We receive questions everyday from potential clients about consumer rights, including rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
The FCRA was enacted to promote the accuracy, fairness and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting agencies. The FCRA was amended in 2003 and consumers’ right to a free credit report was expanded under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA). The amendments to the FCRA placed additional duties on credit reporting agencies and businesses who provide information about consumers to credit reporting agencies and businesses that use credit reports. The amendments also gave identity theft victims additional rights and remedies under federal law.
Q. HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED AN ATTORNEY?
A. Check out our Do I Need an Attorney page here for information that will help you decide.
Q. DO I HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW WHAT IS IN MY CREDIT REPORT?
A. YES. Under the FCRA, you have a right to know what is in your credit report, but you have to ask for the information. When you make a request to a credit reporting agency for your file, the credit bureau must provide you with everything that is in your credit file. The credit reporting agencies must also provide you with a list of companies who requested your credit report in the past year for credit or the past two years if the request related to an employment application.
Q. WHAT INFORMATION DO CREDIT REPORTING AGENCIES COLLECT ABOUT ME?
A. Credit reporting agencies collect and sell 4 basic types of information:
- Identification and Employment Information – Name, date of birth, Social Security number, employer names, address, previous addresses and spouse’s name.
- Payment History – Account payment history is collected and sold to your existing creditors and potential creditors. This information shows the amount of credit you already have, whether you’ve paid your creditors on time and any past due accounts.
- Inquiries – Credit reporting agencies must maintain a record of all inquiries for your credit history within the past year, and a record of individuals or businesses that have asked for your credit history for employment purposes for the past 2 years.
- Public Record Information – Events such as bankruptcy, judgment, lien, arrest, or collection are all examples of public record information.
Q. DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR MY CREDIT REPORT?
A. NO. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) consumers have a right to a free credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies, including Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, once every 12 months. If you believe you may be a victim of identity theft or fraud, then you also have the right to another free credit report from Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Also, you have the right to a free report if you are unemployed and seeking employment, receive public assistance, have been turned down for credit or live in a state that provides you with the right to a free report.
Q. HOW DO I GET A FREE CREDIT REPORT FROM EQUIFAX, EXPERIAN AND TRANS UNION?
A. The FCRA required the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union, to create a “centralized source” for consumers to request credit a report from all three bureaus. The centralized source – Central Source, LLC – has a toll-free number (877)-322-8228, and mailing address PO Box 105821, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 for consumers to request their free credit reports. Download the Annual Credit Report Request Form to request your free annual credit report from Equifax, Experian, or Trans Union, or all three bureaus.
Q. WHAT INFORMATION DO I HAVE TO PROVIDE TO GET MY FREE CREDIT REPORT?
A. You will need to provide you name, Social Security number, date of birth and address when requesting your free credit report. If you have moved in the last 2 years, you may be asked to provide your previous address.
Q. HOW ELSE CAN I GET A FREE CREDIT REPORT?
A. Consumers are entitled to a free credit report for several different situations. Under the FCRA, consumers are entitled to a free credit report if:
- A company takes an adverse action against you – denial of credit, employment or insurance based in whole or in part on your credit report.
- You are a victim of fraud or identity theft.
- You are unemployed and seeking employment in the next 60 days.
- You receive government benefits, such as welfare or Supplemental Social Security Income
- You live in a state that allows you to request an additional free credit report (Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey or Vermont).
Q. WHY SHOULD I REQUEST MY CREDIT REPORT?
A. You should request your free credit report to make sure it is accurate, detect identity theft, be prepared when applying for credit and because you have a federal right to do so!
- Make sure your report is correct. You should request your free credit report to make sure it does not have any incorrect or incomplete information. Credit report errors can prevent you from getting a car, home or credit card. Download a free Sample Credit Report Dispute Letter
- Detect identity theft. You should request your free credit report to detect identity theft. Consumers often first learn that they are a victim of identity theft when they discover accounts or other information that does not belong to them on their credit report. Learn about identity theft by clicking here.
- Make educated decisions. You should request your free credit report to help you make educated decisions about applying for credit, jobs or insurance. When your credit report indicates you are overextended, it may not be the best time to apply for a home loan or car loan because you may get denied credit or get credit at a higher interest rate. When you know you have a poor credit report, you can work on improving your credit rating instead of dropping your score with credit applications that will get denied.
