Correcting your credit
Main Reporting Agencies: There are three main, national, consumer credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Experian Information Solutions, Inc. (formerly known as “TRW Inc.”), Equifax Information Services, LLC, and Trans Union LLC. The “Big Three” and Equifax’s largest affiliate CSC Credit Services, Inc. Innovis is making a move to become a fourth national consumer credit reporting agency at this time.
Local Bureaus: In addition to the Big Three there are many companies that combine Experian, Equifax and Trans Union reports into one credit report or might use one and incorporate it into something like a rental report. If all three are combined into one report, this is called a “tri-merge”. Tri-merges are usually used in mortgage lending. Since the tri-mergers parrot the Big Three, you should concentrate your efforts on Experian, Equifax and Trans Union and the others should fall into place. However, always copy your written communications to these resellers and to the mis-reporting furnishers [creditors, banks, collectors, etc.] as well.
Other Reporting Agencies:
- Business credit: Dunn & Bradstreet – reports on the creditworthiness of businesses.
- Medical history: Medical Information Bureau – compiles and stores your confidential and private medical information for use by insurance.
- Rental reports: Various companies. Typically combine civil and criminal case information with a single CRA’s credit report.
How Bureaus Get Information: The Big Three collect information from court records, banks, credit card companies, finance companies, department stores, cellular phone companies, court records, and many other companies issuing credit. Sometimes, one of the Big Three will not have all your credit information since not all creditors report to all three agencies (however, most major credit card companies and banks do) and not all public records information is acquired by all three bureaus. One CRA may have incomplete information, for instance reflecting a tax lien but not the amount or the fact that it was released. Another might not even report the first lien.
Credit Report Is Changing: A credit report is not a paper file kept in one place at a credit reporting bureau. This is part of the reason correcting credit errors can be so frustrating. The credit reporting bureaus have all your information saved in a particular format in a big, interconnected data-base. Your information is maintained with everyone else’s. When a credit reporting bureau receives information from creditors and others, it all goes into one big “vat” of information or a few different vats owned by affiliated companies.
When a business inquires into or “pulls” your credit report, a search program or algorithm pulls information from this vat based on your “personal identifiers” such as your name, address, date of birth and social security number. It is kind of like an internet search engine algorithm, except of course the credit reporting algorithm should be very selective in what it includes. The search algorithm is supposed to filter out obsolete credit information and credit information that doesn’t belong to you. The remaining information is combined into one report. Your credit report isn’t something fixed since the information used to create your credit report is constantly changing as creditors pour information into the “vat”.
Correcting Your Credit in 5 Steps
First Step: Get A Credit Report
Get A Copy Of Your Report: Consumers may obtain a free copy of their consumer report on line once every 12 months. Simply go to www.annualcreditreport.com and request your complimentary Equifax, Experian and Trans Union profiles. Note: please be careful if you type in the web address as crooks reserved similar site names hoping to intercept private information. Also note: despite the risk of mistyping, the company running the annual credit report site has disabled some links to it, so if that happens here, please carefully type the address in your browser.
Some directions for obtaining your free credit report are provided by the Department of the Treasury. Click here to see this video.
Otherwise, the costs vary depending on your state. On line it costs about $9.50 if you haven’t been denied credit in the past 60 days based on information provided in your consumer report. You can pay with check, money order or with a credit card. The addresses are as follows:
- Experian (Formerly TRW): 701 Experian Parkway Allen TX 75013; phone (800) 682-7654; www.Experian.com.
- Trans Union: PO Box 390, Springfield PA 19064-0390 (312) 408-1050; (800) 916-8800 (if denied credit); www.TransUnion.com.
- Equifax: PO Box 740241 Atlanta GA 30374 (800) 685-1111 (if denied credit); www.Equifax.com.
No Fee if Denied Credit: You are entitled to a free report within 60 days of credit denial. The agency on which denial is based will be mentioned in the notice.
Second Step: Reading The Report
When you get your credit report the credit reporting agency may include a pamphlet or similar paperwork explaining how to read their particular format. There are generally five sections as follows:
Identification Information: This section usually includes your name, address, social security number, date of birth, former addresses, your employer’s name, your job description and possibly your home phone number.
