Your Credit Report: Your Legal Right #2
You Have the Right to a (Reasonably) Accurate and Complete File
One of my friends was turned down for a car loan because of a bankruptcy on her credit report. She got a copy of her file and found out it listed an account that was supposedly charged off in a bankruptcy when she was five years old! Because she has a common name, her file was mixed up with someone else’s.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act says consumers have the right to reasonably accurate and complete credit files. But mistakes happen. Creditors can make mistakes when they enter information you scribble on your application, or occasionally errors occur in transmitting or translating data.
Here are some examples of the types of errors on credit reports:
- Your file contains information about someone with a similar name. Called “comingling,” this problem can plague people with common names, or juniors or seniors in a family. You can help cut down on the chance that your file will get mixed up by always filling out your complete name on a credit application (including if you’re a junior or senior, for example), and by being consistent in the name you use when you apply for credit. The credit bureaus are developing systems to reduce the number of comingled files, and they say they’ve already been successful in stopping a lot of it. If your file has already been mixed up with someone else’s, make sure you notify the credit bureau of the problem. Experian, for instance, offers a “blocker” to keep files separate. And check your report periodically to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Your ex-spouse’s information appears on your report, If the information on your report is about joint accounts you both shared, that information can and will remain on both your reports for seven years or more. But if information about accounts you never held together appears on the report, dispute the entries with the credit bureau. Be sure to mention that you never held those accounts.
- The most recent information reported about one of your accounts is months—or years—old. Subscribers (lenders) are not required to report their information regularly to the credit bureau. They can report information only once, or as often as once a month. It’s their choice. Most do report information monthly. Bureaus are required to report accurate information, though, so if an account lists outdated information, you can ask the credit bureau to update it.
- Your report lists accounts you do not recognize. If you have a relative with a similar name, first check with them to make sure it is not their account. If it does belong to them, notify the credit bureau—and the creditor that reported the information—of the error. If you can’t figure out who the extra information belongs to, dispute it with the credit bureau—they may be able to trace it to someone with a similar name and remove it. If there are several accounts you don’t recognize, you must find out why they are on your file. Application fraud, where a thief applies for credit in someone else’s name, is a serious crime. If your report lists a bunch of accounts that do not belong to you, especially recent ones with balances, it could be because of this type of fraud.
- Your credit report does not list all your accounts. Credit bureaus are required to keep their files as complete as possible. But that doesn’t mean they have to include accounts from all your creditors. It is totally up to a lender or credit card company as to whether or not they report information, and how often they report it. Accounts that may not show up on your report include utilities, small local retailers, finance accounts, some credit union accounts, some student loans, gasoline cards, debit cards, checking accounts, medical and attorneys’ bills, and some mortgages. If you have an account with a lender that doesn’t report to credit bureaus, you probably won’t have any luck getting it added to your report. Credit bureaus won’t add information from someone that’s not a subscriber. To help make sure that the information they get is accurate, they’ll only accept information from customers they’ve been able to check out. If they aren’t getting information on a regular basis from a customer, they won’t take a one-time report.
Your report lists negative information, such as delinquency or collection activity, about an account, but fails to list the years of on-time payments you made on that same account. Subscribers are free to report only negative information, or both positive and negative information. A few issuers, such as gasoline card issuers, may report your account to the credit bureau only if you fall behind more than three months on payments. While these creditors are not required to report a positive payment history on a regular basis, they are required to update the listing if payment status on the account changes. So if you get caught up, the report should say that, even though it can and will still show the late payment.