If you’re not used to reading them, credit reports can make about as much sense as a restaurant menu printed in a foreign language. At least in a restaurant, you can point to what someone else is having. But if you don’t know how to read your credit file, you could make mistakes that could lead to your financial life being harder than it needs to be.

Here are some common misinterpretations people make about their credit reports and how to avoid them.

  1. They have too many student loans listed for me
    When student loans are listed on credit reports, they are often broken up into individual loans for each semester you took out a loan. Of course, you still want to make sure all the loans are yours, but don’t be surprised if you see a lot of loans listed under the same provider.
  2. I must be a victim of ID theft because someone else’s name is on my report
    When companies like Equifax, Experian and TransUnion compile your information, they look to gather up all financial information that is being reported for you. In doing so, they may accidentally confuse you with someone with a similar name or other bit of identifying information. This can result in that person’s name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, etc. being mistakenly listed on your credit report. You can always have this kind of information removed from your credit report by disputing the information at the website of the bureau that is listing the information. You can access the website for the individual bureaus listed above by simply adding “.com” onto the name of the credit reporting agency.
  3. I paid that collection account, it shouldn’t be on my report anymore
    Collection agencies aren’t required to remove a collections account from your credit reports once you have paid it. All they are required to do is list that the account has been satisfied. Negative accounts like these stay on your credit report for seven years from when the account first went delinquent with the original creditor, whether they are paid or not.
  4. My credit score is missing
    The credit reports we are all entitled to by federal law – available at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877.322.8228 – do not come with a credit score. There is currently no law that automatically provides everyone with a free score. FICO is the company that provides the score most commonly used by lenders. You can purchase a score from them at www.myfico.com.
  5. My date of birth and address are part of lending decisions
    When you access your credit reports, you will see that some of your personal information is listed in addition to your financial data. For example, the report may list where you live, when you were born, and who you have worked for recently, among other things. You needn’t be worried that this is being used against you when a potential lender is looking at your reports, though. It is illegal for a lender to use age or address when making lending decisions and these pieces of information are not calculated into your FICO credit score.
  6. All these inquiries count against my score
    When someone other than you looks at your credit report, it results in what is called an “inquiry” being put on your credit report. If you’ve ever looked at credit reports, you may know that there can be a whole lot of them listed at any one time. Keep in mind that the only inquiries that are ever factored into your credit score are ones that happened in the past year (even though they stay on your credit report for 2 years) and the ones that were for the purpose of you applying for credit or financing some other type of financial contract. The other types of inquiries are not counted against you.