How to Audit Your Own Credit Report, Step By Step
Your credit report affects whether lenders approve you. Audit your credit report to catch errors that could affect your approval odds and interest rate.
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Keeping your credit report error-free is key to keeping an eye on your finances and catching warning signs of fraud. Your credit information gives lenders an idea of how responsible you are and errors can paint you unfavorably. That said, we should all be more vigilant about monitoring our credit data.
To start, grab a copy of your credit reports to get a detailed look at your credit history. The big three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—are offering free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com until April 20, 2022. After that date, you can still access your free reports once each year. Lenders may check any or all three of your reports with the three credit bureaus, so it's important to review each of them carefully.
Review your personal information
Your personal information identifies who you are, where you've lived, and where you work. Review these details to verify your name, birth date, current and previous addresses, Social Security number, and employment information. Personal information doesn't impact your FICO® Score, but these details help creditors verify your identity and protect you from fraud.
Verify your account details
Your credit cards, loans, and other accounts make up the bulk of your credit report information. Read through each account, checking for even the smallest errors. A few things to pay attention to:
- Date opened
- Account number
- Payment history
- Credit limits
- Account status
- Any past due amount
- Accountholder status, for example, co-signed or authorized user accounts
- Paid, canceled, or discharged accounts
If you have accounts in forbearance or you're on a debt management plan with a consumer credit counseling agency, make sure your account status and payment history are reported accurately.
Make sure the accounts are all yours
Accounts that don't belong to you could be the result of a simple clerical error or identity fraud. Or sometimes, rogue collection agencies place accounts on consumer credit reports in an attempt to collect payment. Clerical errors and invalid collections can be resolved with a credit report dispute (more on that below). With identity fraud, you'll need to file an identity theft affidavit before sending a dispute to have these accounts permanently blocked from your credit report.
Each time a company accesses your credit report to prescreen you or approve an application, a record of the inquiry is placed on your credit report. Inquiries you don't recognize could be a sign of identity theft. (Note that they can also be soft inquiries.) You can dispute inquiries that you didn't initiate to remove them from your credit report.
Most negative information can only be reported for seven years. The exception is Chapter 7 bankruptcy which can report for 10 years and inquiries, which are reported for two years. Negative information will generally drop off your credit report automatically when it's time, but make a note of any accounts still being reported after the time limit is up.
Handling Credit Report Errors
If you find mistakes on your credit report, you can write to the credit bureaus to have them corrected. In your letter, provide the account number associated with the error, explain the error, and a request for the mistake to be removed or updated. Include copies of any proof or supporting documents to help the investigation into your dispute.
By reviewing your credit reports regularly throughout the year, you have a chance to deal with issues. Being proactive prevents errors from getting in the way when you're trying to apply for a new credit card or close on a loan.