Annual Free Credit Report – Your Legal Right #5 & 6

Your Credit Report: Legal Right #5 You Have the Right to a Fresh Start

Millions of people go through financial setbacks that hurt their credit histories—divorce, a period of unemployment, or a temporary interruption in income (moving, changing jobs, having a child) can cause even the most careful person to fall behind.

Fortunately, a bad credit rating can’t haunt you forever. Congress gave consumers a chance to start over again. Under the FCRA, damaging or negative information can usually stay on your file for only seven years. There are a few exceptions—bankruptcy can stay on the file for ten years, for example—but the general rule is seven years.

Your Credit Report: Legal Right #6

You Have the Right to Understand What Your File Says

In the past, credit reports have been extremely difficult to read. Filled with confusing codes, they were often very hard to decipher. But they’re getting better. Experian has gone to a “plain English” format, which makes their reports much easier to read.

Equifax and Trans Union have also gone to a written-out format, without codes.

If there is anything on your report that you don’t understand, the credit bureau is required by law to explain it to you. If there is a creditor that you don’t recognize listed on your report, ask the credit bureau to supply you with the name and location of the creditor so you can find out if you really do have an account with them.

Most of the credit bureaus used to have “consumer-relations” offices in local bureaus across the country. Now they’ve consolidated them into their national offices. You’ll have to either write to the credit bureau or call a toll-free number to try to speak with someone about your question. Some credit bureaus have been easier to reach than others. Under the new law, credit bureaus must maintain staffed toll-free numbers to assist consumers who have been denied credit based on information in their reports. If you have a really hard time finding someone knowledgeable to help you, you may want to let the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, know about it. (See the Resources section for information on contacting the FTC.)