Credit Report Errors? We Can Help.
Every consumer should check their credit reports at least once a year, or more often if they pay for a monitoring service. Always pull the three free reports from annualcreditreport.com each year, and save them in PDF to compare. Do it on your birthday, so it’s easy to remember! Carefully review all entries and dispute any inaccuracies immediately and in writing. Keep scanned copies of all dated and signed letters to the credit bureaus. Send your disputes via certified mail with USPS delivery tracking. Documentation and organization are everything, in case you need to hire a consumer right lawyer later if the bureaus refuse to make proper corrections.
• What’s the biggest misconception people have about checking their credit?
People’s biggest misconception is that checking their own credit reports will lower their score. It won’t so long as you do it through annualcreditreport.com, which is the official federally-mandated website set up for the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. The other big misconception is in consumers buying “proprietary” credit scores from Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax. In my opinion, these are at best worthless scores because lenders do not rely on them to make credit-granting decisions. Instead, bite the bullet and pay for a FICO score. It costs money but it’s the only number that reliably indicates your creditworthiness. In my experience, the proprietary scores from TransUnion, Experian and Equifax seem to exaggerate the actual numerical FICO score and give people a false sense of hope in terms of obtaining credit. Stick with the FICO score: it’s what the lenders use. Most banks will provide a FICO score anytime a consumer applies for a home equity or similar loan. In addition, the FICO score is provided monthly for free by some better credit cards. Take advantage of this if you can.
• Is there any reason not to sign up for free credit monitoring?
As long as the service is free, I think it’s okay. Credit Karma seems to be the best, but it only has data from two of the three credit bureaus so it’s usefulness is somewhat limited. Some information is better than none, though. Even so, if you can get a cheap service that gives you access to complete consumer credit reports from all three major bureaus, I would consider it–especially if you have been a victim of identity theft or you suspect that your personal financial information has been compromised. Remember: Most identity theft happens between and amongst family members and people living in the same households. That’s the reality. So, knowing immediately when someone tries to open an account in your name without your permission is a powerful tool in avoiding the later onslaught of collection calls and damaged credit. I would also recommend that you check your homeowner’s insurance policy or renter’s insurance policy to make sure that it has a rider for identity theft coverage. If not, call your agent today and add it. It is the best bargain in insurance and will help pay for a lawyer in the event your credit or reputation are damaged by an identity thief.
• What’s the biggest mistake people make when checking their credit?
Ignoring your credit reports. The biggest mistake is that people tend to stick their heads in the sand and avoid looking at their credit reports because they fear what they will discover. That’s a mistake unless you plan on life in a cave on some faraway island. Credit is vital in our economy. Just like you’d want to know if you had a leaky pipe in your basement, you want to know if you have credit issues. There can be outright errors, duplication of accounts, mismerges of similar names, and yes, even good information. Knowing your credit score (FICO) and the data was used to determine it (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax), are as essential as an annual checkup with your doctor. It catches small problems before they become big problems. The time to know what lurks beneath in your credit is before you step into a car dealership or a mortgage bank. These days, every major employer uses credit information to decide who gets a job. You want to be prepared to explain that errant account to a prospective employer, in the event they ask.
• What are the most important things to look for in a free credit check site?
© 2018 Peter F. Barry
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- How To Fix Your Credit
- Common Questions
- Prohibited Practices
- Credit Repair Companies
- Sample Dispute Letter
If you’ve ever applied for a charge account, a personal loan, insurance, or a job, someone is probably keeping a file on you. This file might contain information on how you pay your bills, or whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. Debt collectors often use the effects of negative credit reports to motivate consumers into paying debts. If a debt collector falsely reports information on your credit report, you have a right to bring a lawsuit against them, but only after they have had an opportunity to correct it. Companies that gather and sell this information are called “Consumer Reporting Agencies” or “Credit Bureaus.” There are four major Consumer Reporting Agencies or credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, CSC and Equifax. Each credit bureau operates independently from all the others, with the exception of CSC and Equifax which are affiliated. The information sold by Consumer Reporting Agencies to creditors, employers, insurers, and other businesses is called a “consumer report.” Consumer reports generally contain information about where you work and live and about your bill-paying habits. In 1970, Congress created a law that gives consumers specific rights in dealing with Consumer Reporting Agencies. The Fair Credit Reporting Act protects you by requiring that Consumer Reporting Agencies furnish correct and complete information to businesses for use in evaluating your application for credit, insurance, or a job. Unfortunately, the consumer reporting agencies (“CRAs”) want to reap huge profits from the credit repair industry while making it nearly impossible for you to figure out how to correct your inaccurate credit reports. The CRAs change addresses, P.O. boxes, cities, phone numbers, methods and requirements nearly constantly in order to make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to dispute an item on your credit report. Don’t despair. We’ve done all of the research in order to simplify the credit repair process and get your credit as accurate as possible–without spending thousands of dollars on fly-by-night credit repair organizations. It is always a good idea to use certified mail on all of your correspondence to ensure proof of its receipt.
