

PO Box 1000

Chester, PA 19022

1-800-888-4213 or 1-800-916-8800


PO Box 2104

Allen, TX 75013


When you request your credit report, you will need to provide your full name (including birth name), spouse's name, Social Security number, date of birth, and complete addresses for the past five years. You will also be asked security questions to prove that you are who you say you are to avoid identity theft issues.

An example of such a question could look like, "What is the account numbers for three current credit cards?"

It is important to note that with these free credit reports, you will not receive an actual score, often referred to as a credit score or a FICO (Fair Isaacs & Company) score. Through, you can access your FICO score for a small nominal fee. Make sure your report is accurate before paying for your score.

Credit Report Outline

A credit report consists of four basic sections:

  • Identifying Information

  • Public Records

  • Credit History

  • Inquiries

Identifying Information is just that—information to identify you. Look at it closely to make sure it is accurate. Other information might include your current and previous addresses, date of birth, telephone numbers, driver's license number, your employer, and your spouse's name.

Public Records: This includes information in public records, such as judgments, bankruptcies, and other court proceedings of a financial nature, including tax liens.

Credit History: Each account will include the name of the creditor and the account number. You may have more than one account from a creditor; if you move, the creditor will transfer your account to a new location and assign a new number. When you open an account, the kind of credit (installment, mortgage, car loan, or revolving, store credit card) is reported. It includes the following:

  • Name under which the account is listed (your name or names, if it is listed jointly with another person), total amount of the loan, credit limit, and the highest balance on the card

  • How much you owe and how well you've paid the account

  • Status of the account (open, inactive, closed, paid, etc.)

On Experian's credit report, your payment history is written in plain English with phrases such as "never pays late," "typically pays 30 days late," etc. "Charged off" means the creditor has given up.

Inquiries: The report provides a list of everyone who has asked to see your credit report. Inquiries are divided into two sections:

  • Hard inquiries are ones you initiated by filling out a credit application. The more inquiries of this type, the more potential there is for debt.

  • Soft inquiries are from companies that want to send out promotional information to a pre-qualified group or from current creditors monitoring your account.

Certain types of inquiries actually lower your credit score. Inquiries that can decrease your FICO score usually come from creditors that you have asked for new or more credit.

Correcting Billing Errors

The Fair Credit Billing Act requires creditors to correct errors promptly and without damage to your credit rating. The law defines a billing error as follows:

  • Something you didn't buy

  • Something that is not properly identified on your bill or is for a different amount

  • Something that you did not accept on delivery or that was not delivered

  • Arithmetic errors

  • Bills not to your current address, if you told the creditor about an address change at least 20 days before the end of the billing period. The process takes time — creditors have 30 days to respond to the discrepancy.

When a charge is in dispute, then that dispute will show up on your report. Experienced lenders say it's common for reports to have errors. Some estimate that as many as 80% of all credit reports have some kind of misinformation. Any error that you find must be investigated by the credit bureau with the creditor who supplied the data.

The credit bureau will remove any errors from your credit report that a creditor admits are there. If you disagree with the findings, you can file a short statement (sample form included) in your report giving your side of the story. Future reports to creditors must include this statement or a summary of it.

Once you have written about a possible error, a creditor must not give information to other creditors or credit bureaus that would hurt your credit reputation until the matter is resolved. Until your complaint is answered and while the investigation is ongoing, the creditor may not take any action to collect the disputed amount.

In order to correct these errors, consumers can file credit report disputes via regular mail, telephone, or email. Using email is highly recommended because the process is faster and you have the option to track the status of your dispute.


Sample Credit Report. 


Date of Report: 6/01/2008


Social Security #:

Date of Birth:

Current Address:

Previous Address:

Current Employer(s):

Previous Employer(s):


Open Accounts

Closed Accounts

Total Credit Limit

Payment History




2–30 days late; 1–60 days late


Satisfied Judgment

Date Filed 11/96

Miami-Dade County

Ref/Case # 027739

Defendant: Consumer

Plaintiff: Morthsun Credit

Amount $2,103

Satisfied 02/97


Company Name

Account #

Credit Limit

Date Opened



Credit Union Savings




Good Standing



Company Name

Account #

Credit Limit

Date Opened



Credit Max




Past Due


Gas Card Company







Company Name

Account #

Credit Limit

Date Opened



Depart Store




Closed 03/16/99



Company Name

Date Requested

Company Name

Date Requested

Credit See


Home Build Stored, Inc.


