- Do you have a charge on your credit report that you did not make and Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion (Credit Reporting Agencies) is refusing to delete it?
- Were you denied credit or a loan because of charges on your credit report that do not belong to you?
- Have you declared bankruptcy and still see debt on your credit report that was supposed to be eliminated?
You have the right to get one free credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies every year.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the primary law that addresses credit reports. It has three primary purposes:
- Ensure that credit reports provide accurate information
- Safeguard consumers’ credit and personal identifying information
- Give consumers the information that is being reported on them (Disclosure)
Some of the consumer rights in the FCRA include the following:
Information to be Disclosed to You
Upon your request, a Credit Reporting Agency (CRA) shall clearly and accurately disclose the following:
- all information in your file at that time
- the sources of the information
- identification of each person who procured a consumer report for employment purposes within the previous two years and for any other purpose within the previous year
- a record of all inquiries received within the previous year that identified you in connection with a transaction that was not initiated by you
- CRAs must conduct a reasonable reinvestigation after receiving a dispute.
- CRAs must delete or modify information that is found to be inaccurate or incomplete or that cannot be verified.
- CRAs must complete reinvestigation within thirty days or forty-five days if it is for a free annual report.
- CRAs must send consumer written results of reinvestigation.
- CRAs must block information you identify as resulting from identity theft when they receive the following:
- appropriate proof of identity
- copy of an identity theft report
- identification of such information by the consumer
- a statement by the consumer that the information is not related to any transaction by the consumer
- The information must be blocked within four business days after receipt.
Exclusions from Consumer Reports
No consumer report should include the following:
- any adverse information, collection, or charge off that is more than seven years old
- paid tax liens that are more than seven years old
- bankruptcy cases more than ten years from the date of relief or adjudication
- civil suits, judgments, or records of arrest that were released more than seven years before the report or until the statute of limitations expires, whichever is longer
Main Reporting Agencies: There are three main, national consumer credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Experian Information Solutions, Inc.; Equifax Information Services, LLC; and TransUnion LLC (the "Big Three").
How CRAs get Information: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion all collect information from court records, banks, credit card companies, finance companies, department stores, cellular phone companies, court records, and many other companies issuing credit. The “Big Three” do not necessarily have the same credit information because not all creditors send reports to all three agencies and the agencies do not all collect information from the same public records.
When a business inquiries into or "pulls" your credit report, a search program or algorithm pulls information from the CRAs’ vast databases based on your "personal identifiers", such as your name, address, date of birth, and social security number. The search algorithm is supposed to filter out obsolete credit information and credit information that doesn't belong to you. The remaining information is combined into one report. Your credit report isn't something fixed since the information used to create your credit report is constantly changing as creditors constantly provide new information about you.
STEP 1: Get a Credit Card Report
Get a copy of your Report: Consumers may obtain a free copy of their consumer report online at annualcreditreport.com once every twelve months from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
You are also entitled to a free report within sixty days of credit denial. The agency on which denial is based will be mentioned in the notice.
STEP 2: Locate the Causes of Credit Mistakes
Errors in Credit Reports occur often. Fraud, data entry mistakes, and improper merging of information by the CRA are all examples of common errors. The errors can be caused by the creditor, the CRA, a thief, a collection agency, or public record.
Creditor error: The creditor or "furnisher" of information to the CRA provides the information in a database format that allows the CRA to bring the information right into its database without entering everything again. The individual pieces of data are known as "fields." Some creditors use different database formats, leading to problems in providing correct consumer information, especially regarding bankruptcy.
Incorrect names: An incorrect name or social security number input by the creditor can go to the wrong consumer's file (e.g., incomplete consumer's name such as "J.M. Jones" could either be "John Michael Jones" or "Jay Milhous Jones" or any other combination, "Sam" could be "Samuel," "Samson," or a female "Samantha.") This frequently happens with common names or where there is a junior/senior relationship.
Collection agency error: You can sue collection agencies that improperly report the information. Some companies intentionally (and illegally) place collection accounts on credit reports to get the victim to pay. Improperly reported information can also appear because creditors and credits agencies sometimes don’t provide enough identification details when inputting new information into a file.
CRA error: Most credit reporting agencies use name, address, social security number, and date of birth to identify who you are. The CRA can cause an error by incorrectly merging information where identifying information is similar. This happens most frequently where there is a junior/senior relationship. It also can happen when social security digits are similar within two digits. If the adult child with the same name as the parent moves home, big problems can result. There can also be problems where a recently married spouse has the same first name as a stepchild or the ex-spouse.
Public records error: The “Big Three” pay companies to go through court files and official records to obtain information. If the reporting agency does not have the company check often enough, the fact that a judgment or bankruptcy was later vacated or satisfied may not get reported.
STEP 3: Always Document
Documents are important. Many credit card companies, banks, and even credit reporting agencies provide toll free numbers and websites you can use to dispute credit errors. It's better to document your credit error dispute on paper. If you use the phone, then you need to follow-up in writing. Acknowledge the conversation (e.g. "this letter is a follow-up to my conversation by phone with your representative named Joe Smith in which we discussed . . ."). Send everything in writing by certified mail return receipt requested. There are many reasons to write the dispute in addition to, or instead of, over the phone.
Show concern. Just the fact that you bothered to collect your thoughts and write formally shows that you truly are concerned with the credit errors on your report. If you need the help of an attorney or regulatory agency later, they are more likely to take note of the seriousness with which you regard the matter.
Accurately track case. There may be many people involved in your dispute before it is resolved. First, many of the employees of credit institutions turn over regularly, and you may be sent to a different person for each investigation. Also, you may need to show your paperwork to attorneys, law enforcement (in fraud cases), regulatory agencies, and perhaps to a court. Having documents helps others "get up to speed." Many credit companies use software to have a chronology of their contacts with you but it is recorded in a very self-serving manner to make the company look reasonable at your expense.
Trigger a legal effect. The obligations of some credit companies under some laws are not triggered unless you provide a written dispute.
STEP 4: Send Dispute Letters
Send disputes to CRAs. Send dispute letters directly to the CRA. You must put the credit reporting agencies on notice.
Send credit disputes by certified mail return receipt requested. Many attorneys who deal with credit reporting issues think it is imperative you send the disputes by certified mail return receipt requested instead of by phone and over the internet. With certified mail, you can track the letter all the way to the credit reporting agency and document its receipt.
Where to send credit disputes: It is not absolutely necessary to send disputes to the company furnishing incorrect credit information to the CRA, but it is the only way you can be certain that the furnisher of the disputed information is fully aware of your complaint. The CRAs do not send your dispute documents to the furnisher of information—they typically just summarize the dispute into a code. Your affidavit, police report, or copies of other relevant documents will not be sent on. Send it by certified mail return receipt requested.
Styles of credit disputes: With disputes, you want to provide the information necessary to have your dispute investigated and convey what is happening to you as a result of the false credit reporting.
Basics of contesting credit errors: Please include the following minimum information.
- Your name, social security number, address, and date of birth
- Name of the company reporting the inaccurate entry
- Credit account number
- A statement that the account was in error
- Why you believe the credit report is in error
- What you want done (e.g., you want the entire account deleted or corrected)
- A request for how the CRA investigated the claim, including the name and phone number of anyone contacted in connection with the reinvestigation
- Any documents to your dispute
Further, you may want to attach a copy of your credit report from that company or a copy of your driver’s license or utility bill that shows your current address if you moved recently. You might also add requests for verification if you are dealing with a collection agency, a statement of billing error if you are dealing with a credit card company; and a demand to send corrected information directly to a company that pulled your report if you were denied credit based on an error in a report.
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