The Smart MilSpouse’s Guide to Understanding Credit Reports

The Smart Military Spouse's Guide to Understanding Your Credit Report

by Alex Hopkin, Guest Contributor

Most people have heard of a credit score and probably even know what their score is. Your credit score rates your ability and likelihood to repay debt and is often used by creditors to determine if they will take a chance on you and what interest rate they will grant you.

Most people skip directly to their credit score, but their credit report is just as important if not more important!

Thankfully, it became mandated by law in 2003 that consumers should have free access to their credit reports at least once annually from the 3 major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). To accommodate this, AnnualCreditReport.com was born.

So why is your credit report important?

Your credit report is the meat behind your credit score. Creditors voluntarily report their relationship with you to the credit bureaus, whether it is good or bad. This information can make or break your credit score, so it is important to make sure the information is correct. If there is a discrepancy in your credit report, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau to have it corrected.

Your credit report also may be your first indication of identity theft. Any debt taken out in your name will likely appear on your credit report. If you see a debt taken out in your name that you did not initiate, file a police report immediately and contact the credit bureaus to begin the mending process.

Military members and spouses are especially prone to identity theft, so be sure to check your credit report regularly.

The Smart Military Spouse's Guide to Understanding Your Credit Report

What information is on a credit report?

Personal Information

Your credit report will have quite a bit of personal information listed, including a number of names associated with you. They might have your full name with and without your middle initial, a shortened version of your name, previous names used and even misspellings of your name.

This is your information as reported by creditors.  You may also note your current and previous addresses, social security number, phone number, employer’s information and spouse’s information.

Public Records

This section contains information obtained from court records such as court judgments, bankruptcies and tax liens.  This information negatively affects your credit score and can stay on your credit report for 7 to 10 years depending on the type of public record.

Collections

Here you will find information about any bill you have had that was sent to collections. This can be anything from an old medical bill to a cellphone bill that you forgot to pay. This information will also negatively affect your credit score and can last up to 7 years.

Credit History

Next you will find your credit history broken down into separate categories: accounts with negative information, installment accounts in good standing and revolving accounts in good standing.

  • An installment account is a debt with a specific payoff date (such as a student loan).
  • A revolving account is one that you can borrow against over and over up to a specific limit (like a credit card).

In each of these categories, you will find the name of the creditor, the date the debt was established, the current balance, the available credit and the number of times there was a late payment.

Credit Inquiries

You will see a new credit inquiry listed for each time your credit information was reviewed in the past 2  years. This will also be broken down into separate categories. There will be one area of inquiries most likely initiated by you to take out new credit (for a vehicle loan or mortgage for example). There will be another category for credit inquiries made by third parties seeking information about you for various offers and promotions. Credit inquiries for new credit will briefly and negatively affect your credit score while credit inquiries made by others will not impact your score.

How often should I check my credit report?

Thanks to AnnualCreditReport.com, you can receive a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once every 12 months. You can either check all 3 reports at the same time every 12 months or you can check one report every 4 months or so.

You should not go longer than 12 months without seeing your credit report.

If you have ever been a victim of identity theft, you should check your credit report more often as you are more susceptible to identity theft in the future. There are credit-monitoring services available that will alert you when changes are made to your credit report.

Service members can place an Active Duty Alert on their credit reports to minimize the risk of identity theft. With this alert, businesses will have to take extra measures to open credit in your name. This alert lasts up to a year and can be renewed.

If you have any questions regarding your credit report and how to access it or read it, check in with your personal financial specialist at the nearest military installation.

Alex HopkinAlex Hopkin is a candidate for the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Florida State University. She is the cofounder of MilitaryPlanners.com, a financial planning website specializing in service family financial topics. Her favorite area of personal finance is helping families plan for life events such as marriage, babies and the dreaded PCS.

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