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How to read and understand your free credit reports

Updated June 20, 2021

This date may not reflect recent changes in individual terms.

Written by:Tim Devaney

If you’re looking for your free credit reports, you’ve come to the right place. Credit Karma offers free credit reports from two of the three major consumer credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion.

But if you’ve never seen your credit reports before, you might not understand what you’re looking at. Let’s review what you might find on your credit reports and how that information can impact your credit scores and overall financial health.

  • What’s on my credit reports?
  • Credit reports vs. credit scores: What’s the difference?
  • What are the three main consumer credit bureaus?
  • How can I find and dispute errors on my credit reports?
  • Where can I get a free credit report?
  • What is the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
  • Free-credit-report FAQs

What’s on my credit reports?

Your credit reports contain personal information, as well as a record of your overallcredit history. Lenders and creditors report account information, such as your payment history, credit inquiries and credit account balances, to the three main consumer credit bureaus. All of that information can make its way into your credit reports.

Much of what’s found in your credit reports can impact whether you’re approved for a credit card, mortgage, auto loan or other type of loan, along with the rates you’ll get. Even landlords may look at your credit when deciding whether to rent to you.

Let’s dig into some of the main components of your credit reports.

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Personal Information

The personal information you might find on your credit reports includes your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and any jobs you’ve held.

The credit bureaus use this “personally identifiable information” to ensure you’re really you, but it doesn’t factor into your credit scores. In fact, federal law prohibits credit scores from factoring in personal information such as your race, color, gender, religion, marital status or national origin.

That being said, it’s not necessarily true that the American financial system is unbiased — or that credit lending and credit scoring systems don’t consider factors affected by bias. To learn more about racial justice in lending and initiatives seeking to create change, connect with organizations leading the fight, likethe ACLU.

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Credit account information

Most of the information on your credit reports focuses on your credit accounts. Lenders typically report on each account you’ve opened with them, so you can expect to see information about any credit cards, auto loans, mortgages or other types of loans you’ve opened.

And there can be quite a lot of information associated with each credit account. This may include your payment history, your loan amount or credit limit, your current account balance and the age of the account.

These account details are allfactors that affect your credit scores, so they can have a big impact on your credit health and financial picture.

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Credit inquiries

There are two types of credit inquiries that might show up on your credit reports:hard credit inquiries and soft credit inquiries.

Ahard inquiry(also known as a “hard pull” or “hard credit check”) typically occurs when you apply for credit. This happens because a lender or credit card issuer checks your credit as part of their loan decision, and you typically have to authorize them to do so.

A single hard inquiry might only have a small impact on your credit scores, but a swarm of new inquiries in a short period of time could make you appear risky to potential lenders. In some cases, multiple hard credit inquiries are treated as a single inquiry, say, when you’re shopping around for an auto or home loan within a short period of time.

Asoft inquiry(also known as a “soft pull” or “soft credit check”) may or may not show up on your credit reports, depending on the bureau. These typically occur when you check your own credit, or when a person or company checks your credit as part of a background check or prequalification. Unlike hard inquiries, soft inquiries do not affect your credit scores.

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Public Records

Your credit reports may also contain derogatory marks associated with past financial bumps in the road. These derogatory marks could includebankruptcies,late payments,and delinquent accountsthat have beensent to collections.

These public records can cause long-term damage to your credit scores, so it’s important to understandhow to deal with derogatory marks.

Credit reports vs. credit scores: What’s the difference?

Each credit report has acredit scoreassociated with it (though one isn’t necessarily provided to you with the other). This is a three-digit number based on the information in your report.

Most credit scores range from 300 to 850.Where your score falls in this rangecan determine how likely you are to be approved for a loan, and whether you’ll qualify for the best rates and terms.

It can be helpful to think of a credit score as a letter grade you get in school, while a credit report is like a listing of all the homework, tests and quizzes that go into earning that grade.

