An alarming number of credit reports have inaccurate information. Estimates suggest that over three quarters of all credit reports contain some type of error.

Credit Report Accuracy Is Up to You

Because errors in your credit report can severely impact your credit score and your ability to obtain credit such as a credit card, a cell phone, a car or a house, or even get insurance or a job, it is up to YOU to check your credit report and take the appropriate steps to correct any mistakes it might have.

How to Get Free Credit Reports

Under Federal law, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, once every twelve months. You can obtain your free copy by one of these methods: downloading a form to mail (allow 2-3 weeks for delivery); calling 1-877-322-8228 (allow 2-3 weeks for delivery); or accessing your credit report online through https://www.annualcreditreport.com.

Request Free annual credit form

You are also entitled to a free credit report if a company takes “adverse action” against you (such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment or having your interest rate raised) and your credit report was used to take that action. You should receive a notice from the company who took the action against you which provides the name, address, and phone number of the credit bureau from which they pulled your credit report. If you ask for your credit report from that credit bureau within 60 days of receiving notice of the adverse action, it must be given to you free.
You are also entitled to one free credit report a year if you are unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days, if you are on welfare, or if your report is inaccurate because of fraud (including Identity Theft).
If you have already obtained your free annnual credit report from each of the three national consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) in the last twelve months, and are not otherwise entitiled to a free credit report as described above, the credit bureaus currently may charge you $12.00 for your credit report. This charge is separate from the amount they may charge you to obtain your credit score; the credit score fee varies depending on the source.

Some states have enacted stronger consumer protection laws that require the credit bureaus to provide you more than one free credit report annually, so be sure to check your state requirements before paying for your credit report. Also, be wary of sites that offer you a “free” or discounted charge for your credit report. Not only are many of these entities owned, operated by and/or affiliated with the Big Three, but they also usually require a subscription to a monitoring service or a similar catch which, absent prompt cancellation, automatically charges you each month thereafter.

How To Review Your Credit Report

The top portion of your credit report is often referred to as the “credit header” or “above-the-line information.” This includes your personal identifying information such as your

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number
  • Employment Information

This is typically the information provided to people who request information on you for “promotional purpose” so as to market products to you or make an unsolicited offer of credit.

The identifying information on your credit report is particularly important because it controls what information gets put into your credit file. If you find any mistakes in this portion of your credit report, it may be an indication that you are a victim of fraud or that your credit report is mixed with that of someone else.

The next section of your credit report will include any public record items associated with your personal identifying information. If you have filed bankruptcy or had a judgment entered against you, it will appear here.
The credit bureaus make sure to put all the bad information in your credit report up front to make sure everyone sees it! Any accounts you have, whether it be credit cards, utilities, car loans, mortgages, etc., that have a negative payment history or other negative remark will be listed here in alphabetical order.

Each tradeline will include such things as —

  • the name of the creditor
  • a shortened version of the account number
  • the date the account was opened
  • the date on which it was last reported by the creditor
  • a high balance
  • a current balance
  • the current status of the account such as “30 days late” or “Collection.”

Note: Negative account information can only stay on your credit report for 7 years from the date the debt became delinquent. That is particularly important when it comes to accounts that have been sold to debt collectors since they often show the delinquency occurring as of the date they bought the debt. You want to carefully review all such accounts to make sure that each is being reported with the correct date so it comes off your credit report when it is supposed to.

All remaining credit accounts that you have will be listed in alphabetical order in this section. If there is any information in this section that you do not recognize — even though it is not negative — you want to make sure to dispute it with the credit bureau because it is an indication that you are a victim of fraud or perhaps have your information mixed with that of another individual.

The Inquiries section of your credit report lists the names of all entities that have requested your credit report. Inquiries are often broken down into what is referred to as “hard pulls” and “soft pulls.”

A “hard pull” is where a full copy of your credit report was provided to an entity in response to your request for credit, insurance or employment. These inquiries are seen by people who access your credit report, and get factored into your credit score, so the entities requesting them must have a legal right to obtain your credit report.

A “soft pull” is a request for credit information about you that other people cannot see on the credit reports they access about you, and they do not affect your credit score. If the soft pull is for “account review” purposes, then the entity requesting the information is obtaining account information about you and must have a permissible purpose to obtain the information. If the soft pull is for “promotional” purposes, then usually only your above-the-line (personal) information is provided so the entity can market products to you or make an unsolicited offer of credit.

Because hard pulls and account reviews indicate some relationship between you and the entity making the inquiry, you should carefully review this portion of credit report to make sure you recognize each and every entity making such request. If you do not, it could be an indication that you are the victim of fraud.

Finding Mistakes On Your Credit Report

Mistakes on your credit report can involve information that belongs to you but is reported incorrectly, or information that does not belong to you at all. For instance, you may notice that one of your accounts is being reported with the wrong balance or payment history, or appears open when it actually is closed. Such mistakes can greatly impact your credit score and make the difference between getting a loan and not getting a loan, or causing you to pay a much higher interest rate.

You may find information on your credit report that does not belong to you at all. In such instances, you may be a victim of fraud or your information may be mixed with that of someone else.

Identity theft is a crime in which an impostor obtains key pieces of your personal identifying information such as Social Security number or driver’s license number and uses it for their own personal gain. This crime includes everything from financial identity theft such as check fraud or credit card fraud, to criminal identity theft where the impostor offers your name or Social Security number when arrested for a crime. It can start with a lost or stolen wallet, a data breach, a scam such as phishing, or may result from someone pilfering through your mail or even garbage. It can happen to anyone, and it happens a lot. Recent surveys show there are currently about 9 million victims each year.
  • A thief may acquire your existing credit account information and purchase products and services using either the actual credit card or simply the account number and expiration date.

