What You Should Know About Your Credit Report
Authored By: Alaska Legal Services
- What You Should Know About Your Credit Report
- Can I Obtain Free Copies of My Credit Reports?
- How do I order my free annual report?
- What information do I have to provide to get my free report?
- Can I Obtain Other Free Credit Reports?
- Why should I order my credit report?
- What do I do if the information is inaccurate or incomplete?
- What can I do if the Consumer Reporting Agency or information provider refuses to correct the information I dispute?
- How long can a Consumer Reporting Agency report bad information?
- Who else can get a copy of my credit report?
- What if I think a Consumer Reporting Agency has violated my rights under the law?
If you have ever applied for a credit card, a personal loan, insurance, or a job, there is probably a company keeping a credit file or credit report about you. This file contains information about where you live and work, how you pay your bills, or whether you have been sued, arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy.
Companies that gather and sell this information are called "Consumer Reporting Agencies" or "Credit Bureaus." The information sold by Consumer Reporting Agencies to creditors, employers, insurers, and other businesses is called a "credit report."
Here are answers to some common questions about credit reports, consumer reporting agencies, and credit scores:
Can I Obtain Free Copies of My Credit Reports?
Yes. Due to a recent change in the law, you can get a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three big nationwide Consumer Reporting Agencies.
How do I order my free annual report?
How do I order my free annual report?
The three nationwide Consumer Reporting Agencies have set up one central website, toll-free telephone number, and mailing address through which you can order your free annual report. To order:
• click on http://www.annualcreditreport.com/
• call 877-322-8228, or
• complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Do not contact the three nationwide Consumer Reporting Agencies individually for your free annual report. They are only providing free annual credit reports through the three centralized sources listed above.
You may order your free annual reports from each of the three nationwide Consumer Reporting Agencies at the same time, or you can order from only one or two.
The three major national credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.
What information do I have to provide to get my free report?
You need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth.
Can I Obtain Other Free Credit Reports?
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 credit 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 fee. In some states, Consumer Reporting Agencies are required to provide consumers a free report or a report at a reduced fee.
Why should I order my credit report?
It is a good idea to check your report regularly, even when you are not experiencing problems. The information in your report affects your credit score and whether you can get a loan - and how much you will have to pay to borrow money. It is also helpful to make sure the information is accurate, complete, and up-to-date before you apply for a loan for a major purchase like a house or car, buy insurance, or apply for a job. Ordering your report can also help you guard against identity theft.
What do I do if the information is inaccurate or incomplete?
The Consumer Reporting Agency is responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. To protect your rights, contact both the Consumer Reporting Agency and the provider of information, including lenders, collection agencies, or other businesses.
First, tell the Consumer Reporting Agency in writing what information you believe is inaccurate. Be as specific as possible. The Consumer Reporting Agency must investigate the items in question - usually within 30 days - unless they consider your dispute frivolous. When the investigation is complete, the Consumer Reporting Agency must give you the written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. (This free report does not count as your annual free report.)
What can I do if the Consumer Reporting Agency or information provider refuses to correct the information I dispute?
If an investigation doesn't resolve your dispute with the Consumer Reporting Agency, you can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your file and in future reports. You also can ask the Consumer Reporting Agency to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past. You will probably have to pay a fee for this service.
If you tell the information provider that you dispute an item, a notice of your dispute must be included any time the information provider reports the item to a Consumer Reporting Agency
How long can a Consumer Reporting Agency report bad information?
A Consumer Reporting Agency can report most accurate negative information for seven (7) years and bankruptcy information for 10 years. However, there is no time limit on reporting information about criminal convictions.
Who else can get a copy of my credit report?
Only people with a legitimate business need, as recognized by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, can look at your report without your permission. For example, a company is allowed to get your report if you apply for credit, insurance, employment, or to rent an apartment.
A Consumer Reporting Agency may not give information about you to your employer, or to a prospective employer, without your consent, unless you are being investigated for suspected misconduct, compliance with federal, state or local laws, or preexisting written policies of your employer.
When applying for a job, your prospective employer might ask your permission to do a background check. As part of that background check, the employer might include your employment history, your driving record, criminal records, and your credit report.
What if I think a Consumer Reporting Agency has violated my rights under the law?
You may wish to seek the advice of an attorney about bringing a private lawsuit. You should also consider contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit http://www.ftc.gov/ or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.
States may also enforce the FCRA, and many states have their own consumer reporting laws. In some cases, you may have more rights under state law. For more information, contact your state or local consumer protection agency or your state Attorney General.