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What are credit reports?
Credit reports are detailed collections of personally identifiable information (“pii’) about you and your past and current loan and credit activity. Credit reports contain information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, or filed for bankruptcy. Credit reporting companies sell the information in your credit reports to businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for home mortgages, auto loans, student loans, credit, insurance, employment, or housing rentals.
Should I be concerned about the information contained in my credit reports?
Yes. Credit reports affect whether you are able to borrow money to make a purchase such as a home or car, get credit card cards, get a student loan and affect your cost of borrowing money. Credit reports also affect how much you pay for insurance, whether landlords will rent you housing and whether some employers will approve your employment application.
Who prepares credit reports and who buys credit reports?
The 2022 market size of the credit reporting industry is estimated at $13.4 billion. This multi-billion dollar industry is dominated by three major nationwide credit reporting agencies (NCRAs) – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. There are also over forty (40) additional specialty credit reporting agencies (CRAs) in the credit reporting industry.
Credit reporting agencies (CRAs), also known as credit bureaus, collect, store and sell personal and financial information about you that is submitted to them by data furnishers,
Data furnishers (“furnishers”) are companies that report information about you to NCRAs and CRAs, including credit bureaus, tenant screening companies, check verification services, medical information services and other specialty credit reporting agencies.
NCRAs and CRAs make their money by gathering information about you from the furnishers and other data sources, and then selling the collected information about you to thousands of banks, credit unions, credit card issuers, auto lenders, mortgage lenders, student loan providers, retail-merchant credit providers, insurance companies, utility companies, landlords, collections agencies, government agencies and employers.
If you’re applying for a loan, credit card, insurance, car lease, or an apartment, those businesses can order a copy of your credit report to determine your creditworthiness, eligibility for and pricing for loans, credit cards, insurance premiums, housing and employment.
Do I have any consumer protection rights that apply to credit reporting agencies, credit data furnishers, and credit data users?
Yes. Credit reporting agencies, credit data furnishers and credit data users must comply with legal obligations and rules under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). For a summary of your consumer protection rights under the FCRA, click HERE.
How many credit reporting agencies (CRAs) are there?
There are three (3) big nationwide providers of consumer credit reports – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. The “Big Three” nationwide credit reporting agencies (NCRAs) are publicly-traded companies that collect, store and sell credit report information on more than 220 million Americans. Innovis is smaller, privately-held, nationwide credit reporting agency.
Other consumer credit reporting agencies
There are over forty (40) other smaller credit reporting agencies (CRAs) that specialize in collecting and selling consumer credit reports for tenant screening, employment screening, check and bank screening, personal property insurance, medical, low-income and subprime, supplementary reports, utilities, retail and gaming. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) publishes a “List of Consumer Reporting Companies,” available HERE. The CFPB list contains contact information for each of the CRAs.
What type of information is listed in my credit report?
Credit reports contain five categories of information about you: (1) personally identifiable information (pii), (2) credit information, (3) debt collection accounts, (4) public record information, and (5) credit report inquiries. Information in each of these categories includes:
Personally Identifiable Information (pii)
- Your name and any name you may have used in the past in connection with a credit account, including nicknames
- Current and former addresses
- Birth date
- Social Security number
- Phone numbers
- Current and historical credit accounts, including the type of account (mortgage, installment, revolving, etc.)
- The credit limit or amount
- Account balance
- Account payment history
- The date the account was opened and closed
- The name of the creditor
Debt Collection items
- Debts that have been turned over from a creditor to a debt collection company
- Liens, including tax liens
- Civil suits and judgments
- Verified overdue child support payments
Credit report Inquiries
- Companies that have accessed your credit reports
- Hard inquiries. These are typically inquiries by lenders after you apply for credit. These inquiries will impact your credit score because most credit scoring models look at how recently and how frequently you apply for credit.
- Soft inquiries. These are reviews of your credit file, including reviews of existing accounts by lenders, prescreening inquiries by prospective lenders, and your requests for your annual credit report. These will not change your credit score.
Are my credit reports accurate?