Credit History: This section shows various accounts and how timely you paid on them. There are two main types of accounts you see under “credit history.” The first is revolving credit – meaning the minimum amount owed may be definite, but the payment due each month can be variable. This is typical of credit cards. Second is “installment accounts” – a definite amount due in fixed installments. A mortgage payment is typical of these, also student loans. Underneath the accounts, it may reflect how and when payments were made on them. The credit bureaus break-down the account if there are late payments to show how many payments are 30, 60, 90 and 120 days past due (and some indicate later past dues of 150 days). Thus (3)(30), (2)(60), (1)(90) means you have paid three times past 30 days, two times past 60 days and once 90 days past the due date. If an account is fairly old, it may state that it is a “charge off”, if you paid it after it was charged off it may state that it is a “paid charge off.”
Collection Accounts: These accounts are being collected, usually by a collection agency, but sometimes also by companies that buy huge portfolios of charged off debt collect as well as some alleged law firms. Some collection agencies like to operate under the name of a lawyer or law firm to scare consumers by making litigation appear more likely. Lists of the most pathetic can be found at Bud Hibbs’ site. www.BudHibbs.com.
Public Records: These records are usually obtained by a contractor for the credit bureaus. The contractor goes through the public records maintained by various courts and county records offices. Bankruptcies, judgment, satisfaction of judgment, tax liens, releases of tax liens and foreclosures are just some of the records that can go from the public record into your consumer report.
Inquiry Section: This is a listing of businesses that have either pulled your full credit report, pulled certain information on your report or have “prescreening” your report. The credit card company you applied to, the car dealership that illegally pulled your credit report, the credit bureau pulling your report at your request and others will show as inquiries. Generally if your full credit report was procured, an abbreviated name of the business will appear without initials in front of it. Generally, if a company with which you already have an account pulls your credit report or if a company’s name appears that you have no affiliation with, there is a chance that your name and address were provided to the company as part of a “prescreening” program. “Prescreening” means that a creditor has gone to the credit bureau and asked for a list of addresses of people who meet certain criteria (e.g. mortgage over $300,000 etc.).
Third Step: Locating The Cause Of Credit Mistakes
Errors In Credit Reports Occur Often: fraud, data entry mistakes, improper merging of information by the CRA to name a few. The errors can be caused by the creditor, the CRA, a thief, or a collection agency, public record etc.
- Creditor error. Improper Format: The creditor or “furnisher” of information to the CRA provides the information in a database format that allows the CRA to bring the information right into its database without entering everything again. The individual pieces of data are known as “fields”. The current format is “METRO 2″. METRO 2 was created in order to comply with the 1996 amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. However, some very large creditors, including some large national credit card companies have not moved to METRO 2 and are still using METRO 1. This can create many problems in providing correct consumer information, especially regarding bankruptcy.
- Incorrect Names: An incorrect name or social security number inputting by the creditor can go to the wrong consumer’s file (e.g. incomplete consumer’s name such as “J.M. Jones” could either be “John Michael Jones” or “Jay Milhous Jones” or any other combination, “Sam” could be “Samuel”, “Samson”, or a female “Samantha.”) This frequently happens with common names or where there is a junior/senior relationship.
- Collection Agency Error. Some companies intentionally (and illegally) place collection accounts on credit reports to get the victim to pay. Collection agencies know some people will pay amounts, even if they don’t owe, if they are attempting to get credit. Under recent amendments to the FCRA, you can proceed against the collection agency that improperly reports the information. The source of the problem sometimes arises because creditors and credit bureaus sometimes don’t provide enough identification details when inputting new information into a file.
- Theft of Identity. Please look to the section on Theft of Identity.
- CRA Error. Most credit reporting agencies use name, address, social security number and date of birth to identify who you are. The CRA can err mismerging information where identifying information is similar. This happens most frequently where there is a junior/senior relationship. It also can happen when social security digits are similar within two digits. If the adult child with the same name as the parent moves home, big problems can result. There can also be problems where a recently married spouse has the same first name as a step child or the ex-spouse.
- Public Records Error. The Big Three pay companies to go through court files and official records to obtain information. Judgments, bankruptcies and tax liens are the most frequently reported public records. If the reporting agency does not have the company check often enough, the fact that a judgment or bankruptcy was later vacated or satisfied may not get reported.