This is basic credit card fraud and can be detected fairly easily by monitoring your credit card statements when they arrive each month.

  • A truer form of identity theft results when a thief uses your Social Security number or other identifying information to open new accounts.

You probably will not learn this is going on until months later, usually when something bad happens — you are denied credit because of delinquent information appearing on your credit report that is not yours, or you start getting collection calls from a debt collector demanding payment for a past due account that you never opened.

Generally, you will not be required to pay any part of the impostor’s charges, but that is only if you can convince the creditor(s) that you are not the impostor. That often is much easier said than done. Creditors and debt collectors want to be paid, and just because you say that the debts are not yours rarely is enough to put a stop to the collection. And through it all, your credit report is being littered with derogatory information that may take months and even years to correct.

The monetary and emotional toll of identity theft can be enormous. Victims usually feel totally overwhelmed because there is no simple solution to “fixing” the problem. The following is a list of the first steps to take.

  • Contact each of the main credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, and tell them that you believe you are a victim of identity theft. A temporary fraud alert will be added to you credit report, and each credit bureau will send you a copy of your credit report for free. Follow up by writing each bureau to make sure they know you are a victim of fraud.
  • File a police report. Many times the police may seem reluctant to write a police report because you do not have the details of the crime such as when or where it occurred. Offer as much information as you can and be persistent. You will have a much easier time cleaning up your credit report and stopping collection efforts related to the impostor’s bills if you have taken this step!
  • When you get your credit reports, carefully comb through each of them for anything that is not yours. The most common things to look for are variations of your name, addresses that are unknown to you, public record items or accounts that do not belong to you, and requests for your credit report that you did not initiate.
  • Contact the credit bureaus and dispute each and every piece of information found on your credit report that is not yours. Make sure you do this in writing! Include a copy of your police report. Send the letters by certified mail and keep a copy for your records.
  • For the accounts and requests for your credit report that you do not recognize, contact those companies directly. Advise them that you are a victim of identity theft and include a copy of your police report. Again, you should do this in writing, send everything by certified mail, and keep copies for your records.
  • Carefully monitor your mail and credit-card bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity. If you are denied credit, insurance or even employment, or if you are advised by an existing creditor that your account is being canceled or your interest rate is being raised because of information in your credit report, ask for confirmation in writing as to why that negative action was taken. Follow up directly with the entities identified as the source of the negative information.
  • Start a log of all your contacts with authorities, credit bureaus, financial institutions, debt collectors and anyone else you contact regarding your efforts to recapture your good name and credit.

For more information on identity theft and what you can do to protect yourself, you may wish to visit the following websites:

A mixed file results when your information is mixed together with that of another individual. This is most often seen with individuals with the same or very similar names, Juniors/Seniors or very common names, but also may happen as a result of a misspelling or typo.

Each credit bureau has complicated weighting variables to determine what credit files, if any, are responsive to an inquiry from a creditor. Since none of the major credit bureaus require an exact match of all personal identifying information before responding to an inquiry, more than one credit file can return as responsive to the request. If the bureau determines that the responsive files “match” sufficiently, those files will be permanently merged into one, causing a mixed file.

Mixed files can be particularly difficult to get corrected. Because there is sufficient similarity between your information and the person with whom you are mixed to have caused the merger in the first place, the bureaus may not believe you when you say particular information should not be included in your credit report (especially if it is negative).

It is a serious invasion of your privacy to have your credit report circulated without a legal purpose, so the law requires that credit bureaus may only release your credit report for very specific purposes (like when you apply for credit, insurance or a job).

You should carefully review the Inquiries portion of your credit report to make sure that you recognize all the entities that requested hard pulls and account reviews. If you do not, you may have a cause of action against the credit bureau and/or the entity that obtained your credit report for a violation of the FCRA.

If you filed bankruptcy, the actual filing will appear in the public records section of your credit report and may remain there for 10 years. Your credit report should also show that each of the accounts included in your bankruptcy were discharged and the current balance is zero. It is very common for accounts to be reported wrongly after a bankruptcy discharge and this severely impacts your credit score.
If you have received a bankruptcy discharge, CONTACT US FOR A FREE CREDIT REPORT REVIEW.

In credit reporting, time really does heal all wounds. Negative account information can only stay on your credit report for 7 years. However, debt collectors sometimes will “re-age” a debt, submitting a false date to make it appear that the debt is more current than it is, to put more pressure on you to pay the debt.

Correcting Your Report

Regardless of the types of errors you find in your credit report, you need to contact the credit bureau to dispute the incorrect information.

Step 1: Identify all possible mistakes in each one of your credit reports. Carefully review your credit reports to identify anything that is not correct. It is up to YOU to make sure your credit report is correct, so what you don’t dispute, the credit bureau is not going to be responsible for!

Step 2: Contact each bureau that is reporting false information. Each credit bureau has its own information, so you need to dispute false information with each of the credit bureaus that is reporting that information (even if it’s the same false information!).

Step 3: Review the credit bureaus’ responses. You should hear back from the credit bureau as to their “investigation” of your dispute within 30 days (45 days if you are disputing information that appeared on your free annual credit report). If any of the information you disputed was not removed from your credit report, you may have a cause of action under the FCRA against the credit bureau and/or the entity that verified the wrong information. You may choose to dispute the information again, or contact us for a FREE TELEPHONE CONSULTATION to see if you have a potential claim to pursue.

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