INACCURATE CREDIT REPORTS
It can be frustrating to deal with erroneous credit reports. An inaccurate credit report can ruin your financial and mental health. The good news is that consumers have rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) that help ensure credit reporting agencies report accurate information and creditors appropriately reinvestigate disputes. If you are having problems with an inaccurate credit report, you should speak to an attorney who is experienced with the FCRA.
THE DISPUTE PROCESS
You should dispute all inaccurate or incomplete information reporting on your credit report in writing. Your dispute letter does not need to include any special legal language. You simply have to tell the credit reporting agency what is incomplete or inaccurate; why it is incomplete or inaccurate; and what you want the CRA to do about it. Always enclose any documentation that supports your dispute. Send your dispute and any supporting documentation by certified mail. Your credit report should have the mailing address of the CRA where you need to send your dispute. You should always keep copies of your dispute and supporting documents for your records.
CREDIT REPORT VS. CREDIT SCORE
Your credit report is a record of how you have borrowed and repaid debts. Almost every adult American has a credit file with each of the three major national credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Many but not all creditors report each month electronically to one or more of the credit bureaus the status of each of their accounts.
Your credit report is a record of the history and description of the status of many of your credit accounts. It has basic personal information about you—Social Security number, birth date, current and former addresses, and employers. For many of your debts, the report will list the date you opened the account, the type of account (such as real estate, credit card, or installment),whether the account is currently open or has been closed, the monthly payment, the maximum credit limit, the latest activity on the account, the current balance, and any amounts that are past due.
Each account includes a code that explains whether the account is current, thirty days past due, sixty days past due, or ninety days past due, or if the account involves a repossession, charge off, turned over to a collection agency, or other collection activity. The report will also list under “inquiries” the names of creditors, employers, or insurers who have requested a copy of your credit report during the past year or two. It also includes creditors who have looked at your account to decide whether to send you an offer of new credit, but other creditors do not see this last item.
Many creditors will not even review all of this individual information in your account, but will only look at your credit score, which is a number that summarizes all the individual items in your credit report. There is no one scoring system that all credit bureaus and creditors use, but about 90% of the credit scores used by creditors are issued by FICO. A FICO credit score ranges from 350 to 900. FICO considers the following as detracting from your credit score:
• History of missed payments (about 35% of the score).
• High debt in comparison to your credit limits (about 30% of the score).
• Small number of years of credit history (about 15% of the score).
• Opening too many new accounts (about 10% of the score).
• All credit of the same type (about 10% of the score).
GETTING YOUR CREDIT REPORT
Because there can be differences between the three major national credit bureaus, you should order your report from all three. You are entitled to one free copy of your report every year from each of the three major bureaus, but you must order from the centralized request service, and not from the individual credit bureaus:
• Call 877-322-8228;
• Go to www.annualcreditreport.com and click on “request your report through the mail,” print out and complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281; or
• Order online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
The ordering process may be more difficult online because you will be asked security questions based on information in your report, which some people find hard to answer.
For your free report from each credit bureau, you can order all three at the same time, or stagger the three throughout the year. You need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have moved in the last two years, you may have to provide your previous address. The credit bureaus are also required to give you an additional free copy of your report if:
• You have been denied credit within the past sixty days;
• You are unemployed and will be applying for a job within the next sixty days;
• You are receiving public assistance;
• You have reason to believe that the file at the credit bureau contains inaccurate information due to fraud; or
• You have requested a fraud alert.
For free reports based on these reasons, contact the credit bureau directly:
Equifax at 800-685-1111, www.equifax.com;
Experian at 888-397-3742, www.experian.com;
Trans Union at 888-916-8800, www.transunion.com.
You can also purchase a credit report. Federal law limits this to $12 per report, and in some states the maximum is even less. Georgia residents can get an additional free report.
(information provided by National Consumer Law Center)