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Credit Reporting Frequently Asked Questions

You have questions about credit reports and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Below are answers to the fourteen most asked questions about credit reporting and the fair credit reporting act. If you've ever applied for a charge account, a personal loan, insurance, or employment, there's a file about you on record with the national credit bureaus. This file contains personal information such as where you work and live, how you pay your bills, and whether you've been sued, arrested, or ever filed for bankruptcy.

  1. How do I know which CRA has my report?
  2. Do I have a right to know what's in my report?
  3. Is there a charge for my report?
  4. What about inaccurate or incomplete information?
  5. What if they won't correct the information I dispute?
  6. Can my employer get my report?
  7. Can they get a report containing my medical information?
  8. What is an "investigative consumer reports"?
  9. How long is negative information reported?
  10. Can anyone get a copy of my report?
  11. Can I stop a CRA from including me unsolicited lists?
  12. Do I have the right to sue for damages?
  13. Are there other credit laws I should know about?
  14. Where should I report violations of the law?

Companies that gather and sell your personal credit information are called Credit Bureaus, Consumer Reporting Agencies or Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs). The most commonly known are the three national credit bureaus. These CRAs collect and then sell your personal information to creditors, employers, insurers, and other businesses in the form of a consumer credit report.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and is designed to promote credit reporting accuracy and to ensure the privacy of the information used in consumer reports. Recent amendments known as FACTA expands your rights and place additional requirements on CRAs. Businesses that supply information about you to CRAs and those that use consumer reports also have new responsibilities under the law.

Below are 14 frequently asked questions about consumer reports and Credit Reporting Agencies. Note that you may have additional rights under state laws. Contact your state Attorney General or local consumer protection agency for more information.

Up 1. How do I find which Credit Bureau has my report?

Contact the CRAs listed in the Yellow Pages under "credit" or "credit rating and reporting." Because more than one CRA may have a file on you, call each one until you locate all the agencies maintaining your file. Also, call the three major national credit bureaus because it's highly likely they also have a credit file on you:

Equifax
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
(800) 685-1111.

Experian
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013
(888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)

Trans Union
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
(800) 916-8800.

In addition, anyone who takes action against you in response to a report supplied by a CRA -- such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment -- must give you the name, address, and telephone number of the CRA that provided the report.

Up 2. Do I have a right to know what's in my report?

Yes, but you must ask for it in writing.

The CRA must tell you everything in your report, including medical information, and in most cases, the sources of the information. The CRA also must give you a list of everyone who has requested your report within the past year -- two years for employment related requests.

Up 3. Is there a charge for my report?

Depending on the state you live in, CRAs may charge up to $9 for a copy of your report. The FACTA provides for one free credit report every 12 months.

Sometimes you are entitled to a free copy if a creditor takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance or employment, and you request your report within 60 days of receiving the notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the CRA.

In addition, you're entitled to one free report a year:

  1. if you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days,

  2. you're on welfare, or

  3. your report is inaccurate because of fraud.

Up 4. What can I do about inaccurate or incomplete information?

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act both the CRA and the information provider have responsibilities for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. To protect all your rights under this law, you must dispute the report in writing.

First, tell the CRA in writing what information you believe is inaccurate. CRAs must reinvestigate the items in question - usually within 30 days -- unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all relevant data you provide about the dispute to the information provider. After the information provider receives notice of a dispute from the CRA, it must investigate, review all relevant information provided by the CRA, and report the results to the CRA. If the information provider finds the disputed information to be inaccurate, it must notify all nationwide CRAs so that they can correct this information in your file.

When the reinvestigation is complete, the CRA must give you the written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. If an item is changed or removed, the CRA cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies its accuracy and completeness, and the CRA gives you a written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the provider.

Second, tell the creditor or other information provider in writing that you dispute an item. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider then reports the item to any CRA, it must include a notice of your dispute. In addition, if you are correct -- that is, if the information is inaccurate -- the information provider may not use it again. Credit Report Dispute Letters

Up 5. What can I do if the CRA or information provider won't correct the information I dispute?

If you tell the information provider that you dispute an item, a notice of your dispute must be included anytime the information provider reports the item to a CRA unless the provider can provide evidence that the information is correct.

A reinvestigation may not resolve your dispute with the CRA. If that's the case, the CRA must include, free of charge, a statement of the dispute in your file and in all future reports.

If you request, the CRA also will provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of the old report in the recent past. (there is usually a fee for this service).

Up 6. Can my employer get my report?

Only if you agree, and you must agree in writing. A CRA may not supply information about you to your employer, or to a prospective employer, without your consent.

Up 7. Can creditors, employers, or insurers get a report that contains medical information about me?

Only if you agree, and you must agree in writing. A CRA may not supply information about you to your employer, or to a prospective employer, creditors, or insurers without your consent.

Up 8. What should I know about "investigative consumer reports"?

"Investigative consumer reports" are used in connection with insurance and employment applications and are detailed reports that involve interviews with your neighbors or acquaintances about your life-style, character, and reputation.

You'll be notified in writing when a company orders such a report. The notice will explain your right to request certain information about the report from the company you applied to. If your application is rejected, you may get additional information from the CRA. However, the CRA does not have to reveal the sources of the information. Disclosure of investigative consumer credit reports - FCRA

Up 9. How long can a CRA report negative information?

Depending on the type of information, it can be reported up to 7 or 10 years. Some information can be reported indefinitely.

For information on the effective date of information
See Credit Providers - Item 2 F

Up 10. Can anyone get a copy of my report?

Only people with a legitimate business need, as recognized by the FCRA, can review your reports. For example, a company is allowed to get your report if you apply for credit, insurance, employment, or to rent an apartment.

Many people wonder why a debt collector can legally review their credit reports and the answer is yes. According to the FCRA, Section 1681b(a) (3) (F):

"Subject to subsection (c) of this section, any consumer reporting agency may furnish a consumer report under the following circumstances and no other"...

(3) "To a person which it has reason to believe"...

(F) "otherwise has a legitimate business need for the information:

(i) in connection with a business transaction that is initiated by the consumer; or

(ii) to review an account to determine whether the consumer continues to meet the terms of the account. (this is the rule that gives collectors the right to view your profiles)

See more Permissible or legal purposes of consumer reports

Up 11. How can I stop a CRA from including me on lists for unsolicited credit and insurance offers?

Creditors and insurers may use CRA file information as a basis for sending you unsolicited offers.

These offers must include a toll-free number for you to call if you want to remove your name and address from lists for two years; completing a form that the CRA provides for this purpose will keep your name off the lists permanently.

More Information to Opt-out

Up 12. Do I have the right to sue for damages?

You may sue a CRA, a user or -- in some cases -- a provider of CRA data, in state or federal court for most violations of the FCRA. If you win, the defendant will have to pay damages and reimburse you for attorney fees to the extent ordered by the court. See FCRA Section 1681n

Up 13. Are there other laws I should know about?

Yes. If your credit application was denied, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act requires creditors to specify why -- if you ask.

For example, the creditor must tell you whether you were denied because you have "no credit file" with a CRA or because the CRA says you have "delinquent obligations."

Other laws include:

The ECOA also requires creditors to consider additional information you might supply about your credit history. You may want to find out why the creditor denied your application before you contact the CRA.

Up 14. Where should I report violations of the law?

Although the FTC will NOT act as your lawyer in private disputes, information about your experiences and concerns is vital to the enforcement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act because the FTC reports to Congress annually about what types of debt and credit problems consumers are having with .

Send your questions or complaints to:
Consumer Response Center
FCRA, Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C. 20580.

Or

Use these instructions to file an FTC on-line Complaint Form