- Because it’s your right! Under federal law, you have a right to know what information is in your credit file. You probably did not ask Equifax, Experian or Trans Union to collect information about you, right? So, it’s your credit report – not theirs! You should know what your creditors, employer and insurance companies are hearing about you from the credit reporting agencies.
Q. SHOULD I REQUEST MY CREDIT REPORT FROM EQUIFAX, EXPERIAN AND TRANS UNION AT THE SAME TIME?
A. It’s up to you. You may request your free credit report from one, two or all three credit reporting agencies. Keep in mind, you can stagger your requests over a 12 month period. For example, you can request your report from Equifax in January, Experian in April and Trans Union in September. Start the process again in January of the next year. By doing this, you can get a free credit report every 4 months! On the other hand, if you are considering a major purchase, such as a home or car, you may want to go ahead and order all three reports to see what your potential creditors will see about you before they do!
Q. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET MY FREE CREDIT REPORT?
A. 15 DAYS. When you request your free annual disclosure by calling Central Source at 1-877-322-8228, or by mailing your request to PO Box 105821, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281, your request should be processed and mailed to you within 15 days of receipt by the credit reporting agency. If Equifax, Experian or Trans Union does not mail you your report within 15 days of receipt of your request, this may be a violation of federal law.
Q. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I FIND ERRORS ON MY CREDIT REPORTS?
A. Dispute all incorrect or incomplete information. You should dispute credit report errors and incomplete information directly to the credit reporting agencies. Your dispute should be in writing and should be sent certified mail. You should send the credit agency copies of any documents that support your dispute, such as proof of payment, bankruptcy order, fraud affidavit, etc. Click here for a free Sample Credit Report Dispute Letter.
Q. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF A CREDIT REPORTING AGENCY DOES NOT CORRECT THE CREDIT REPORT ERROR?
A. HIRE AN ATTORNEY. Under the FCRA, you have the right to file a lawsuit against the credit reporting agency for failure to perform a reasonable investigation of your dispute or follow procedures to correct credit report errors. Also, under the FCRA you may be entitled to money damages, including out-of-pocket expenses and attorneys’ fees if you are successful in a lawsuit.
Q. WHAT IS A CREDIT SCORE?
A. A credit score is a scoring system used by creditors, insurers and employers used to help determine whether to extend you credit, insurance or a job. Different scoring models have different scores. For example, auto lenders may use a different scoring model than your landlord. Similarly, employers may have a different scoring system than credit card companies. As a result, consumers may not receive their “true” score when they request their credit score from the credit reporting agencies. Information about you and your credit history, like your bill payment history, is collected from your credit application and your credit report. Using a statistical formula, creditors compare your credit profile with the credit profile of other consumers. A credit scoring system awards points for each factor, such as types of accounts you have, late payments, balances and age of your accounts.
Q. HOW LONG CAN A CREDIT REPORTING AGENCY REPORT NEGATIVE INFORMATION ABOUT ME?
A. It depends. The type of negative information will determine how long the credit reporting agency can report the negative information about you. Most negative information can be reported for 7 years, such as past due accounts and collections. Bankruptcy information can be reported up to 10 years. There is no time limit for reporting criminal convictions, information reported in response to your application for a job that pays more than $75,000 per yer and information reported about you because you’ve applied for more than $150,000 loan or life insurance benefit. Information about a lawsuit or unpaid judgment can be reported for up to 7 years, or until the statute of limitations runs, whichever is longer.
Q. DOES MY CREDIT SCORE AFFECT MY ABILITY TO GET CREDIT?
A. YES. A low credit score can prevent you from getting credit. Consumers with low credit scores who get approved for credit may receive credit at a higher interest rate. As a result, consumers with low credit scores pay more for the same loans than consumers with higher credit scores. Job applicants may also be turned down because of a low credit score, poor credit history or public records (convictions, bankruptcies, liens).
Q. CAN MY EMPLOYER OR POTENTIAL EMPLOYER PULL MY CREDIT REPORT?
A. YES. Your employer or potential employer can pull your credit report. BUT your employer or potential employer must have your written permission to obtain your report for employment purposes. Equifax, Experian, Trans Union or any other credit reporting agency may not provide information about you in a credit report or employment background check without your written consent.