Fixing a credit report can be a difficult and painful process, but it doesn’t have to be. An entire fee-based industry has been developed to help consumers repair their credit reports. In truth, if information can be corrected, then a consumer has a right to get it corrected on their own–without paying anyone for the privilege. Our firm does not offer any credit repair services, but we do want to help educate consumers about how they can take control of their credit, correct mistakes within their credit reports, and enforce their federal rights when appropriate corrections have not been made. The First Rule of Credit Repair: Put Everything in Writing! The power of the pen is mighty and what follows is our firm’s best advice for getting to the root of any credit report error and getting it fixed, once and for all. At the end of this process, you’ll be a better informed consumer and your credit report will hopefully fixed to your satisfaction. If on the other hand your credit reports are still showing errors after you have followed these steps, or an unauthorized person has accessed one of your credit reports, then you will want to contact our law firm to find out what your rights are. The Second Rule of Credit Repair: You Can’t Change Or Remove Accurate Information. Like it or not, creditors have a right to tell the truth about you and your payment habits. Potential credit grantors have a right to expect that the information they get off of a credit report is accurate, too. Consumers have the right to expect that the information on their reports is accurate–even if it’s negative. Fixing a mistake on one credit report does not means the mistake is gone forever. It may later reappear on a credit report or get reported to another credit bureau. In truth, all of the credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, CSC, and Equifax) genuinely want to ensure the maximum possible accuracy of your credit report because they are required by law to do so. If they do not, you have a right to sue them under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). Many of these credit reporting agencies’ websites offer useful advice, tips, guidance and services for helping you get your credit reports right. But they also offer lots of expensive monthly services to make it easy for them to do what they are required by law already to do: namely, ensure the maximum possible accuracy of your personal credit information. Skip the expensive add-on services and stick with the basics outlined below.
Five Easy Steps To Fixing Your Own Credit
Step 1: Get Copies of Your Credit Reports Click here for a simple form to request all three of your major credit reports from the credit bureaus. Complete the form, make a copy and send it to the address indicated. You may also get your credit reports on-line directly from the www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Remember, the reports are free unless you have made a request for a free copy of your reports in the past year. If you have, the reports will cost $3.00 each in the state of Minnesota (around $9.00 in most other states) unless you attach a copy of a credit denial letter you have received in the past 60 days which was based upon the information that that credit bureau provided.
- Save any and all of credit denial letters you receive, including the envelopes.
- Save clean, original copies of each of the credit reports you have receive after you send your requests out.
- Online Users Beware: You may be tempted to get your credit reports on-line through a consolidated or tri-merge credit reporting service. We don’t recommend online reports for several important reasons: 1) Online service has been “hit or miss” with some of the credit bureaus; 2) consolidated reports are harder to link directly back to the particular source of the incorrect information; 3) the printouts are often harder to read than original reports.
Step 2: Examine All Credit Entries & Inquiries
- Once you get your consumer credit reports back, sit down and thoroughly review every account and company name on your reports.
- Make sure that all of the information on the account, including late payment history, high credit, and monthly payments is accurate for every account.
- Make accurate notes of any errors because you will use this information to create a second letter to request that your report be corrected.
- Next, thoroughly examine and review every person and company listed who has obtained your credit report.
- If there are inquiries on your credit reports which you don’t recognize, try to investigate them thoroughly and eliminate any possibility that the access of your credit report was permissible.
- Your current creditors, insurance underwriters, debt collectors who are collecting from you, and people who expect to loan you money have a right to access your credit report. They do not need your permission to pull your credit, even though its common practice to ask for it.
- Inquires made for promotional purposes are legal as well and are usually indicated with a special code such as “PRM” for promotional or other specific language on the credit report.
Step 3: Send A Correction Request Letter
- Click here for a sample letter to the major credit bureaus to request corrections to your credit reports in MS Word© Format.
- Again, cut, paste and customize this letter with your information and then send it out to all of the affected credit reporting agencies that are showing the inaccurate information.
- You may also want to double check the addresses contained in the corrections letter. The bureaus change them constantly to keep people on their toes.
- You are not required to, but you may also choose to use the correction form provided by the credit bureau along with your new credit report. Sometimes these form have too little space or not enough room to explain the problem you have.