Credit Karma offers free credit reports andfree credit scoresfrom Equifax and TransUnion, two of the three major consumer credit bureaus. Speaking of which …

What are the three main consumer credit bureaus?

Thethree main consumer credit bureausare Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. A credit bureau is a company that collects and stores information about you and your financial accounts and history, and then uses this information to create your credit reports and credit scores.

How credit bureaus get your information

Lenders may send information about your credit accounts to one or several of the credit bureaus. The credit bureaus may also collect information about certain derogatory marks from court records. All of this information is then compiled and used to generate your credit reports.

Why you could have different credit reports from different bureaus

The credit bureaus can only report on the information that’s provided to them. Since lenders are not required to report to all three major credit bureaus, you might find information about certain accounts on one credit report, but not others.

Even when lenders do report information to all three major bureaus, they may report that information at different times. Given all the credit information included in a typical credit report, it’s perfectly normal to observe some minor differences between your credit reports.

Mistakes do happen from time to time. If you think your credit reports are different due to legitimate errors, you can dispute those errors with each credit bureau.

How can I find and dispute errors on my credit reports?

If you notice any big discrepancies between your credit reports, there might be an error. There are a number of ways to find anddispute these errors. Let’s take a look at a few.

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Free credit monitoring from Credit Karma

Credit Karma’sfree credit monitoring toolcan help you stay on top of your credit and catch any errors that might impact your scores.

If we notice any important changes on your Equifax or TransUnion credit report, we’ll send an alert so you can review the changes for suspicious activity. If you don’t recognize the information and think it might be associated with an error or identity theft, you can file a dispute.

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How to dispute errors on your TransUnion credit report with Credit Karma’s Direct Dispute™ feature

Credit Karma’sDirect Dispute™ toolmakes it easy to file a dispute directly with TransUnion. If you come across an error on your TransUnion report, you can submit a dispute without leaving Credit Karma.

Just scroll to the bottom of the account where you found the mistake and click the box labeled “Dispute an Error.” You’ll be asked to verify some information before clicking “Review and Submit.”

You can generally expect TransUnion to review your claim within 30 days. But keep in mind that it may take a little longer for the changes to show up on your credit reports.

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How to dispute errors on your Equifax credit report

If you spot an error on your Equifax credit report, you’ll have to file your dispute directly with Equifax.

Start by reviewing your free report from Equifax on Credit Karma. If you come across an error, scroll down to the bottom of the account in question and click “Go to Equifax.” You’ll have a chance to review your dispute before submitting it to Equifax.

Where can I get a free credit report?

Credit Karma partners with Equifax and TransUnion to provide free credit reports from those two bureaus. Your reports can be updated weekly, and you can check them as often as you like with no impact on your credit scores.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are also entitled to a free annual credit report each year from each of the three major consumer credit bureaus. To request a free copy of your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, visit the official site,

What is the Fair Credit Reporting Act?

TheFair Credit Reporting Actis an important law that gives you the right to know the information that the credit bureaus keep on you and how that information informs your credit scores.

This law includes a number of consumer rights and protections. For example, under the FCRA you have the right to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information on your credit reports. In most cases, the credit bureau must investigate your case and correct or remove any inaccuracies within 30 days.

Free-credit-report FAQs

Does checking my free credit reports hurt my credit?

No, checking your free credit reports on Credit Karma will not hurt your credit. This is considered a soft inquiry.

Are Credit Karma’s free credit reports accurate?

The credit reports you see on Credit Karma come directly from Equifax and TransUnion and should reflect any information reported by those credit bureaus. If you spot an error on either of those credit reports, Credit Karma can help youdispute it.

Which credit report is most accurate?

No one credit report is innately more accurate than the others. Your TransUnion credit report might contain information that your Equifax credit report doesn’t, or vice versa.
This is partly because lenders are not required to report your information to all three credit bureaus. In some cases, they may only report to one bureau and not the others, or they may report information at different times.
In any case, it’s a good idea to review your credit reports on a regular basis so that you can be sure any discrepancies are minor.

