Your credit report, sometimes referred to as your credit file or credit history, is a detailed record of all your credit and debt accounts. It contains information about how much debt you have, how often you pay your credit and debt bills on time, and how long you have been managing your credit accounts. It also includes personally identifiable information, like your name, Social Security number and address.
Credit reports are maintained by the three credit reporting bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You most likely have a report at each bureau, though not every lender reports data to each bureau.
You can view a sample Experian credit report here.
How Can I Get My Free Credit Report?
You can get your credit report from many sources, including Experian. Get your free credit report from Experian here, where you can also get your FICO® Score.
You are also entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus every 12 months. Access them at AnnualCreditReport.com.
How Often Is My Credit Report Updated?
Creditors typically forward information to the credit bureaus on a monthly basis. However, there is no set day that lenders update this data. So a credit bureau could receive an update from one lender on the first of every month and from another lender on the 15th of every month. Thus, your credit reports could vary on a day-to-day basis, depending on when your creditors send a batch of payment history and loan data to the bureaus.
What if I Find a Problem or Mistake on My Credit Report?
If you have no plans to apply for new credit, it's a good idea to review your credit report from each bureau on an annual basis. Check to ensure that your identifying information is correct, and that the credit accounts listed in your report are accurately represented.
If you do plan to apply for a new loan or credit card, it's vital that you check your credit reports beforehand in case there is anything that needs to be cleared up. Negative information in your credit reports can lower your credit scores, and you want your credit scores to be the best they can be before applying for new credit.
Under the Federal Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting bureau and the information provider (such as the lender who provided information about you to the bureau) are responsible for correcting any inaccurate or incomplete information in your reports. To get information corrected, you must initiate a dispute with the credit reporting agency. This typically involves submitting your dispute in writing. The credit reporting agency must investigate your dispute within 30 days of your submission.
Experian makes it easy to initiate a dispute online through our Dispute Center. You can also initiate a dispute at Experian by phone or mail; see "How to Dispute Credit Report Information" for more details.
How to Safeguard Your Identity
If you find accounts listed on your credit reports that you did not open or if you are worried about identity theft, you might consider filing a free fraud alert on your credit file that remains active for one year through the Experian fraud center. (File it with one credit bureau and you're good to go because the bureaus will share such alerts with each other.) The fraud alert notifies lenders pulling your credit report to take extra steps to verify your identity.
You can also freeze your credit reports, another free measure that prevents lenders from issuing new credit in your name altogether. Or try Experian CreditLock, a benefit of your Experian membership, which allows you to lock and unlock your report in real time, with no waiting period.