- Save a a good clean copy of what you send to the credit bureaus requesting the corrections.
Step 4: Review Your Updated Credit Reports
- Within 30 days or so, after you have sent your Request Letter, you can expect a copy of any updated credit report showing what corrections have been made, what has been deleted, and what remains unchanged.
- If you still dispute inaccurate information that is on your your credit reports, then it’s time to go to the next step.
Step 5: Contact Our Office If Errors Persist
- If you have followed all of these Steps in writing, and 1) your credit information is still inaccurate, or 2) the creditor refuses to correct it, or 3) someone has accessed your credit report illegally, please contact our office.
- We will consult with you for free and advise you of the best course of legal action to vindicate your rights.
- Your claims under the FCRA must be brought within two years or they will be forever barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Consult a competent attorney immediately if you have inaccurate information on your credit report that the credit bureaus will not remove.
Was I denied credit because of a “bad credit report”? If you applied for and were denied credit, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act requires the creditor who denied you credit to tell you the specific reasons for your denial. For example, the creditor must tell you whether the denial was because you have “no credit file” with a Consumer Reporting Agency or because the Consumer Reporting Agency says you have “delinquent obligations.” This law also requires that creditors consider, upon your request, additional information you might supply about your credit history. How do I locate the Consumer Reporting Agency that has my file? If your application was denied because of information supplied by a Consumer Reporting Agency, the company that denied your application must provide you with the name, address and telephone numbers of the Consumer Reporting Agency. Otherwise, you can find the Consumer Reporting Agency that has your file by calling those listed in the Yellow Pages under “credit” or “credit rating and reporting.” Since more than one Consumer Reporting Agency may have a file about you, call each one listed until you locate all agencies maintaining your file. Do I have the right to know what the report says? Yes, if you request it. The Consumer Reporting Agency is required to give you all the information in your report and, in most cases, the sources of that information. However, the Consumer Reporting Agency is not required to reveal any credit rating or risk evaluation. You also have the right to be told upon request the name of anyone who received a report on you in the past 12 months, and you may also request the address and phone number of each such person. (If your inquiry concerns a job application, you can get the names of those who received a report during the past two years.) The Consumer Reporting Agency will also provide you with a written summary of your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Is this information free? Yes, in certain circumstances. If your application was denied because of information furnished by the Consumer Reporting Agency, and if you request a copy of your report within 60 days of receiving the denial notice you are entitled to the information without charge. You are also entitled to one free report once in any 12 month period, if you certify in writing that you:
- Are unemployed and intend to apply for a job in the next 60 days;
- Are receiving public welfare assistance; or
- Believe that your report is wrong due to fraud.
If you don’t meet one of these requirements, the Consumer Reporting Agency may charge a reasonable fee, $3.00 in Minnesota* and usually about $9.00 in most other states. The reduced Minnesota fee only applies to requests made in writing and does not apply to internet or phone requests for a report. What can I do if the information is inaccurate or incomplete? Notify the Consumer Reporting Agency. The agency probably has a toll-free telephone number. Be as specific as possible. The agency is required to delete or reinvestigate the items in question. If the new investigation reveals an error, a corrected consumer report will be sent to you, and upon your request, to anyone who received your report in the past six months (Job applicants can have corrected reports sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two years.). If you dispute the accuracy of the information in your file and the Consumer Reporting Agency deletes it, the agency can not put the disputed information back into your file without notifying you in writing. If you contact a consumer reporting agency to dispute the accuracy or completeness of information in your file, the reporting agency may forward your dispute to the creditor or other person who furnished the information to the agency. But you also should still contact that source of information directly. Many creditors have a special address for this purpose, and have a duty to avoid reporting inaccurate information. Also, if you tell anyone that you dispute the accuracy of information, then that person must note that the information is disputed whenever it is provided to a consumer reporting agency. What can I do if the Consumer Reporting Agency won’t modify the report? The new investigation may not resolve your dispute with the Consumer Reporting Agency. If this happens, have the Consumer Reporting Agency include your version of the disputed information in your file and in future reports. You may submit a written statement of any length to be included in your file, although if the Consumer Reporting Agency helps consumers write a clear summary of the dispute, the statement may be limited to 100 words. At your request, the Consumer Reporting Agency will also show your version or a summary of your version to anyone who recently received a copy of the old report. There is no charge for this service if it’s requested within 30 days after you receive notice of your application denial. After that, there may be a reasonable charge. Do I have to go in person to get the information? No, you may also request information over the phone. But before the Consumer Reporting Agency will provide any information, you may have to establish your identity by completing forms they will send you. If you do wish to visit in person, you’ll need to make an appointment. Are reports prepared on insurance and job applicants different? If a report is prepared on you in response to an insurance or job application, it may be an Investigative Consumer Report. These are much more detailed than regular consumer reports. They often involve interviews with acquaintances about your lifestyle, character, and reputation. Unlike regular consumer reports, you’ll be notified in writing when a company orders an investigative report about you. This notice will also explain your right to ask for additional information about the report from the company you applied to, or you may prefer to obtain a complete disclosure by contacting the Consumer Reporting Agency. Note that the Consumer Reporting Agency does not have to reveal the sources of the investigative information. If an employer intends to take any adverse action against you based on a consumer report, whether or not it is an investigative consumer report, the employer must first give you a copy of your report and a summary of your rights under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. How long can Consumer Reporting Agencies report unfavorable information? Generally seven years. Adverse information can’t be reported after that, with certain exceptions:
- Bankruptcy information can be reported for 10 years;
- Information reported because of an application for a job with a salary of more than $75,000 has no time limitations;
- Information reported because of an application for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance has no time limitation;
- Information concerning a lawsuit or judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.
