Credit reports reflect information about your credit history, and a good credit history can make the difference between an approval or denial for a credit card, a loan, a mortgage, an apartment, a job, or different types of insurance. It can also make a difference in the rates you pay for credit and insurance. Credit reporting agencies play an important role in assembling and distributing credit reports to those with a “legitimate business need.”
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) creates guidelines for credit reports and their use. It is designed ensure that information contained in credit reports is fair, accurate and relevant, and it specifies who can obtain your credit report and for what purposes it can be used. The following are some of your rights under the FCRA.
- You have a right to know what’s in your credit report.
You are entitled to request a copy of your credit report as often as you wish. It is a good idea to check your credit report for accuracy at least once per year and before applying for any form of credit, a job, an apartment, or insurance. You should check your report for any inaccurate or outdated information (an explanation follows) as well as for accounts which might not belong to you. Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, will provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months upon request. Additionally, under state law, if you are a resident of Colorado, Georgia (2 per year), Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, or Vermont, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from each credit bureau. Also, if a company has taken adverse action against you (i.e. denied your application for credit) based on information contained in your credit report, you can receive a free copy of your report from the bureau they used if you request it within 60 days of receiving notice of the adverse action. You are also entitled to a free copy of your report if you are unemployed and will be looking for a job within 60 days, you are on public assistance, or your report is inaccurate due to fraud.There are 3 major credit bureaus and you should order your free report from each of the companies all at once, or one at a time, by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Alternatively, call 1-877-322-8228 or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
If you want to receive additional credit reports for nominal fees, or to dispute inaccuracies, contact the respective credit bureau:
PO Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
PO Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
- You have a right to understand what is in your report.
If there is anything contained in your credit report that you don’t understand, the credit bureau is required by law to explain it to you. An address and/or toll-free number should come with your report for this purpose.
- You have a right to ask the credit bureaus to correct inaccurate or incomplete information and remove outdated information from your report.
Inaccurate or incomplete information in your report must be corrected. In addition, outdated information must be removed. In general, negative information that is accurate can stay on your report for 7 years.
Exceptions to this include:
- Personal bankruptcy can remain for up to 10 years.
- A lawsuit or unpaid judgement against you can remain for 7 years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.
- There is no time limit for information that the credit bureaus provide in response to an application for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance, or for a job with a salary of more than $75,000.
To dispute inaccurate, incomplete, or outdated information, write to the credit bureau and send copies of any documentation that supports your dispute. All of the major credit bureaus will include a form with your report that you can use. The credit bureau has 30 days to investigate your dispute (unless they consider it frivolous). Disputed information that cannot be verified must be removed from your report, and incomplete information must be made complete. When the investigation is completed, the bureau must send you written results. If changes were made, they must also send you a free updated copy of your report, and at your request, they must send notices of correction to anyone who reviewed your report in the past 6 months (2 years for employment purposes). If you do not agree with the results of the investigation, contact the company who is responsible for reporting the information. You can also include a statement in your report explaining your version of the dispute.