Credit report anatomy: How to read, understand reports

By David

You can get a free credit report. But do you know how to read and understand it? This interactive guide will help.


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One free report every 12 monthsEveryone's entitled by law to look at their credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once every 12 months free of charge, or you can buy a credit report from each of the three bureaus if you want to view your report more often.

The three U.S. credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- set up as a central online resource to request your reports. You can also request your reports by calling (877) 322-8228 or by downloading a request form and mailing it to:

Annual Credit Report Request ServiceP.O. Box 105281Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

We'll walk you through the process, and then, in an interactive example, show you what you will see.

Getting your free report

The three credit bureau sites have similar interfaces, each with the same menu bar atop it:

Understanding your credit reportMany consumers have a difficult time understanding their credit reports and piecing the three reports together, so here are examples and explanations of the most common elements that appear in each of the three free credit bureau reports. Roll over the information icon () for explanations:

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