Credit Reports

Any consumer who has ever applied for or received credit probably has a file kept by some Credit Reporting Agency.  Information about credit reports continually reaffirms what we have known for some time: that many, many credit reports contain significant errors.  Those errors can cost a consumer thousands of dollars due to increased interest rates, credit refusals, job application denials, inability to rent houses or apartments, and a variety of other problems.


The files that are gathered are referred to as "Credit Reports" or "Consumer Reports."  The companies that gather this information and sell it to others are called "Consumer Reporting Agencies" or "Credit Bureaus."  You’ve probably heard about the biggest three: Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax.  The people or companies who provide information to the credit bureaus are known as "Furnishers."  Credit Bureaus sell the information they have gathered to their customers, called the "Users" of credit reports.  The federal act that governs Credit Reports was called the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  It has been recently amended to be called the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.


Some problems with credit reports are due to the Furnishers.  For example, debt collectors often use the effects of negative credit reports to motivate consumers into paying debts.  If a debt collector falsely reports information on your credit report, you have a right to bring a lawsuit against them.  Furnishers must also report the debt has been disputed if you have notified them properly of your dispute.


Some problems with credit reports are due to the Credit Reporting Agencies themselves.  They commingle files (mix your file with information from someone else’s) or retain obsolete information. The recent trend has been for Credit Reporting Agencies to misinform consumers that they have been the victim of identity theft rather than that the credit bureau has commingled or mismerged credit reports.  You may see an error on your credit report, and when you attempt to correct that information with the credit bureau, you are told someone else must be using your credit information, and the reporting agency offers to put a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit report.  But what may have actually happened is that when the credit report was generated for the user (or consumer), they put together the files of two people with similar names or social security numbers, or in some cases, put together files with no obvious connection.  So your credit report includes someone else’s information and you are not the victim of identity theft at all, only the victim of the credit reporting agency’s desire to avoid responsibility.  The ‘fraud alert’ does not prevent continued commingling of the reports.


Problems can also arise when your credit report is "pulled" by a user without your permission, or without a permissible purpose.  Your credit report cannot be used for just any purpose by anyone. Common violations include:

  • Your credit report has errors on it that you have not been able to get (or stay) corrected, despite your written disputes.
  • Your credit report shows it was accessed by entities without your permission or with whom you have no credit (your existing creditors can check routinely).
  • If your debt has been discharged in a Chapter 7, and the debt is not reaffirmed, the creditor does not have the right to "pull" your credit report.
  • Old information (generally more than 7 years old) continues to be reported because the dates are changed (this is referred to as "re-aging" or "date-flipping").

Getting Your Credit Reports


You are entitled to one free copy every year from each of the three biggest credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax).  You are also entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you have been refused credit, provided you ask for it soon after being notified of the creditor's adverse action.  The creditor will send you a written notice (called an "adverse action notice") that will tell you which company's credit report was used.  Then you request your report from that company.  In addition, you can purchase copies of your credit report anytime for about $8.  Additional services are offered for more money, most of which are seldom necessary.

 

Whenever you request your credit report, always ask that it be mailed to you.  There are several reasons for this, one being that you may not be getting a complete report otherwise.

For your annual free report, you must obtain it through https://www.annualcreditreport.com.  There are several other websites with similar names, but this one is the official one, required by federal law.  On the site, you will find, once you get past all the marketing for other products, a place to request your report.  You can print out a form (from https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/requestformfinal.pdf) and mail it in, you can request it online, or you can telephone your request.  No matter which way you request it, ask that it be sent to you by mail.

 

Credit Report Disputes


Your credit report will include information about how to dispute inaccurate or obsolete information. Follow those directions. In particular, be sure to do the following:

  1. Dispute in writing, and mail by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  2. Dispute with the credit reporting agency, not the creditor who furnished the information.
  3. Send in copies of whatever supporting documents you may have to support that the information is inaccurate.
  4. If you wish, you can also send the dispute, with supporting documents, to the creditor.

Inaccurate or obsolete information must be corrected or deleted by the credit reporting agency.  If they do not do so, they have violated the law.

You can contact the three major credit reporting agencies by mail, telephone, or internet:

Common Misconceptions


You have no right to remove accurate information from your credit report, even if you wish you could.  Time alone will serve to remove that information.  Be very wary of ‘credit repair’ organizations.  Some of them charge a lot of money to do what you could do for free: namely dispute inaccurate information.  You can dispute the inaccurate information for free by following the directions included by the Credit Bureau when they send you a copy of your credit report.   Knowingly disputing accurate information is not only illegal, it serves little purpose since the information will simply reappear on your report once it has been verified as accurate.


Also be wary of subscribing to on-line credit reports.  Some are being sold as tools against identity theft when so such thing has happened (see above), and some are being sold above the value of what you receive.  There is reason to believe the credit report that is generated on line by consumer request is not always complete.  In fact, the credit report that is generated even by written request is not as complete as the one given to Users.  The one generated for Users attempts to be more complete and more often has commingled files.  Even if you are refused credit and you ask for a copy of your credit report as a result (you are entitled to a free copy in that event, provided you ask quickly), you will not see the same one that was obtained by the user.  The law would be much better for consumers if it were changed to require that consumers receive the same report as the Users.      

 

Statutes of Limitation


The time limitation for filing these cases is very short.  You have a right to sue based on this act within only one year from the date you believe the law was violated.  You have a right to the protections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. 

 

Other Helpful Information