What's a Split Credit Report - And How Much Is It Hurting Your Score

Does your Visa credit card account appear on two of your three credit reports, but not the third? Maybe your credit report maintained by Experian and Equifax lists the auto loan you used to buy your new car, but the report from TransUnion doesn't. If so, you might have a fragmented, or split, credit report — a rare but not unheard of problem.

If you do have such a report, you need to correct it. Otherwise, your credit score might suffer. (See also: Should You Always Dispute Mistakes on Your Credit Report?)

Here's the skinny on fragmented credit reports — and what to do about them.

How It Happens

Fragmented credit reports usually happen in one of two ways. First, if you've changed your name several times over the years, you might confuse the credit bureaus. This can happen if you've been married and divorced several times.

If you've been married and divorced, you might have one Equifax report as Mary Smith and another as Mary Jones. You might also get fragmented reports if you happen to be a Junior or a Third. For instance, if you alternate between taking out credit card accounts as Joe Smith or Joe Smith Jr., you might confuse the bureaus enough to end up with a fragmented credit report.

The second reason for a fragmented or split report is actually more serious. The three credit bureaus store information about your accounts as bits of data. If you have too much of this data, it could overflow from one credit report into another, creating split credit reports. If this happens to you, it's likely a sign that you have too many credit accounts. After all, account overflow can only happen if you have dozens of accounts.

Why It's Bad

Fragmented reports are bad because they so often generate low credit scores. Your FICO credit score — a key number when you're seeking to take out loans or apply for a new credit card — is made up from the information contained in your credit reports.

If you have a fragmented credit report that only lists two or three accounts, the score generated from that report will be low because of your lack of credit history. If you have a split report that only contains old accounts that are no longer active, your score again will be low because this incomplete report makes it look as if you are no longer even using credit.

The Solution

Unfortunately, there is no quick solution to the problem of fragmented credit reports. But your first step is always the same: If you discover that you have a split report, contact the offending credit bureau immediately, either by phone or email, to explain the situation.

It might take some time for the bureau to rectify the situation. And you might have to provide paperwork proving that your fragmented reports aren't listing all of your credit accounts. But don't ignore this problem. The weak credit scores that result from it could hurt your efforts to apply for future loans or credit cards.

When's the last time you checked your credit reports?

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