Check out your free credit reports.

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Get Your Free Credit Reports (2024)


How can I get a truly free credit report? ›

You have the right to request one free copy of your credit report each year from each of the three major consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) by visiting You may also be able to view free reports more frequently online.

Is it safe to freeze credit online? ›

Yes, placing a freeze on your credit reports is one of the best ways to help protect you from fraudulent credit applications. It's free and you can complete it fairly quickly online or by phone. Unfreezing, also known as thawing, your credit is typically quick when you need to apply for credit.

Is a legitimate site? › is the official site to get your free annual credit reports. This right is guaranteed by Federal law. You can verify this is the official site by visiting the CFPB's website. Don't be fooled by look-alike sites.

How do I get my full credit report? ›

How to get a copy of your credit report
  1. Online by visiting
  2. By calling 1-877-322-8228 (TTY: 1-800-821-7232)
  3. By filling out the Annual Credit Report request form and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service. PO Box 105281. Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Mar 26, 2024

What is the most accurate free credit report app? ›

Credit Karma: Best free credit score app

It tells you which ones you'll likely be approved for and how different financial decisions will affect your credit profile. Credit Karma also explains what's affecting your credit score and how to improve it.

What is the best free credit report to get? ›

Federal law gives you free access to your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Using the government-mandated website is the quickest way to get them, but you can also request them by phone or mail.

What is the downside of freezing your credit? ›

A freeze can give you a false sense of security — you may still be susceptible to credit fraud or other fraud involving your Social Security number. A credit freeze won't affect your current accounts, but if a thief steals the information on an existing account, your credit may be used without your permission.

Does freezing my credit hurt my score? ›

A credit freeze prevents lenders from checking your credit file. Freezing your credit has no effect on your credit score. But this doesn't mean that a credit freeze blocks your score from regular changes. It's still important to monitor your credit use and make payments on time to keep your score from falling.

Does your credit score go down if you freeze your account? ›

Placing a security freeze on your credit reports does not impact your credit scores in any way. It also doesn't prevent you from getting free copies of your credit reports every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus through

What is the safest site to check credit? ›

Three major credit reporting agencies provide credit reports: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. 123 These may be the safest routes to obtaining your credit history, which ultimately affects your personal credit score.

Has ever been hacked? ›

Can Be Hacked? While takes steps to keep its site secure, hypothetically, your credit report could be accessed if an impersonator had enough of your personal information. That's what happened in an incident in 2013.

Which website shows your real credit score? ›

Check Your Free Credit Report & FICO® Score - Experian.

What credit score is needed to buy a house? ›

The minimum credit score needed for most mortgages is typically around 620. However, government-backed mortgages like Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans typically have lower credit requirements than conventional fixed-rate loans and adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs).

Which credit report is most accurate? ›

Of the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), none is considered better than the others. A lender may rely on a report from one bureau or all three bureaus to make its decisions about approving a loan.

How to unlock credit freeze? ›

The best way to remove (or "thaw") a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, is to use a digital tool―a website or smartphone app―because that typically yields instant results. Removing a freeze by phone or mail is equally effective but may take longer.

Can I get a free credit report through my bank? ›

Credit agencies and the government allow consumers to access their full credit report for free on a limited basis. Banks and credit card issuers, however, are increasingly giving their customers free access to regularly updated credit scores, along with credit updates and alerts.

How accurate is Credit Karma? ›

The credit scores and credit reports you see on Credit Karma come directly from TransUnion and Equifax, two of the three major consumer credit bureaus. They should accurately reflect your credit information as reported by those bureaus — but they may not match other reports and scores out there.

What does a full credit report look like? ›

A full credit report looks like a financial statement, depicting various information on an individual's credit profile. It has personal information on the top and is broken down by the various credit that an individual has, such as credit cards, loans, and mortgages, as well as other sections, such as public records.


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