What information is on your credit report? Here's what I found when I read my own. (2024)

Credit agencies, you might say, are akin to nagging parents. They watch and judge from a distance, rewarding responsible behavior and punishing delinquency.

And credit scores? They seem a bit like personal Yelp ratings. Miss a payment or max out a credit card, and the mysterious three-digit metric drifts down. Pay your bills and retire your debt, and it floats back up.

For the struggling consumer, industry critics say, the whole credit system might feel a little Big Brother-ish.

And these particular Big Brothers make errors. A recent investigation by Consumer Reports found that nearly half of credit reports prepared by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion contained mistakes, some of them costly to the consumer’s credit.

If you’re starting to fret, take heart: Anyone, in theory, can go online and read their credit reports on a site called AnnualCreditReport.com.

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And that’s what I did. I was writing a story about errors in credit reports. Why not read my own?

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I have good credit. Lately, though, it seems like my credit score has flown up and down like a stock market ticker. I get a notice about an "updated" score roughly once a week. I'm not buying cars or opening credit card accounts, so what's with all the activity? I got curious.

What information is on your credit report? Here's what I found when I read my own. (1)

Reading your credit report: 'Was that ever my phone number?'

I’m no stranger to credit reports. I’ve read mine before: once when I was angry that my score wasn’t higher, and again when I read about the big data breach, several years back, that allegedly delivered credit data to Chinese hackers.

Each time I’ve glimpsed my credit report, I’ve spotted a few errors and oddities. Nothing huge – the document never had me living in Alaska or financing a Lamborghini – but a lot of little stuff:

Why are they listing that job from three decades ago, but not the new one?

Was that ever my phone number?

And why can no one ever nail the correct spelling of my weird Belgian surname?

This time around, I was expecting errors, but nothing big or scary. Like I said: I have good credit.

And so, one recent afternoon, I found my way to AnnualCreditReport.com and clicked on “Request your free credit reports.”

The landing page spelled out three simple steps: Fill out a form, pick the reports you want, and then hit the button.

Soon enough, though, I found myself deep in the weeds of “verification,” that dreaded dance between a consumer and a computer that wants you to prove you are not another computer.

What information is on your credit report? Here's what I found when I read my own. (2)

Experian: One credit report down, two to go

I engaged with Experian, the first agency on my list. A prompt asked for my email address and cellphone number. A numerical code appeared on my phone. I entered it on my computer.

Not quite satisfied, the credit agency fed me a series of multiple-choice identity questions about mortgages and car loans. I clicked on the ones that rang familiar.

And, voila! A 49-page credit report appeared on my screen.

I hit download, and I proceeded to the next credit agency on my list, TransUnion.

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The site prompted me for my cellphone and email: I would have to verify myself all over again.

I did, and TransUnion seemed satisfied. Then, this message appeared on the computer screen: “Unfortunately, your request cannot be fulfilled online at this time.”

I would have to call or write – mail an actual letter – to get my second credit report.

Ugh. I moved on to Equifax's site. For a third time, I was asked for my email and cellphone. I confirmed my identity, or so I thought.

“We’re sorry,” the site responded, “we are unable to process your request at this time.”

I could try again later, the message said. Or call. Or write.

For my efforts, I had only one credit report and no clear reason why I couldn’t get the others. And that left me uneasy. Creditors can take their pick among the three agencies in reviewing my credit, and any of them can make an error. Ideally, experts say, you want to see all three of your reports.

What information is on your credit report? Here's what I found when I read my own. (3)

What's in a credit report? Eight names, 12 addresses, 25 creditors

I opened my Experian credit report and dove in.

My credit dossier unfolded before my eyes: eight versions of my name, 12 addresses, two employers, and a whopping 25 credit accounts, stretching back to the George W. Bush administration.

The eight names turned out to be alternate spellings and misspellings of my immigrant-y moniker: Daniel Devise. Daniel Divise. Daniel Romain Devise. Daniel Romaine Devise.

Most of the dozen addresses were correct, or close enough. They spanned more than 20 years. A few belonged to my mother, places I’d never lived.

The form listed three phone numbers. Two were current. One was a digit off.

Under “Employers,” the form listed two: “Self employed,” and San Diego Union.

Both items were accurate, sort of. I haven’t been self-employed since 2022. I haven’t worked for the San Diego newspaper since 1997.

The remaining 45 pages unfurled a tedious tally of creditors, current and past. I didn’t see anything unseemly. I didn’t look too hard, as none of the 25 accounts showed a delinquency.

In the end, I found nothing scary. I wondered, though, what anyone else reading the report would make of my eight names and dozen addresses: It looked like the profile of someone on the run.

What information is on your credit report? Here's what I found when I read my own. (4)

Credit report errors: What counts as harmful or dangerous?

I ran my findings by Lisa Gill, the investigative reporter at Consumer Reports who wrote up their study.

“What you described doesn’t sound too far off from the norm,” she said. The errors and oddities I found are “annoying,” she said, and don’t inspire confidence in the whole credit-reporting endeavor. But I had uncovered nothing harmful.

What would count as harmful? A delinquent account that isn’t really delinquent, or that isn’t even yours, Gill said. Personal information that clearly belongs to another person. In the worst case, that could suggest identity theft.

I also spoke to two Experian officials.

All of those names and addresses, they said, appear exactly as they were reported to the agency by my creditors. Experian wants me to see them all, so I can spot any errors.

They told me, in case I was worried, that none of the identifying information, accurate or not, would affect my credit score.

'We have received your information'

I hadn’t given up on the quest to read my other two credit reports. I called the toll-free number for the Annual Credit Report Request Service.

An automated attendant asked for my name, address, Social Security Number and date of birth. I punched in some answers and spoke others. The attendant didn’t always hear me.

After a few minutes of back-and-forth, the attendant played this message: “We have received your information. Your request will be processed and mailed within 15 days.”

And so, after tussling with technology new and old, text messages and telephone calls, computer downloads and the U.S. Mail, I should have copies of all three of my credit reports ... sometime before Flag Day.

Daniel de Visé covers personal finance for USA TODAY. You can reach him at ddevise@usatoday.com.

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What information is on your credit report? Here's what I found when I read my own. (2024)


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