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How 3-in-1 Credit Reports Work

Accessing 3-in-1 Credit Reports

All three major credit reporting agencies -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- sell a 3-in-1 credit report that you can order from the companies' Web sites or over the phone. All three agencies also give you the option of accessing the 3-in-1 report online.

A 3-in-1 credit report is organized exactly like a regular credit report. The only difference is that information from all three credit bureaus is listed side-by-side for easy comparison.

Combination credit reports start with your personal information (name, current and previous addresses, Social Security number, employer information, etc.). A list of all open credit accounts follows. These accounts are divided into mortgage accounts, installment accounts (car loans, student loans) and revolving accounts (credit cards). The reports include detailed histories for each of your open and closed lines of credit, including on-time payment history, outstanding balances and credit limits.

Three-bureau reports also show your total outstanding debt compared with your total amount of available credit (credit limit). This is used to calculate your debt-to-credit ratio, an important number for potential lenders. A high debt-to-credit ratio indicates that you may be borrowing too much and are at risk for defaulting.

Every time you apply for credit, a lender makes an inquiry into your credit report. These are listed in the inquiries section. Inquiries aren't a bad thing. What looks bad is if you apply for lots of credit in a short period of time, making you look desperate. Inquiries stay on your credit report for two years. Thankfully, self-inquiries don't count and aren't included.

A useful section on a 3-in-1 report is called "negative information." Here you'll find any inquiries from collection agencies or public records that might lower your credit score (bankruptcy proceedings, liens, convictions, etc.). Negative information stays on your credit report for seven years, bankruptcies last a decade and criminal convictions stay forever! So if any of this information is false, dispute it quickly.

One disadvantage of 3-in-1 credit reports is that they don't simplify the process of disputing false information. For example, if the same false information is reported by all three credit bureaus, there's no central phone number you can call to resolve the issue with all three agencies at once. You still have to contact each of them and work through all three of their dispute resolution processes separately.

For lots more information on credit reports, credit scores and the magical world of debt, take a look at the links on the next page.