It is a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act for an employer or potential employer to pull your credit report without your written permission to do so.
Q. CAN ANYONE ELSE GET A COPY OF MY CREDIT REPORT?
A. YES. Under the FCRA, creditors, landlords, insurers, employers and other businesses can access your credit report under certain circumstances. For example, your existing credit card companies have a permissible purpose to pull your credit report.
Q. IS MY CREDIT SCORE FREE?
A. NO. Consumers do not have a right to obtain their credit score for free from the consumer reporting agencies. You do have a right to a free credit report, but not a free score.
Q. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I AM DENIED CREDIT BECAUSE OF AN “INSUFFICIENT CREDIT FILE?”
A. Get your credit report. You should get your credit report if you are denied credit because of an insufficient credit file to determine if your file is complete. You can ask the credit reporting agencies to include information that is not currently being supplied to the bureaus. This may include your accounts with local retailers, credit unions, travel agencies or gas cards. Although the FCRA does not require the credit bureaus to add these accounts, you can ask them to do so.
Q. CAN I FILE A COMPLAINT IF I DO NOT RECEIVE MY FREE CREDIT REPORT FROM EQUIFAX, EXPERIAN OR TRANS UNION?
A. YES. Consumers may file a complaint with Central Source when they cannot download, print or access their free credit report online. Consumers can also file a complaint when the credit bureau does not identify the consumer making the request or send you your credit report within 15 days. Click here to file a complaint with Central Source HERE. Consumers may also file a complaint with the FTC or CFPB.
Q. CAN I FILE A COMPLAINT WHEN THE CREDIT REPORTING AGENCY DOES NOT CORRECT INACCURATE INFORMATION ON MY CREDIT REPORT AFTER A DISPUTE?
A. YES. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives complaints regarding the accuracy and completeness of your credit report. Click here to file a complaint with the FTC, or watch our YouTube video and learn how to file a complaint. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) here.
Q. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I AM BEING REPORTED AS DECEASED BY A CREDIT BUREAU?
A. You should dispute the information to the credit reporting agency in writing, and by certified mail. Click here for a Sample Credit Report Dispute Letter
Q: What should I do if someone uses my information during an investigation or arrest?
A: Here are the steps you should consider taking:
- Contact the law enforcement agency that arrested the identity thief and file a report about the impersonation. You may give law enforcement copies of your fingerprints, photograph, and identifying documents and ask the agency to compare your information to the imposter’s identifying information.
- Your goal should be to get a “clearance letter” or “certificate or release” from law enforcement that will declare your innocence. You should keep this document with you at all times.
- Keep a record of the dates that you filed reports and log your communications with the persons who you communicated with about the fraudulent information.
Q: What should I do if a court criminally prosecutes an identity thief using my name?
A: Here are the steps you should consider taking:
- Contact the District Attorney and ask for records to help clear your name in court records. You should be prepared to provide the District Attorney with proof of your identity, such as fingerprints.
- Your goal should be to get a “clearance letter, certificate of release” or declaratory judgment from the court that your identity was stolen and used by the impostor who was convicted of the crime. You should keep this document with you at all times.
- Contact your state Attorney General – usa.gov/state-consumer.
- Consider hiring a criminal defense lawyer.
- Update your personal files with dates that you filed reports or requested information.
Q: How do I find out if my child has a credit report due to identity theft?
A: Contact each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies:
- Experian – https://www.Experian.com/fraudalert – Click on “Minor Child Instructions” under “information You Should Know”
- Equifax – https://www.alerts.equifax.com/autofraud_online/jsp/minor_child_waning.jsp
- TransUnion – https://www.Transunion.com/credit-disputes/child-identity-theft-imquiry-form.page
- The companies will check for files relating to the child’s name and Social Security number, and for file related only to the child’s Social Security Number. The credit reporting agencies may require copies of:
- Child’s birth certificate
- Child’s Social Security card
- Parent or guardian’s government issued identification
- Proof of address
- Keep a log of communications with the credit bureaus, including the dates that you requested and obtained documents or information and the persons that you communicated with.