5 min read Credit Dictionary

Credit Report



Last Verified: March 22, 2023

A credit report is a collection of credit accounts, usage and payment history that is analyzed by credit grantors to determine the creditworthiness of a consumer.   The information on a credit report comes from credit grantors, such as financial companies, lenders, credit card companies and mortgage companies.  Credit grantor credit information, as well as status changes such as name change or address change, to consumer credit reporting agencies.  There are three nationwide agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, along with many regional and affiliate credit agencies. 

How it works:  A consumer applies for a credit product.  The application information is entered into the creditor’s data management system (computer).  Once all information is completed, the creditor requests a credit bureau report to assess a consumer’s credit.  This request requires the creditor submit the application information to the credit bureau.  If a consumer has no credit history, this will initiate a file in his or her name.  If a consumer already has a file, the data on the application is matched to an existing file, using matching information on the application, particularly Name, Address, Date of Birth and Social Security Number (if given).   If the credit product is issued, the creditor will continue to supply information to the credit bureau about payments, credit increases or any address changes and so on. 

The credit reporting agency holds the credit information and continues to update files as information is submitted.  In addition, the agency maintains the files, deleting old information and verifying legal items.

Information on a Credit Report:  Credit reports are broken into categories, which supply different information.  A consumer requesting their own report will find soft inquiries, which does not appear on the version creditors see.  This is because consumers are entitled to full disclosure, which includes soft inquiries. 

  • Consumer Information:  this section details identity attributes of the individual.  First, middle and last name plus generation (jr. sr. etc), AKA name (married, maiden, name change), current address, previous addresses, date of birth, social security number, current employers and previous employers.  This information is used to match the current credit application to the correct file.  Not all applications contain social security numbers, as it is voluntary on most credit applications.
  • Security Alert/Active Duty Alert:  If applicable, a security alert, there will be a security alert stating the consumer is a victim of identity theft/fraud, or the consumer is military personnel on active duty. 
  • Warnings:  Credit bureaus carefully term this section as “potentially negative items” and the consumer reading the report should put emphasis on potentially.  It is simply a mandate of the reporting software to include this section in reports, and all reports have some sort of warning.  A consumer with perfect credit payment history and zero balance on all trade lines may be surprised to see warnings such as “too many revolving accounts” or “not enough data” or even “previous high balances”.  It is the job of the software to alert creditors to possible credit risks, based on the individual report, so the program will analyze the report and apply the most relevant warnings.   For consumers with good credit, warnings should not be a cause for concern.  However, warnings of “serious delinquency”  “bankruptcy on file” or other negative items are taken quite seriously.
  • Consumer Statement:  If a consumer has added a statement to their account it will be somewhere in the first one or two sections following consumer information.
  • Account Summary:  Some credit reports will summarize credit accounts by account type; Real Estate (first and second mortgages), Revolving, Instalment, Other and Collection.  For each type of account, the summary will show the number of accounts, total outstanding balance, total monthly payments, number of accounts that are current, delinquent, and derogatory and the number of accounts with an unknown status.  
  • Public Records:  This section contains public information gathered from the courts or other public arenas, as is relevant to a credit history.  Public records do not include items such as arrests or warrants, but do include bankruptcy, tax liens, court ordered judgements, wage garnishments and, depending on the state, child support orders.    Details in the public record section includes, type of record, status, date filed or reported, individual or joint filing, reference number, closing/release date (when judgement was granted), presiding court, dollar amount of judgement, and any remarks attached to the record.   Bankruptcy records also include liability amounts, exempt amounts, and asset amounts. 
  • Trade Lines:  This section lists your credit accounts, depending on the agency; it may list negative accounts first.  Trade line information is a key component in a credit report, and comprises detailed account information. 
    • Creditor Name, address and telephone (if supplied to agency)
    • Account Number (this information is protected, so the last few numbers are xxxxx)
    • Current status (paid, past due, charge off) as of last reported date
    • Type of Account (Real Estate, Revolving, Instalment, Other, Unknown)
    • Responsibility (type of account ownership; individual, joint or authorized user)
    • Terms of Payment (dollar amount and number of monthly payments)
    • Date opened
    • Date reported (last date account information was updated with reporting agency)
    • Original Balance/Limit (balance refers to instalment loans, limit refers to revolving debt)
    • Current Balance/Recent balance (balance as of last date reported)
    • High Balance (highest balance of consumer use, not always reported)
    • Past Due (how many payments are overdue as of last reported date)
    • Remarks (comments by consumer or credit grantor, such as paid as agreed, account closed at consumers request or inactive account)
    • Two Year Payment History:  this varies according to the agency and type of report (single, tri-merge, online, paper based).  However, it is a list of good and bad payments.  The history may appear in the form of a chart (histogram) citing payments for each month for past 24 months, or simply a statement of late payments and corresponding date such as 60 days as of 03-2008 or collection 05-2008.
    • Seven Year Payment History:  a statement of late payments or delinquencies on an account over the past seven years, accompanied by the date.
  • Hard Inquiries:  This section provides the names, addresses and phone numbers (if supplied) of each creditor that reviewed the consumer’s file in the past 24 months, for the purpose of assessing a credit product application.  This section also includes the date the inquiry was made, and should be checked carefully in the case of suspected identity theft.
  • Soft Inquiries:  This section is only available as a consumer disclosure, and is not seen by creditors.  Soft inquiries are non-credit inquiries, such as pre-screened credit offers, inquiries by employers or the consumer’s own credit history request.  Often this section reveals the consumer’s existing creditors “peeking” at the credit report to review credit usage or provide maintenance on the account. 
  • Creditor Information:  This section details information on all creditors who appear in the consumer’s file, both in the trade lines section and inquiries sections.  Details will include name of company, address and telephone number (if supplied). 

Time on a report: 

  • Seven Years:  Delinquencies, collections, charge offs, accounts included in bankruptcy, child support orders, court judgements, chapter 13 bankruptcy and paid tax liens (from date of payment) stay on a consumer report for seven years.
  • Two Years:  Inquiries, hard and soft and lost credit cards stay on a report for two years.
  • Ten Years:  Chapter 7, 11 and 12 bankruptcy and positive closed accounts remain for ten years.
  • Fifteen Years:  Unpaid city, county, state and federal tax liens remain for fifteen years from filing date.  If the lien is paid, it is removed seven years after date paid.
  • Indefinite:  Active accounts in good standing, such as a long term credit card, remain on the consumer credit report indefinitely.  Even an account with the odd late payment will remain on the report, but the late payment will be removed after seven years.