10 Legal Rights You Have With Your Credit Reports
Your credit report contains information about you, your debts, and your payment habits. It plays a role in where you live, the kind of car you drive, the amount you pay in interest, your car insurance rate. And those are just a few of the people who check your credit report. While credit bureaus have the task, or privilege depending on how you look at it, of maintaining your credit report, you have certain rights to protect you from unfair practices. Knowing these rights can help you make sure the right information is listed on your credit report.
You Can See Your Credit Report
Once upon a time, credit reports were off-limits to consumers – you couldn’t even see the information lenders were using to make a decision about you. Fortunately, the law now gives consumers the right to view their credit reports. The law isn't limited to credit reports, but other types of consumer reports that businesses use to process your applications.
You Can Know Who's Accessed Your Credit Report
If someone accesses your credit report, their name will be listed in the “Inquiries” section of your credit report. Unless you enroll in credit monitoring, you won’t get an automatic notification that your credit report has been pulled. Instead, you’ll have to get a recent copy of your credit report to learn who’s viewed it.
You Have the Right to a Free Credit Report Every Year
In 2003, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act gave all consumers the right to an annual free credit report from each company who maintains your credit records.
You can order your annual free credit report from the three major credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, through the special website, AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only site for getting your government-granted annual credit report so beware of impostor websites. Other "free" credit reports may come at a cost, particularly if the site asks for a credit card number.
You Can Get a Free Credit Report in a Few Other Situations, Too
Under the FCRA, you're also entitled to a free credit report if you’ve been turned down for a product or service based on information in your credit report (must request this report within 60 days), you’re unemployed and you plan to look for a job soon, you receive welfare or government assistance, or you’ve been a victim of fraud or identity theft.
In these situations, you will only receive a free copy of the credit report that was used in that specific credit decision.
You Must Be Told If Your Credit Report Is Used Against You
If you apply for a credit-based product or service and you’re turned down because of information in your credit report, the business has to let you know the reason(s) you were denied, e.g. too many recent applications for credit. You’re also entitled to a free copy of the credit report used in the decision, but you have to request that copy in writing within 60 days.
You Have the Right to Dispute Inaccurate Information
If you find inaccurate or incomplete information in your credit report, you can dispute it with the credit bureau. The credit bureau is then required to investigate your dispute with the business that provided the information. After the investigation, the credit bureaus must correct your credit report if the information is inaccurate or can't be verified. You can also dispute directly with the creditor or business who added the error to your credit report.
You Have the Right to a Timely Credit Report
Certain negative information can only remain on your credit report for a certain length of time. For most negative accounts, that time limit is seven years. But, bankruptcy can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years depending on the type of bankruptcy you file. If negative information remains on your credit report after the time limit, you can use a credit report dispute to remove it.
You Can View the Credit Score Based on Your Credit Report
Your credit score is based solely on the information that’s in your credit report. While you don’t get a free credit score when you order your annual credit report, you still have the right to request a copy of your credit score. You can order your credit score from FICO or the credit bureaus for a fee, but there are some ways to get free credit scores, like through CreditKarma.com.
You Can Reject Pre-Screened Offers Based on Your Credit Report
If your mailbox is always packed with credit card offers, you can blame your credit report. Credit card issuers use your credit report to send offers that you may qualify for. But, you can stop these and other offers by opting-out of pre-screened offers with a visit to www.optoutprescreen.com or call to 1-888-5OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688). You can always opt-in later if you decide you want to start receiving offers again, for example, to get a better credit card than the one you have.
You Have the Right to Sue Businesses That Violate These Rights
If a credit bureau or another business violates your FCRA rights, you may be able to sue in Federal court for up to $1,000 or your actual damages. You can also complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the FTC and your state Attorney General when credit bureaus and other businesses fail to comply with the FCRA.