Reading Your Annual Credit Report: Public Records and Inquiries

This article is part of the How to Read Your Annual Credit Report series.

Two important sections of your credit report are the “Public Records” and “Inquiries” sections. Knowing what personal and public information that is on your report is an important factor to taking control of your finances. It is also important to know what companies have requested a copy of your report.

The third step in this series is to review all of the information contained within the public record section of your annual credit report. Public information and inquiries are usually the last sections to appear in your credit report, though each credit report company does things a bit differently.

Public Records

“Public records” refers to court records that could affect your creditworthiness. Bankruptcy filings are the most common factor here, but you will also see liens, court judgments, lawsuits, etc. Depending on where you live, things like unpaid child support will appear here as well.

These public records last 7 or 10 years depending on the individual entry. They don’t include things like traffic tickets or criminal records; only financial information is included.

  • Type: The type of record, be it a Tax Lien, Legal Item, Bankruptcy, Wage Item, Judgment, etc.
  • Status: Current status of the record.
  • Date Filed/Reported: Date when the record was initially filed or created.
  • How Filed: The role that you play in the record, usually the record is either filed Individually or Jointly.
  • Reference #: Identifying number for the record.
  • Closing/Released Date: Date when the record was closed or the judgement awarded.
  • Court: The court or legal agency that has jurisdiction over the record.
  • Amount: Dollar amount of the lien or judgement.
  • Remarks: If there are any remarks by you or the court included in the public record information, these remarks will appear here.

If the Public Record on your report is a Bankruptcy, three other fields will be visible:

  • Liability: The amount the court found you to be legally responsible to repay.
  • Exempt Amount:    A dollar amount claimed against you, but an amount in which the court has decided you are not legally responsible.
  • Asset Amount: The dollar amount of total personal assets used in the court’s decision. The Asset Amount can include items of value that can be used to pay debts.

Make sure this section is accurate, as it can have a severe impact on your credit score. It’s best to have no information in this section at all. After the public record expires in 7 or 10 years, it will be automatically removed by the credit bureaus, but you should still double check to make sure outdated entries are removed.

Inquiries

This section may also be called something like “Requests for Your Credit History” in your credit report. Inquiries can have an effect on your credit score: FICO counts the number of inquiries and their nature and factors that into your score. “New Credit” counts for 10% of your score, which includes inquiries from potential creditors.

There are different kinds of inquiries, and most of them do not impact your credit score at all:

  • If you request your own credit report, that might be included as an inquiry, but is not counted for the sake of credit scoring. This kind of inquiry may be reported as originating from the credit bureau itself. For example, if you ordered a copy of your TransUnion report, “TransUnion” might be listed under inquiries. Please make sure any personal inquiries are accurate; this section can help you determine if someone has accessed your credit report for nefarious purposes like identity theft.
  • Some inquiries are the result of marketing efforts. If a creditor intends to offer you pre-approved credit, they may pull your credit report first. This inquiry does not impact your score.
  • A potential employer is entitled to view your credit report before offering you a job, and this inquiry will be listed on your report. It has no impact on your creditworthiness.
  • Landlords may check your credit before agreeing to rent to you, and their inquiries will not count against your score.
  • Your current creditors may check your credit report to monitor your credit activity.
  • Any time you apply for a loan or credit, the lender or creditor will pull your credit file. This will count as an inquiry and does have an impact on your credit score, albeit a small one.

If you have a lot of inquiries seeking the same type of loan in a set time period, they may all be listed, but they won’t have a cumulative impact on your score. For instance, if you are shopping around for a car, and you have half a dozen inquiries for auto loans within a 30-day period, they are all counted as one inquiry by FICO.

An unfamiliar inquiry of this type may indicate that someone has applied for credit in your name. Make sure there are no fraudulent accounts in the “Account History” section of your report, and continue to monitor your report for unfamiliar accounts.

An inquiry will remain on your credit report for two years, and over that time will have a diminishing impact on your credit rating.

Every section of your credit report is important to the whole, and you should read it all very carefully. If you would like to learn more or are looking for information about disputing inaccurate our outdated information, download our free Consumer Guide to Good Credit.

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