Can anyone get a copy of the report? No, it’s given only to those with certain specified permissible purposes. If someone has obtained your credit report without your permission or knowledge, contact our office immediately. Do I have to be told before someone sees my credit report? No, a person may request a consumer report without telling you so long as it is for a permissible purpose like financing a car or buying a house. However, a Consumer Reporting Agency may not provide a consumer report to an employer unless the employer has your written permission. Also, your written permission is needed before medical information may be reported by a Consumer Reporting Agency for credit, insurance, or employment purposes. What if I think a Credit Bureau has violated my rights under the law? A Consumer Reporting Agency or other person who has been found to have violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act must pay your actual damages, statutory damages and your attorney’s fee. Click here first or Self Help Tips on Correcting Your Credit Reports. If the problems persist you may want to contact our office. Acknowledgment: This consumer guide was developed based in part upon information provided by the Federal Trade Commission web site, www.ftc.gov,. an excellent source for accurate and up-to-date consumer information.
Collection Fees Prohibited. A debt collector may not charge you an interest, fees, or collection charges, except those amounts that were authorized by the agreement with the creditor to whom the debt is owed. Harassment Prohibited. A debt collector may not use any language, communication or conduct to harass, oppress, or abuse any person. This includes prohibits on:
- Use threats of violence or harm to the person, property, or reputation.
- Advertise your debt or publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts, except to a credit bureaus.
- Use obscene or profane language.
- Repeatedly use the telephone to annoy someone or ring the telephone constantly.
- Call people without identifying themselves.
False Statements Prohibited. A debt collector may not use any false statements when trying to collect a debt. This includes:
- Falsely implying that they are an attorney or government representative.
- Falsely implying that you have committed a crime by not paying a debt.
- Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau.
- Misrepresent the character, amount, or legal status of the debt.
- Indicate that papers being sent are legal papers when they are not.
- Indicate that papers being sent are not legal papers when they are.
Threats Prohibited. A debt collector may not use threats when trying to collect a debt. This includes threats like the following:
- You will be arrested if you do not pay your debt.
- They will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or the creditor intends to do so and they have the right to do so.
- Take any actions against you which are illegal.
- Violate any law in an effort to collect a debt.
Deception Prohibited. A debt collector may not use deception when trying to collect a debt. This includes deceptions like the following:
- Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not. Give false credit information about you to anyone. Use a fake or false name, unless that name is allowed by state law and properly registered with the state, if required.
Unfairness Prohibited. A debt collector may not treat you unfairly in attempting to collect a debt. This includes unfairness like the following:
- Collect any amount greater than your debt, unless allowed by law.
- Deposit a post-dated check more than 5 days before the date on the check, without giving you notice of when they intend to deposit it.
- Solicit a post-dated in order threaten criminal prosecution or threaten to cash the check early.
- Take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally, including wrongfully repossessing your vehicle.
Payments on Multiple Debts. A debt collector must apply you payments on multiple debts in the order you direct. A debt collector is prohibited from applying any payments you send in to debts that you believe you do not owe.
