If you check your credit reports and they show the wrong balance, there could be a good reason. Your credit reports show the most recent credit card balance reported by your credit card issuer. Because of the timing of credit report updates, this balance may not reflect the current balance on your credit card.
Learn how balances are reported to credit reporting agencies and what to do if your credit card balance is wrong.
How Credit Issuers Report Balances
Throughout your credit card billing cycle, your credit card balance changes many times as payments, credits, purchases, fees, and interest are added to your account. Your credit card issuer doesn't report your credit card balance to the credit bureaus every day, so these daily fluctuations aren't reflected on your credit report.
Many credit card issuers only report your credit card balance at the end of your billing cycle. This is the balance that shows on your credit card billing statement. That balance will show on your credit report each day until it's updated again at the end of the next billing cycle.
If you've made any payments or purchases since your last billing cycle end date, then the balance on your credit report won't match what you see when you log on to your online credit card account. While that might seem like a mistake, in reality, the credit card balance on your credit report hasn't been updated yet. It can take one to two months for a payment to show up on your credit report and impact your credit score.
To have a certain balance to show on your credit report, pay your credit card down to that balance, then wait until after the end of your billing cycle to make any other purchases with your credit card. Keep in mind that finance charges are usually added to your balance at the end of the billing cycle, and this could affect the amount you need to pay to get your balance to the desired amount.
High Balance on Credit Report
In addition to your last reported credit card balance, your credit report also includes a high balance. This balance is the highest balance ever reported to the credit bureaus for that credit card account.
The high balance remains the same each month unless a higher credit card balance is reported. While some creditors and lenders may include the high balance in a manual evaluation of your creditworthiness, this balance isn't currently included in your credit score.
Why Your Balance Is Important
Your balance is the second most important factor in calculating your credit score. More specifically, credit reporting agencies look at the ratio of your credit card balances to their credit limits, which is known as your credit utilization.
Let's say you have a credit card with a $7,000 limit and you have a $2,000 balance. That gives you a 28.5% credit utilization ratio. To maximize your credit score, it's best to keep your balances below 30% of your credit limit, and lower is better. If your credit report shows high balances for your credit cards, your credit score could suffer.
If your credit card balances are inaccurate, your credit score could be lower than it should be, so it's important to report them to the reporting agency.
The most important factor in your credit score is your payment history.
Correcting Inaccurate Information
If your credit card balance is incorrect—e.g., you paid off your balance a few months ago, and your credit report doesn't reflect that—you can submit a credit report dispute. This request will require the credit card company to provide the most recent balance.
You can get a copy of each credit bureau's report for free once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com. You're also entitled to a free copy of a credit report when there's an adverse decision related to your credit, like being declined for a credit card. To report the inaccuracy, visit the reporting agency's website. The credit bureau will typically investigate the error within 30 days.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When do credit cards report information to the credit bureaus?
There isn't a set time that credit card companies need to report information to the credit bureaus. Credit card companies don't have to report your information at all, although they are very likely to report it to at least one bureau. If they report to one of the three major bureaus, they can report information whenever they like, so long as it happens at least once per month.
How do you report credit card fraud?
If you know you don't owe a balance, but both the credit bureau and the credit card company say that the balance is correct as it's reported, then you may be the victim of credit card fraud. In this case, the first step is to go through each transaction on your credit card account and determine which ones are fraudulent. Report those unauthorized charges to the credit card company (a phone call is the quickest way to do this). The new balance should be reflected on your credit report soon after the credit card company removes those charges.