There are many consumer reporting agencies, including credit bureaus (like Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax), and specialty agencies (that sell information about your check-writing history, medical records, and rental history).
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects you regarding the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information these agencies have on file about you.
Your Major Rights under the FCRA
If any information in your file has been used against you, you must be told about it.
If you are denied an application for credit, insurance, or a job because of the contents of your credit history, then the creditor/insurer/employer making that adverse decision has to tell you and provide you with the contact information for the credit bureau (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) that gave them the information.
You have the right to see what’s in your credit file.
You are allowed to request and receive all of the information a consumer reporting agency has about you. You’ll have to prove who you are, often providing a copy of your Driver’s License and Social Security number to establish your identity.
Most agencies charge a small fee for this information, but under certain circumstances you are entitled to a free file disclosure, such as:
- You are on public assistance;
- You are the victim of identity theft and put a fraud alert on your file;
- You are unemployed but expect to apply for a job within 60 days;
- Your file is inaccurate because of fraud;
- Someone has taken an adverse action against you because of information in your file;
- Adverse action has been taken against you because of information in your credit report.
Regardless of circumstances, you are always entitled to one free credit report every 12 months upon request from each credit bureau and any nationwide specialty reporting agency.
There are 3 ways to obtain credit reports – Website; Telephone; and Postal Mail
# 1 – Request via website at www.annualcreditreport.com. Save them as a PDF to your desktop and email them to me and I’ll review them free of charge.
# 2 – Request via telephone by calling 877-322-8228 and they will be mailed to you.
# 3 – Request via postal mail by completing this form; check all 3 credit reports (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) and mail to:
Annual Credit Report
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
You have the right to request your credit scores.
While your credit report contains your detailed financial history, your credit score is calculated based on the credit bureaus’ information. This score, which indicates your credit-worthiness on a relative scale of all consumers, is used by lenders, credit card companies, insurance companies, and landlords.
You can also request the credit score from agencies that create the scores used for mortgage loans (this score is usually different than the ones you get from the big 3 credit bureaus), but you’ll have to pay for it. Sometimes your mortgage lender will give you this credit score information for free.
You have the right to file a dispute against incomplete or inaccurate information.
If you see information in your credit file that is incomplete or inaccurate, the agency creating the report has to provide a method for disputing that information. As long as the dispute isn’t considered frivolous, they are required to investigate it.
Consumer reporting agencies have to either correct or delete information that is deemed inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable.
Agencies have 30 days to remove information that is inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable – but if it has verified information as accurate, they may continue to report it. Therefore, it’s not fruitful to dispute information you know to be accurate.
Consumer reporting agencies can’t report outdated negative information.
If you have late payments that are more than seven years old, or bankruptcies that are more than ten years old, they need to disappear from your credit report. Mark your calendar for when these should fall off, and pull all 3 reports. If you still see the information, dispute it.
Your file can’t be accessed by just anyone.
A credit bureau can only provide information about you to people with a valid need – typically in response to a consumer’s application for credit, insurance, employment, rental, or other business transaction initiated by a consumer. The FCRA outlines who has a valid need for access and who is prohibited from accessing your credit file.
Employers can only access your credit reports with your explicit consent.
A consumer reporting agency cannot give out information about you to your employer or a potential employer without your written consent. Watch for this language on job applications – it is often found at the bottom right above the signature line.
You can turn off “pre-screened” offers of credit and insurance.
You can stop all those unsolicited credit offers that stuff your mailbox by opting out of those lists with the credit bureaus. Exercise your right to OPT OUT by calling (1-888-5OPT-OUT / 1-888-567-8688) or online at www.optoutprescreen.com.
You have the right to “freeze” your credit reports with the big 3 bureaus.
In order to prevent identity fraud, you can place a “security freeze” on your credit report which prohibits anyone from accessing your information without your express permission. The downside to this is that it can cause delays or problems with getting approval of any applications you make after the fact for a loan, credit card, mortgage, or other account where your credit-worthiness needs to be evaluated.
As an alternative, you can place a fraud alert on your credit file for free. An initial fraud alert lasts for one year, and it requires any business to take additional steps to verify your identity before extending new credit. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you can have that fraud alert for 7 years.
A security freeze doesn’t keep an existing creditor or other entity with whom you already have a relationship from accessing your credit report for account maintenance, credit line increases, and account upgrades and enhancements.
You have the right to sue violators for damages.
If any consumer reporting agency or furnisher of information to a consumer reporting agency violates the FCRA, you might be able to sue them in a state or federal court.
If you’re active-duty military, or a victim of identity theft, you have additional rights.
You can check those out here.
Do you think your FCRA rights have been violated?
If you believe your rights may have been violated by a consumer reporting agency, contact an experienced FCRA attorney to find out for sure.
It’s free to chat with me about your options – you can call or text me at 215.551.7109, or drop me a line.