By Stephen J. Dunn
It is important that you manage your credit reports. Your credit reports determine whether you can access credit, and the terms on which you can access it. Your credit reports can also affect your ability to secure employment.
There are three national credit reporting agencies in the U.S.: Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian. Each maintains a file of information on you believed probative of your credit worthiness. They produce credit reports on you from their files and sell them to prospective creditors and employers. The information maintained in the files includes your age, Social Security Number, your payment history on credit extended to you in the past, your current and prior addresses, and your current and prior employers. Credit files often contain inaccurate information.
By Federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies once within a 12-month period, but only if you request them through annualcreditreport.com.
Any person who takes adverse action against you based upon a credit report must notify you in writing of the identity of the credit reporting agency and the adverse action taken. Within 60 days after being so notified, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report upon informing the credit rating agency of the adverse action.
You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report within a 12-month period from each credit reporting agency upon certifying in writing to the agencies that—
(1) you are unemployed, and you intend to apply for employment within 60 days;
(2) you are a recipient of public welfare assistance; or
(3) you have reason to believe that the credit reporting agency’s file on you contains false, fraudulent information.
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report anytime there is a fraud alert concerning you in the credit reporting agency’s file.
If you cannot find a basis to get a free copy of your credit report, you can get a copy by paying a nominal fee to the credit reporting agency. What is certain is that you do not need to pay a fee and subscribe to a credit report monitoring service.
Upon receiving your credit report, review it carefully. If you find inaccurate information, report it by means of credit reporting agency’s dispute procedure. Upon receiving a dispute, a credit reporting agency must “investigate” by forwarding the dispute to the source of the disputed information. If the source of the disputed information confirms the information’s accuracy, you have a cause of action against the source. If you successfully prosecute the cause of action, you can recover damages and costs of the action, including attorney fees.
Whether or not you sue the source of false information on your credit report, you can require the credit reporting agency to make your written dispute part of your credit report.
Finally, if you detect false, fraudulent information on your credit report, you should have a fraud alert placed in your credit file. This will make it tougher for identity thieves to obtain credit by fraudulent use of your identity in the future.