Credit report Q&A
- By Milt x_Zall
- Dec 06, 2001
If you've ever applied for a charge account, a personal loan, insurance
or a job, there's a file about you. This file contains information on where
you work and live, how you pay your bills, and whether you've been sued,
arrested or have filed for bankruptcy.
Companies that gather and sell this information are called consumer
reporting agencies (CRAs). The most common type of CRA is the credit bureau.
The information CRAs sell about you to creditors, employers, insurers and
other businesses is called a consumer report.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), enforced by the Federal Trade
Commission, is designed to promote accuracy and ensure the privacy of the
information used in consumer reports. Recent amendments to the act expand
your rights and place additional requirements on CRAs. Businesses that supply
information about you to CRAs and those that use consumer reports also have
new responsibilities under the law.
Here are some questions consumers commonly ask about consumer reports
and CRAs and the answers. Note that you may have additional rights under
state laws. Contact your state attorney general or local consumer protection
agency for more information.
Q. How do I find the CRA that has my report?
A. Contact the CRAs listed in the Yellow Pages under "credit" or "credit
rating and reporting." Because more than one CRA may have a file on you,
call each until you locate all the agencies maintaining your file. The three
major national credit bureaus are:
* Equifax, (800) 685-1111.
* Experian, (888) 397-3742.
* Trans Union, (800) 916-8800.
Anyone who takes action against you in response to a report supplied
by a CRA such as denying your application for credit, insurance or employment
must give you the name, address and telephone number of the CRA that
provided the report.
Q. Do I have a right to know what's in my report?
A. Yes, if you ask for it. The CRA must tell you everything in your
report, including medical information, and in most cases, the sources of
the information. The CRA also must give you a list of everyone who has requested
your report within the past year two years for employment related requests.
Q. Is there a charge for my report?
A. Sometimes. There's no charge if a company takes adverse action against
you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance or employment,
and you request your report within 60 days of receiving the notice of the
action. In addition, you're entitled to one free report a year if (1) you're
unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days, (2) you're on welfare,
or (3) your report is inaccurate because of fraud. Otherwise, a CRA may
charge you up to $8 for a copy of your report.
Q. What can I do about inaccurate or incomplete information?
A. Under the new law, both the CRA and the information provider have
responsibilities for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in
your report. To protect all your rights under this law, contact both the
CRA and the information provider.
First, tell the CRA in writing what information you believe is inaccurate.
CRAs must reinvestigate the items in question unless they consider your
dispute frivolous. They also must forward all relevant data you provide
about the dispute to the information provider. After the information provider
receives notice of a dispute from the CRA, it must investigate, review all
relevant information provided by the CRA, and report the results to the
CRA. If the information provider finds the disputed information to be inaccurate,
it must notify all nationwide CRAs so that they can correct this information
in your file.
When the reinvestigation is complete, the CRA must give you the written
results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change.
If an item is changed or removed, the CRA cannot put the disputed information
back in your file unless the information provider verifies its accuracy
and completeness, and the CRA gives you a written notice that includes the
name, address, and phone number of the provider.
Second, tell the creditor or other information provider in writing that
you dispute an item. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If
the provider then reports the item to any CRA, it must include a notice
of your dispute. In addition, if you are correct that is, if the information
in the report is inaccurate the information provider may not use it again.
Q. What can I do if the CRA or information provider won't correct the
information I dispute?
A. A reinvestigation may not resolve your dispute with the CRA. If that's
the case, ask the CRA to include your statement of the dispute in your file
and in future reports. If you request, the CRA also will provide your statement
to anyone who received a copy of the old report in the recent past. There
usually is a fee for this service.
If you tell the information provider that you dispute an item, a notice
of your dispute must be included anytime the information provider reports
the item to a CRA.
Q. Can my employer get my report?
A. Only if you say it's OK. A CRA may not supply information about you
to your employer, or to a prospective employer, without your consent.
Q. Can creditors, employers, or insurers get a report that contains
medical information about me?
A. Not without your approval.
Q. What should I know about "investigative consumer reports"?
A. "Investigative consumer reports" are detailed reports that involve
interviews with your neighbors or acquaintances about your lifestyle, character
and reputation. They may be used in connection with insurance and employment
applications. You'll be notified in writing when a company orders such a
report. The notice will explain your right to request certain information
about the report from the company you applied to. If your application is
rejected, you may get additional information from the CRA. However, the
CRA does not have to reveal the sources of the information.
Q. How long can a CRA report negative information?
A. Seven years. There are certain exceptions:
* Information about criminal convictions may be reported without any
* Bankruptcy information may be reported for 10 years.
* Information reported in response to an application for a job with
a salary of more than $75,000 has no time limit.
* Information reported because of an application for more than $150,000
worth of credit or life insurance has no time limit.
* Information about a lawsuit or an unpaid judgment against you can
be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out,
whichever is longer.
Q. Can anyone get a copy of my report?
A. No. Only people with a legitimate business need, as recognized by
the FCRA. For example, a company is allowed to get your report if you apply
for credit, insurance, employment, or to rent an apartment.
Q. Are there other laws I should know about?
A. Yes. If your credit application was denied, the Equal Credit Opportunity
Act requires creditors to specify why if you ask. For example, the creditor
must tell you whether you were denied because you have "no credit file"
with a CRA or because the CRA says you have "delinquent obligations." The
ECOA also requires creditors to consider additional information you might
supply about your credit history.
For More Information
You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by contacting
the Consumer Response Center by phone, (800) 383-4357; TDD, (202) 326-2502;
by mail: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania
Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. 20580; or via the Internet, using the online complaint
form at www.ftc.gov.
Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus
column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at email@example.com.