Many Americans don’t understand the information that is included in their credit history, and the effects on their lives that a bad credit history can have. We often have no idea what credit reporting agencies are reporting about us. It is important to examine your credit report at least annually, because credit files frequently contain errors, some of which are significant enough to have an adverse effect on our lives.
We are all worried (and rightly so) about the problems caused by identity theft, but there are many other types of problems with our credit reports that can cause us grief, such as somebody else’s information being reported in your file, debts that have been paid reported as unpaid, and failing to note that a debt has been discharged in bankruptcy.
Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in 1971 to provide remedies to consumers who are adversely affected by errors in their credit reports. Consumer reporting agencies must adopt reasonable procedures to ensure that the information they provide is accurate and up-to-date, and that it is furnished only to users with certain permissible purposes. The FCRA contains a number of measures designed to prevent identity theft and to provide victims of identity theft with tools they can use to remedy the harms caused by this crime. The FCRA also provides consumers with civil remedies for most of it violations.
What should you do if you notice an error on your credit report? You should dispute the error, preferably in writing. Provide a clear statement that the accuracy or completeness of the specific information is “disputed” or “challenged”. It is insufficient, for example, to just give a reason why a particular debt was not paid if that information does not challenge the accuracy of the information.
Your dispute will be most effective if you include the following information:
- Your full name (including appellations such as Sr., Jr., III, etc.)
- Your current address and all other addresses where you resided in the past two years
- Your birthdate
- Your telephone number
- Your social security number
- Your spouse’s name (if married)
- Your current employment information
- A clear description of the item you are disputing, along with a copy of the consumer report on which the disputed item has been circled
- A clear explanation of why you are disputing the information (for example, “I never had a credit card with this company,” or “This debt was paid in full two years ago.”)
- A clearly worded request that the information be corrected or deleted.
You should keep copies of all correspondence, and note the details of any phone conversations about this issue (date and time of call, the name of the person to whom you spoke, and the substance of the conversation). If the credit reporting agency sends you a form (paper or online) with only a checkbox list of reasons as to why the item is being disputed, supplement the form with additional written details and copies of documentation supporting your position such as a bankruptcy discharge or proof of satisfaction of a lien.
Even though the FCRA requires that each nationwide credit reporting agency report any errors that they correct to the other nationwide credit reporting agencies, this cannot be relied upon. Copies of your dispute should be sent to each of the “Big Three”: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Otherwise, the error may remain uncorrected at the other two, and once again your application for housing, credit, or employment may be denied.
If you have made a clear and detailed request that the erroneous information be deleted or corrected, and the credit reporting agency fails to do so, you may wish to seek the advice of a consumer rights attorney as to the best way to proceed. Be sure to provide the attorney with copies of all correspondence and documentation, so that the attorney will more completely understand the situation and be in a better position to provide you with sound recommendations.