How to Read Your Credit Report: A Guide to Getting and Understanding Your Free Credit Report

Cole Mayer
Credit report

Credit reports can have a dizzying array of information, especially if this is your first time reading your report. You’re eligible for three reports a year, but what’s on these reports? And is each report different? This guide can help you read your credit report, and understand everything that appears on it. 

Table of Contents

Credit Report vs. Credit Score 

Your credit report and your credit score are two separate things, though they have some of the same information. Your credit report is a synopsis of your credit history, as well as all of the factors that go into calculating your credit score. 

Your credit score is the end result of your credit report. It’s important to get a credit report to check for fraudulent activity, especially if you see an unexpected dip in your credit score. 

How to Read a Credit Report

Each of the three major credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, provide a slightly different report, using information from a variety of sources. 

Each report may have a slightly different score, as the bureaus use various models to produce the number. Each credit report should have the same basic parts — your personal information, credit inquiries, and your account information. 

Personal Information

The personal information section is the portion used to identify you. If you have multiple spellings of your name, nicknames, or multiple Social Security numbers, these will appear here. There may also be misspellings of your name as well. Your current address, and even old addresses, will also appear. 

It’s important to make sure the information is correct so that you can be properly contacted, and so that your information is less likely to be confused with someone with the same name, or someone living at your old address. 

Credit Inquiries

This section of your report includes any inquiries made on your credit score within the past two years. You could have been attempting to secure a mortgage or car loan, for example. Only your version, not lenders’ or creditors’ versions, will include soft inquiries.

Your Accounts

Your report will include details of each account you have open, including private and federal loans and lines of credit. The details collected on each account include:

  • The creditor’s name;
  • The account number and type;
  • The most recent balance;
  • The date the account was opened;
  • The term of the loan, if it is not revolving;
  • The credit limit or original amount of the loan;
  • The highest owed balance on the account during its lifetime;
  • The agreed-upon monthly payment;
  • Your last payment
  • The status of the account;
  • Any past-due amounts
  • Any comments from the creditor.

Bankruptcies and judgments, delinquencies, tax liens, and state and county court records all have the ability to hurt your report. Depending on which state you live in, overdue child support or alimony may also appear. 

How to Get Your Free Credit Report

You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major bureaus every 12 months. You can either request all three reports at once, or stagger each report, depending on your needs. 

By staggering your report, you can see if or how your report is changing throughout the year. Currently, the only authorized website for free annual credit reports is You can also call the toll free number 1-877-322-8228.

Reports by Credit Bureaus

Each credit bureau has a slightly different report. Your credit score could be different even if you get your report from each bureau at the same time. If you are purchasing a report, you may also have a different score, depending on which FICO score it was calculated with. The FICO score versions include:

  • FICO;
  • FICO 2;
  • FICO 3;
  • FICO 4;
  • FICO 5;
  • FICO 8; 
  • FICO 9
  • FICO 10 and 10T;
  • FICO Auto Score 8;
  • FICO Auto Score 9;
  • FICO Auto Score 4;
  • FICO Auto Score 5;
  • FICO Auto Score 2;
  • FICO Bankcard Score 8;
  • FICO Bankcard Score 5;
  • FICO Bankcard Score 4;
  • FICO Bankcard Score 2;
  • FICO Bankcard Score 9.

The difference between these FICO score versions is how they calculate certain things. For example, FICO 8 considers rent payments heavily, and FICO Auto focuses on auto loan risk. The factors that each score prioritizes can cause changes in your overall score range

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Experian typically uses the FICO Score 8 to determine your credit score, which will be between 300 and 850. You can also request other FICO scores or your VantageScore. 

Experian reports have a small table to give you a visual of your payment history per each account. They also provide an estimated date for when information affecting your credit score will no longer be reported, such as delinquent accounts.


TransUnion provides the most comprehensive employment section for your personal history. While this will not affect your credit score, it could help you receive a loan. If you sign up for credit monitoring, you can also see TransUnion’s Credit Score Simulator, which can predict changes to your score based on future actions and events. 

TransUnion does not specify which score they use on typical reports, but they offer all FICO scores, as well as VantageScore, as part of their monitoring and reporting services. 


Equifax uses both the FICO 5 score, which looks at your mortgage payment history,  and the Equifax credit score model, depending on which product you receive. They show an 81-month history of your credit. 

Unlike the other two bureaus, which list accounts alphabetically, Equifax groups accounts by “open accounts” and “closed accounts.”

How to Dispute Credit Report Errors

You can fix some mistakes on your credit report yourself, especially if you adopt good financial habits. However, some errors may indicate identity theft, missing information, or information that is not yours. 

If this is the case, you’ll need to file a  dispute letter with the credit bureaus. If the problems are widespread, or unable to be disputed, you may need to hire a credit repair company, which can provide professional guidance. 

FAKO vs. FICO: Get Your Real Credit Score

FAKO, a portmanteau of “fake” and “FICO,” refers to some free or “educational credit scores.” These are provided on some sites advertising free credit reports but are not federally regulated. 

These scores are usually not used by any lenders (though VantageScore, technically a FAKO score as it does not use FICO, may be used). TransRisk, TransRisk Auto, and Experian’s National Equivalency Score also fall under the FAKO category. 

Knowing how to read your credit report gives you the tools to make better financial decisions, and improve your financial skillset. Being able to understand the different factors of your credit report will help you apply for loans, identify fraudulent inquiries, and make other important financial decisions easier, faster, and with more peace of mind.

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