Your credit report is meant to be a history of your borrowing, a lasting memory of your financial dealings. History is fickle, though, and memory is fleeting. Your credit report, under a certain type of stress, can actually split, skewing your score, affecting credit applications and incompletely telling your story. If you think this may have happened to you or are curious about the possibility, read on to find out more about how this happens and what you can do.
What is a split file? How do I know if I have one?
Split files, which are also called "fragmented" and "duplicated" files, occur when information about one person gets spread out over two or more credit reports. Due to splitting, consumers may end up with more than one credit report from the same bureau, as well as more than one credit score (neither of which is truly accurate). If a lender reports back to you that they were able to pull more than one report for you from the same credit bureau, it's likely that you have this problem on your hands.
Another clue that your file may be split is receiving a credit report that has dramatically less information than you feel you should have. However, since information differs between bureaus and mistakes sometimes occur, just because you're missing an account or two does not necessarily mean you have a split file. Keep in mind as well that, even if you have a long credit history, you still may not have a credit score if you do not have a certain number of open accounts. However, if you have a robust credit file with a number of open accounts, yet you're receiving a thin file notification or a report that is severely lacking, splitting may be at the root of your problem.
What causes split files?
The most commonplace cause of split files is an overload of credit information. An excess of information does not refer to five or six credit cards, but dozens of open accounts, new inquiries or other credit report additions. While getting to a point where you have too much information for one credit report might seem unlikely (and is in fact uncommon), it does happen and could cause this problem. When too much information is added, the report may overflow into another, splitting your information and causing a fragmented report to be created.
Another possible reason for split files is frequent name or address changes. If you've had your name changed and changed back due to marriage and divorce, an inconsistent middle initial or name or common misspellings, then the constant switching could cause your credit file to split into two. Lenders may occasionally also misreport your name to such a degree that a new file is created. Since credit reports are also tied to social security number, switches in names should not normally cause a split, but it does occasionally occur.
What can you do?
The good news is that split files aren't impossible to correct. If you suspect that your file has been split, the first step is to confirm that this is actually the case. Pull your reports from all three bureaus to verify that one of the bureaus is reporting your information incorrectly. Old information and closed accounts might not appear on your credit reports, so comparing between bureaus can help you make sure that you're dealing with an actual split file.
Once you're confident you have a split file, you can contact the bureau directly to have them merge your reports back together. If you've applied for a new credit line and fear a split file has affected your approval odds, you could also try contacting the lender directly to let them know what's happening and suggest they pull a report from a different bureau.
Split files are not necessarily a very common cause of credit report misinformation or variation from your expectations. However, in specific cases, a fragmented credit file could be at the root of a credit report discrepancy. Look out for the warning signs to make sure your credit applications are being judged fairly, using all the information on record.
About the Author: Mike Goldstein is a Content Writer at Credit Karma. Since joining the team in June 2013, he's been delivering the financial know-how on the daily. When away from work, you can find Mike watching hockey, Twittering for hours and frequenting trivia nights.
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