New Gas Co.


Banc Nine



Date Requested

Company Name

Date Requested

Company Name


Bureau Disclosure


Department Store


Bank card


Bank card

Sample Request for Additional Credit Report. 

To: (Write the name and address of the credit bureau)

I am writing to request a copy of my credit report. (Check one.)

________ I have been rejected for credit in the past 60 days. A copy of the letter refusing me credit

is enclosed. Please send me a free report.

________ I am enclosing a check or money order for $________.

(Required information)

My full name is __________________________________________________________________.

My Social Security number is _______________________________________________________.

My home address is ______________________________________________________________


To show my address, I have enclosed a photocopy of (Check one.)

_________ driver's license or state ID card.

_________ utility bill or credit card bill mailed to my home address.

(Complete only the items that apply to you.)

I have also lived at these addresses in the past 5 years:


My spouse's name is ______________________________________________________________

I may have also had credit under these names: __________________________________________



Signature (required)

Sample Dispute Letter. 


Your Name

Current Address

City, State, Zip Code

Complaint Department

Credit Bureau Credit Information Services


City, State, Zip Code

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. The items I dispute also are circled on the attached copy of the credit report I received.

The lien filed on 09/2/95 and bankruptcy filed on 10/94 are inaccurate because I never had a lien or bankruptcy filed. I am requesting that these items be deleted to correct the information.

Please investigate these matters and delete the disputed items as soon as possible.


Your Name

Enclosures: Credit report copy

Sample Credit Complaint Form. 

Name: _________________________________________ Date: _______________________

Address: ____________________________________________________________________

City/State/Zip: ________________________________________________________________

Daytime Telephone: ______________________________

Bank/Creditor: ____________________________ Account Number: _____________________

Address: ____________________________________________________________________

City/State/Zip: ________________________________________________________________

Complaint Involves:

_____ Checking Account _____ Collection Agency _____ Credit Card

_____ Credit Report _____ Credit Union _____ Department Store Charge

_____ Loan/Auto Loan _____ Savings Account _____ Other


_______ I have not tried to resolve this complaint directly with those involved.

_______ I have tried to resolve this complaint directly with those involved.

The name of the person contacted is: ________________________________________________

Date: ______________ Telephone: ________________________________________________

My complaint (describe briefly, use dates, names, etc., and also enclose copies of documentation):





____________________________ _________________________

Signature Date

Source: Institute of Consumer Financial Education, San Diego, CA 92163

Sample Form Letter. 

Re: Credit Report Error

Dear Sir or Madam:

I have discovered inaccurate information on my credit report maintained by ___________________.

(Credit agency name)

The report is in my name, ______________________________, and my Social Security number is


Enclosed please find a copy of my credit report containing the mistaken data. I have highlighted the

errors. Specifically, the following information is incorrect:

Company name:

Account number:

Incorrect information:

This is incorrect because:

Please investigate the matter with the creditor in question; and should you find there is an error, when confirmed please remove this error from my credit report.

In addition, please make this letter a permanent part of my credit report.

If you have any question about my request or the credit information in question, please do not hesitate to call me at _________________.

Thank you for your prompt attention to my request.

Your Signature

Your Typed Name

Your Address

City, State, and Zip Code

Enclosure: copy of credit report

Source:, 2007


1. This document is FCS7232, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date September 2008. Revised April 2012, May 2016, and March 2019. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Joan P. Elmore, former Extension agent IV, UF/IFAS Extension Jackson County; Sarah M. Ellis, Extension agent I, UF/IFAS Extension Citrus County; Michael S. Gutter, associate dean and associate professor; and Travis P. Mountain, former lecturer, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.