Companies who promise to fix your credit for money are called Credit Repair Organizations (“CROs”) and are chiefly governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA – 15 U.S.C. § 1681) and the Credit Repair Organizations Act (15 U.S.C. § 1679), as well as a variety of other state and federal laws and regulations. Theoretically, anyone can provide a service which assists consumers in exercising their rights to correct inaccurate credit information on their consumer credit reports, so long as they comply to the letter with every single provision of every single state and federal law which regulates credit repair. And that’s very hard to do. Affordable, meaningful credit repair from a CRO is highly improbable. It’s a little like saying, “My kid brother says he is going to fly a rocket to the moon.” In truth there is the possibility that someday he will become an astronaut, train for a mission, get selected, and walk on the moon. But it is highly improbable. Frankly, most credit repair organizations are rip-offs and scams. They are a waste of money and a waste of time. Oftentimes, these organizations are set up as 501(c)(3) non-profits which are not covered by most laws governing credit repair. There is nothing that a Credit Repair Organization can legally do that a consumer can’t do themselves–just as easily–and for free. The truth of the matter is that credit repair can only best be done by a consumer challenging inaccurate information in writing, waiting to see if it is remedied by the consumer reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, CSC/Equifax), then adding a written dispute to the credit report and then bringing suit if the information is not fixed. The majority of people, though, want to remove accurate negative information from their consumer reports. That’s not going to happen, at least not legally, anyway. Accurate negative information, will generally remain on a consumer’s credit report for 7 years, 10 years for bankruptcies and judgments. That’s the law–like it or not. Depending on how you see it, negative information is as useful to creditors as it is detrimental to consumers. The best way to repair credit is to build it over time, handle it responsibly, and work hard to keep it in good shape.
SAMPLE DISPUTE LETTER (CUT AND PASTE BELOW AND EDIT AS APPROPRIATE – PLEASE VERIFY CURRENT ADDRESSES FOR CREDIT BUREAUS)
John Q. Public
123 Maple Street
Anytown, US 55555
Office Phone (612) 999-XXXX
Home Phone (612) 888-XXXX
May 25, 2018
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
PO Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
Post Office Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
PO Box 1640
Pittsburgh, PA 15230-1640
To The Above:
CORRECT YOUR INACCURATE CREDIT REPORT INFORMATION ABOUT ME Attached is a copy of my driver’s license and other documentation to prove my identity. I have also listed my other identifying information below to assist you in identifying my credit report properly.
|My Full Legal Name:|
|My Date of Birth:|
|My Social Security No.:|
|My Street Address:|
|My City, State & Zip:|
|My Day & Eve Phone:|
The following items on my credit report are inaccurate. Please make the following corrections to my consumer credit report immediately and then send me a copy of the corrected consumer credit report:
INCORRECT CREDITOR ACCOUNT INFORMATION
The following Creditor Account information listed on my credit report is incorrect:
|Creditor Name||Account #||Consumer Statement||Correction Required or Action Requested|
|Sample Statements: · By agreement with the creditor, __________, this account was to be deleted and removed from my ____ Credit Report. It should be removed immediately. · The creditor agreed that this account was not my responsibility, but if I paid it in its entirety it would be removed from the report. It has not been removed from the report and I am being unfairly victimized by ______ because of this inaccurate credit information. · This account belongs to my former spouse with whom I am now divorced. It was never a joint account and it should not appear on my credit report. · I am a victim of identity theft. Please see the attached FTC Identity Theft Affidavit. Remove this account information immediately.||Immediately delete this account from my credit report. If you do not immediately delete this from my credit report, please include a 100 word statement in my credit report of all of the dispute information contained in this letter regarding this account.|
UNAUTHORIZED CREDIT INQUIRIES The following creditors have made unauthorized inquiries onto my credit report. Please contact these creditors and provide me with a complete written explanation for precisely why they have obtained my consumer credit report. I did not authorize these credit reports to be obtained and I want an explanation:
INCORRECT ADDRESS INFORMATION The following is inaccurate address information you have listed about me:
|Address(es)||Consumer Statement||Correction Required or Action Requested|
|123 Main Street Anytown, US 99999-1111||You have inaccurately listed my address. I have never lived at this address. This address should be deleted from my credit report immediately. If you do not delete this, I demand you place a statement identical to my above statement on my credit report.||Immediately delete this inaccurate address from my credit report. If you do not immediately delete this from my credit report, please include a 100 word statement in my credit report of all of the dispute information contained in this letter regarding this address.|
Thank you and I look forward to your immediate reply.
[Signature] John Q. Public
John Q. Public
[Make and Keep a Signed Copy fo Your Dispute Letter for your File]
Credit reports must contain accurate information about you. If not, you have a right to dispute inaccurate or outdated information.
Credit furnishers must provide complete information about you to credit reporting agencies. They can’t tell just the bad stuff.
I have more than 22 years of federal consumer rights litigation experience. There is no tougher place in the world to litigate than in United States Federal District Court. You'll be glad that your lawyer has both the knowledge of the Court, and the success to back it up.
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