Unexpected credit report items showing up? This could be why

Check your credit reports regularly to spot and address surprise tradeline items. (iStock)

Your credit file provides a lot of information about how you’ve managed your debts. It’s not uncommon to see a list of all the loans and credit cards you’ve opened over the past several years.

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But sometimes surprise items show up on your credit report that can cause you to wonder whether your identity has been stolen. While that’s possible, it may be legitimate, and it could be hurting your credit.

Types of unexpected items on a credit report

Most of the time, an unexpected tradeline — an account that shows up on your credit report — is a result of not paying a bill as contractually agreed. But even if you have a stellar payment history, it’s possible to still get a surprise. Here are some potential items that could affect your credit score:

  • Unpaid fees for subscription services like Netflix, Spotify, Blue Apron or BarkBox. 
  • Unpaid membership fees from your gym or homeowners association (HOA).
  • Hard inquiries from unexpected sources.
  • Charged-off bank accounts.
  • Unpaid rent.
  • Someone else’s credit history information.

In most cases, if you cancel the credit card you use for a subscription service, your access will simply be canceled. But there have been reports of companies like Netflix maintaining that access and going after overdue payments.

You can also get the same treatment is you don’t pay your gym membership, HOA fees or rent, or you have a checking account with a negative balance for too long. The person or company you owe money to typically won’t report your past-due payments, though. Instead, they’ll enlist the help of a collection agency, which reports the delinquent account.

It’s hard to say exactly when these types of accounts show up after you’ve missed a payment, but it can typically happen if you’re late for three months or more.

It’s also possible for your credit report to show inaccurate information from someone else, especially if you have the same or similar names. After all, nobody’s perfect, and creditors and credit bureaus are no exception.

Finally, while lenders commonly run a credit score check when you apply for a loan or credit card, you may also get a hard inquiry when you open a bank or utility account.

Some surprise items on a credit report may be fraudulent

While some unexpected or odd items may be legitimate, others may be a sign that someone has stolen your Social Security number. This can allow them to open credit accounts without your authorization.

If they use the account to rack up debt in your name without making any payments, it could wreck your credit history.

What to do if you notice a surprise credit report item

If you notice something odd on your credit report, take a look at the information it provides for the creditor. In some cases, you may not recognize the company listed. That can happen if it’s a debt collection agency hired by a company you know. But it may also be an indicator of fraud or an error.

Contact the company listed to get more information about the account. If it’s clear that the debt doesn’t belong to you, file a dispute with the credit bureaus to have it removed. If it does belong to you, take steps to get current on the account as quickly as possible. While it may not undo the damage already done, it can prevent things from getting worse.

To avoid surprises, make sure to keep current on all of your financial obligations. If you cancel a credit card or bank account or get a new number, make sure you update all of your accounts with the new information to ensure on-time payments.

Finally, check your credit report often to stay on top of the information listed, especially if you see your credit score decline. You can get a free credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — through AnnualCreditReport.com.