Maybe, maybe not. You need to review each of your own credit reports to find out. Errors can be expensive because they can negatively affect your eligibility for and pricing for loans, credit cards, insurance premiums, housing and employment.
A detailed 2012 study by the FTC suggest that millions of consumers have potentially material errors on their credit reports.
In a 2012 study of credit report accuracy (LINK), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found “that 26% of the 1,001 participants in the study identified at least one potentially material error on at least one of their three credit reports. Although 206 consumers (21% of the participants) had a modification to a least one of their credit reports after the dispute process, only 129 consumers (13% of participants) experienced a change in their credit score as a result of these modifications. Each affected participant may have as many as three score changes. Of the 129 consumers with any score change, the maximum changes in score for over half of the consumers were less than 20 points. For 5.2% of the consumers, the resulting increase in score was such that their credit risk tier decreased and thus the consumer may be more likely to be offered a lower auto loan interest rate.”
In its 2015 follow-up study (LINK), the FTC found that for those who participated in the follow-up study: 31% stated that they accepted the original disputed information on their reports as correct; 70% continued to believe that at least some of the disputed information is inaccurate; 45% said they planned to continue their dispute, and 50% planned to abandon their dispute.
What are common credit report errors that I should look for in my credit reports?
When reviewing your credit report, you should make sure it contains only information about YOU. Be sure to look for false, incorrect, inaccurate, or incomplete information.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), some common errors (LINK) contained in consumer credit reports include:
- Errors made to your identity information (wrong name, phone number, address)
- Accounts belonging to another person with the same or a similar name as yours (this mixing of two consumers’ information in a single file is called a mixed file)
- Incorrect accounts resulting from identity theft
Incorrect reporting of account status
- Closed accounts reported as open
- You are reported as the owner of the account, when you are actually just an authorized user
- Accounts that are incorrectly reported as late or delinquent
- Incorrect date of last payment, date opened, or date of first delinquency
- Same debt listed more than once (possibly with different names)
Data management errors
- Reinsertion of incorrect information after it was corrected
- Accounts that appear multiple times with different creditors listed (especially in the case of delinquent accounts or accounts in collections)
- Accounts with an incorrect current balance
- Accounts with an incorrect credit limit
Is false information from identity theft fraud and "mixed credit files" in my credit reports harmful?
Yes! False information in your credit reports can dramatically increase your cost of living.
False information in your credit report based on identity theft fraud and “mixed credit files” will negatively impact whether lenders and creditors will loan you money, and result in higher interest rates that they will charge you for mortgages, car loans, personal loans, home equity loans and credit cards.
False credit report information also will negatively impact your current lenders’ decision whether to change terms of existing credit accounts, including limiting your available lines of credit.
Other businesses that rely on false information in your credit reports may decline your insurance applications or charge you high insurance premiums; decline your application for rental housing; decline your application for provide cable TV, internet service, electrical and water utilities, or cell phone service. If you agree to let an employer look at your credit report, it may also be used against you to deny your employment application.
How do I dispute errors contained in my credit reports?
To dispute errors in your credit report, you will need to contact BOTH the credit reporting agency and the data furnisher that provided the erroneous information to the credit reporting agency.
For more information on the credit report error dispute process, see the instructions provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau HERE.
What should I do if a credit reporting agency and data furnisher do not correct errors in my credit report?
Historically, the credit report error dispute process has been very frustrating for many consumers. See Automated Injustice: How a Mechanized Dispute System Frustrates Consumers Seeking to Fix Errors in Their Credit Reports (January 2009) (LINK), Automated Injustice Redux: Ten Years After a Key Report, Consumers Are Still Frustrated Trying to Fix Credit Report Errors (February 2019) (LINK), CFPB Releases Report Detailing Consumer Complaint Response Deficiencies of the Big Three Credit Bureaus (LINK), Annual report of consumer and credit reporting complaints: An analysis of complaint responses by Equifax, Experian, TransUnion (LINK) and A Broken System: How the Credit Reporting System Fails Consumers and What to Do About It (Consumer Reports, June 2021) (LINK).
