Economic disruptions caused by the global pandemic can result in individuals missing or being late on a credit card or other payment, so it’s important to check your credit report frequently to see what’s going on. Under COVID-19 rules, the credit reporting agencies must provide free reports virtually whenever you ask through April 21, 2021.
Even without the pandemic, frequently checking your credit report from the three main agencies — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian — is always a wise idea. You never know when erroneous or potentially damaging notations may appear on your report.
What are your rights if you do detect inaccurate information on your credit report? Fortunately, where you were once virtually on your own, the federal government now provides you with legal protection and resources to fix your report, provided the credit bureaus don’t exploit loopholes.
If you’re facing damaging information on your credit report that is making it difficult for you to obtain loans — or even employment — and you’re in Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; or Lincoln, Nebraska, contact our team of credit report error attorneys at Stecklein & Rapp. We will work with you to correct or remove false data and restore your credit.
Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was enacted in 1970 to promote accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in files maintained by credit reporting agencies. In addition to the three major credit report bureaus listed above, there are also specialty agencies that, for instance, sell information about your check-writing history, your medical records, and your rental history. All of these agencies are covered by the FCRA.
The FCRA is enforced by both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which was created in response to the Great Recession of 2007.
Your rights under the FCRA include:
- Being informed when information in your report has been used against you, for instance, to deny a credit or employment application
- Having the right to know what’s in your report: Even in non-pandemic times, you are entitled to one free report each year. (Because of a data breach, Equifax must offer more frequent free reports.)
- Empowering you to dispute anything you deem to be inaccurate or incomplete.
- Forcing the credit reporting agencies to investigate your disputes within 30 days and inform you of the result. (However, during COVID-19, the 30-day window has been extended.)
- Restricting employers or would-be employers from accessing your reports unless you consent in writing.
What You Can Dispute in a Credit Report
Items in your credit report will generally remain there for seven years, except in the case of bankruptcy, when the time-frame is 10 years for Chapter 7 filings. So, if there are errors or misinformation, you should act swiftly to dispute and hopefully correct them. Items you can dispute include:
- Entries older than seven years, except in the case of bankruptcy
- Payments being reported late that were actually on time
- Accounts that don’t belong to you
- Inaccurate account balances, credit limit, or loan amount
- Inaccurate creditor information
- Inaccurate account status
How to Dispute an Error on Your Credit Report
To dispute something that you believe to be erroneous or inaccurate on your credit report, you must write to the reporting agency directly. Include any documentation you have, such as a copy of the report with the item or items being disputed clearly indicated. Under the FCRA, the agency must conduct an investigation within 30 days (except, as noted, during the pandemic) and report back to you.
Do not use pre-printed forms or online forms. If they require you to use a pre-printed form (which generally is just a bunch of checkboxes with a box for a brief explanation), attach a detailed letter with supporting documentation. You should avoid filing online, period.
You should also carry your dispute directly to the creditor, who is known as the “furnisher” of the information on the report. This could be a bank or credit card company. Again, follow the guidelines listed above for contacting the reporting agency. However, don’t dispute solely with the creditor. Unless you carry your dispute to the reporting agency, you cannot file suit later.
One final caveat: FCRA absolves reporting agencies of their investigative requirements if the dispute is deemed “frivolous.” So, if you dispute everything on your report entirely, you’re likely not going to get very far.
What to Do If Your Dispute Is Denied
If, after all of this, your dispute is ignored or denied, you should once again write to the agency expressing your concerns and explaining why the denial (or non-investigation) was not warranted.
These agencies often just send a sparse code to the information furnisher, or creditor, indicating “payment not late” or some such. The furnisher then may just perform a cursory look at the payment in question and not even investigate — or ever know — the details of your dispute.
For most consumer disputes, you can also report your dissatisfaction to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which purports to:
“…make consumer financial markets work for consumers, responsible providers, and the economy as a whole. We protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and take action against companies that break the law. We arm people with the information, steps, and tools that they need to make smart financial decisions.”
When all is said and done, though, at this stage it’s probably time to enlist the services of knowledgeable and experienced credit report error attorneys.
Rely on Our Experienced Team at Stecklein & Rapp
As you can see above, the dispute process can be long and frustrating, and both the agencies and the creditors are going to drag it out as long as possible and, in a sense, just “go through the motions” of a true investigation. You don’t need to deal with that.
If you’re a victim of a credit report error and can’t get the responsible parties to fix it, it’s time to speak to us. If you’re in Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas City, Kansas, or Lincoln, Nebraska, contact us at Stecklein & Rapp immediately. Our initial consultation will be complimentary.