ITRC Fact Sheet 128
Reading a Credit Report 

A credit report is the report generated by a Credit Reporting Agency (CRA) of your financial history. It is a report card of your credit worthiness, your payment history and an assessment of your reliability to repay debt. The main purpose of the report is to provide credit issuers with information to allow them to decide whether or not to extend credit.

Who are the CRAs? There are three major CRAs – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. These are businesses, federally regulated and independent of each other. The CRAs collect information from various credit issuers. This includes companies that you may already be involved with and those companies who you may be applying to for credit. They may also collect information from public record data sources, such as court systems, tax records, property records, etc.

It is important to note that under federal law (Fair Credit Reporting Act) the CRAs are not responsible for verifying the accuracy of the information they collect. Their function is not to verify information about consumers, but the collection and distribution of information about consumers to credit issuers.

Standard consumer credit reports include:

The ITRC recommends that adults view a copy of each of his or her reports yearly to make sure that no inaccuracies have become attached to your report and to monitor for fraudulent activity. There are three federal guidelines that allow you to get a free credit report from each of the CRAs.

The annual free credit report system contact information is (877) 322-8228. They will ask a set of questions (automated phone system) to confirm your identity. They will then send out the requested credit report.  We suggest that you stagger these reports. For example, you can receive one from Experian in January, TransUnion in April and Equifax in August. By January, you will qualify for one from Experian again. This is a great way to monitor your credit for free.

The ITRC recommends you check to see if you have a credit report when you turn 18, or just before. If you have never had credit, rented an apartment or had utility service you will not have a credit report. If you do have a report, contact the ITRC for assistance.

There are many ways that incorrect information can appear on your credit reports. Here are a few:

If you see a problem on your credit report, you should contact the CRAs. Each report will have a “report number” and a phone number for the CRA which you can call to notify them the information is inaccurate. We also advise that you follow the telephone call with a written dispute form. Mail it, with any other documentation you have, certified, return receipt requested. Various states have laws that could help you to clear records. It is also necessary that you contact the individual credit issuer or collection agency in writing as well. Please follow steps from ITRC Fact Sheet FS 100 – Financial Identity Theft: The Beginning Steps.

Each CRA uses a different format; however, the main sections are basically the same. The below sections will be found within your credit report:

All of the information in your credit report is used to determine your credit score. A credit score is a logarithmic calculation that represents how creditworthy you are. The higher the score, the more reliable you appear to be. Some of the things used to determine your score are: your income, age, credit history, the amount of money you owe, if you are paying your monthly bills in a timely manner, and if you have ever had a bankruptcy in your name.


This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..