HOWEVER, DO NOT LET THE THE NATIONWIDE CREDIT REPORTING AGENCIES AND THEIR DATA FURNISHERS DISCOURAGE OR PREVENT YOU FROM REMOVING AND CORRECTING COSTLY ERRORS IN YOUR CREDIT REPORTS!
If a credit reporting agency doesn’t respond to your dispute or doesn’t respond adequately, you should file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) HERE. You can also file a complaint with the State Attorney General’s Office where you reside, starting HERE. Your chances of successfully resolving a valid credit report error dispute are increased when you seek government assistance from federal and state regulators responsible for protecting consumer rights.
You have the following rights for unresolved errors in your credit reports:
You have the right to add a statement to your credit file. If an investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute with the credit reporting agency, you can ask that a brief statement of the dispute be included in your file and included or summarized in future credit reports. Your right to include a statement in your file only applies to disputes you’ve submitted to a credit reporting agency, not to disputes that you’ve submitted directly to companies that provided the wrong information to the credit reporting agency.
You have the right to bring a lawsuit. If the credit reporting agency violates the FCRA, they can be held liable for actual damages and attorney fees. In the case of a willful failure to comply with FCRA requirements, the company can be liable for actual or statutory damages and punitive damages. There are time limits on when you would have to bring a lawsuit, so make sure you are aware of any deadlines.
For more information on what you can do if a credit reporting agency ignores your credit report error dispute or if you disagree with the credit reporting agency’s results, see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s information provided HERE.
What is a security credit freeze and is it free?
A security credit freeze is designed to prevent credit, loans, and services from being approved in your name without your consent. You have a right to place a free “security freeze” on your credit report, which will prohibit a consumer reporting agency from releasing information in your credit report to potential new lenders without your express authorization. CRAs are prohibited by law from charging you any fee to freeze, temporarily unfreeze (“thaw”), and re-freeze your credit reports. For more information about security credit freezes, see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) online publication What does it mean to put a security freeze on my credit report? (LINK).
How can I protect my child from identity theft fraud?
You have a legal right to order a free credit freeze for your child, which will help protect your child from identity theft and synthetic identity fraud. For more information, click HERE.
Where can I find more information about my consumer rights under the fair credit reporting act (FCRA)?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offer a number of resources designed to inform consumers of their rights under the FCRA and assist them with navigating the consumer reporting system, including the credit report error dispute process. For more information about your rights and how to exercise them, see:
> Credit and Your Consumer Rights (June 2017) – This online (LINK) and PDF publication (LINK) contains information about credit reports, credit applications, credit billing, electronic fund transfer statements, debts and debt collectors, and solving your credit problems.
> Disputing Errors in Your Credit Reports (May 2021) – This online publication (LINK) contains information on credit report accuracy, correcting mistakes in your credit reports, monitoring your credit reports and how to report scams.
> Free Credit Reports (May 2021) – This online publication (LINK) contains information on credit reports, how to get free annual credit reports, what to expect when you order your credit reports, how to monitor your credit reports, who can get a copy of your credit reports, avoiding sites other than AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free annual credit report and how to report scams.
> Understanding Your Credit (December 2021) – This online publication (LINK) contains information about why your credit reports matter, how to find out if your credit is good and how you can protect your credit report.
> Stolen Identity? Get Help at IdentityTheft.gov – This online publication (LINK) contains information on what you should do when identity theft fraud happens to you.
> How to Protect Your Child From Identity Theft – This online (LINK) contains information about child identity theft, how to protect your child’s personal information, how to know if someone is using your child’s personal information, and what to do if someone is using your child’s personal information.
> Employer Background Checks and Your Rights (November 2021) – This online publications (LINK) contains information about what employers can ask about your background, background reporting companies, if you’re turned down for a job or promotion, denial due to discrimination, what you can do before you apply, protecting your privacy and reporting employer violations to the FTC.
> Renting an Apartment? Be Prepared for a Background Check (November 2016) – This online publication (LINK) contains information about your rights if a landlord runs a background check on you.
> Fixing Your Credit FAQs (June 2021) – This online publication (LINK) contains information about credit history, free credit reports and credit repair scams.