- Improper Format: The creditor or “furnisher” of information to the CRA provides the information in a database format that allows the CRA to bring the information right into its database without entering everything again. The individual pieces of data are known as “fields”. The current format is “METRO 2″. METRO 2 was created in order to comply with the 1996 amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. However, some very large creditors, including some large national credit card companies have not moved to METRO 2 and are still using METRO 1. This can create many problems in providing correct consumer information, especially regarding bankruptcy. Some companies intentionally (and illegally) place collection accounts on credit reports to try getting the victim to pay. Collection agencies know some people will pay amounts, even if they don’t owe, if they are attempting to get credit. The source of the problem sometimes arises because creditors and credit bureaus sometimes don’t provide enough identification details when inputting new information into a file.
Basic Concept: Charge Off: Federal regulations provide that a delinquent account is to be charged off 180 days after the date of delinquency. 64 Fed. Reg. No. 27, 6655 “Uniform Retail Classification and Account Management Policy”
Fourth Step: Always Document
Documents Are Important. Many credit card companies, banks and even credit reporting agencies provide toll free numbers and websites you can use to dispute credit errors. It’s better to document your credit error dispute on paper. However, if you decide to use the phone, follow-up in writing. Acknowledge the conversation (e.g. “this letter is a follow-up to my conversation by phone with your representative named Joe Smith in which we discussed . . .”). Send everything in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested. There are many reasons to write the dispute in addition to or instead of over the phone. Some of these are as follows:
- Show Concern. Just the fact that you bothered to collect your thoughts and write formally shows you truly are concerned with the credit errors on your report. If you need the help of an attorney or regulatory agency later, they are more likely to take note of the seriousness with which you regard the matter.
- Allow you to accurately track case. There may be many people involved in your dispute before it is resolved. First, many of the employees of credit institutions turn over regularly and you may be sent to a different person for each investigation. Also, you may need to show your paperwork to attorneys, law enforcement (in fraud cases), regulatory agencies and perhaps to a court. Having documents helps others “get up to speed”. Many credit companies use software to have a chronology of their contacts with you, but it is recorded in a very self-serving manner to make the company look reasonable at your expense. Don’t rely on a creditor keeping track of your matter in anything but a self serving manner.
- Legal Effect. The obligations of some credit companies under some laws are not triggered unless you provide a written dispute.
Fifth Step: Send Dispute Letters
Send Disputes to Credit Reporting Bureaus. It is imperative you send dispute letters directly to the credit reporting agency. This is not only a logical step, to have an action against a company that provides false data to a credit reporting bureau, you must provide the credit reporting bureaus notice and the liability of that furnisher under the Fair Credit Reporting Act depends on their response to the credit dispute it provides to the credit reporting bureau. One of the difficulties in sending disputes to the credit reporting bureaus is they want to accept disputes online. Experian has been especially difficult in shutting down a post office box where it accepted disputes for years (PO Box 9595 at Allen Texas). It didn’t forward it’s mail to another address. Do your own research on addresses before mailing your letters. The addresses that have worked recently are as follows:
- Experian. 701 Experian Parkway, Allen, Texas 75013. You can check at www.experian.com to see if Experian lists a physical address. It is obvious it wants everything sent electronically or by phone. The Experian Parkway address is not the official Experian address, but it will be hard for them to stop deliveries on their doorstep!
- Equifax. P.O. Box 105891,Atlanta, GA 30374. This is an address that has worked recently. Double check the address before sending correspondence at www.equifax.com
- Trans Union. 1561 E. Orangethorpe Avenue Fullerton, CA 92831 is an address that has worked in the past. Check as best you can before you send a dispute. www.myfaircredit.com.
Send Credit Disputes By Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested. Many attorneys who deal with credit reporting issues think it’s imperative you send the disputes by certified mail return receipt requested instead of by phone and over the internet. With certified mail, you can track the letter all the way to the credit reporting bureau: www.usps.com. You’ll need the Receipt for Certified Mail (attach this form to the letter following the directions at the bottom of the receipt), the Domestic Return Receipt (fill in sections Addressee 1; Article Number 2; Service Type 3, check “certified mail”; also write your address on the reverse site) and, of course, postage. At the time this was written the cost is $4.42 to send a letter with a couple pages by certified mail return receipt requested ($4.79 if you send more than a couple pages and on from there) . Check at www.usps.com for postal rates. Although the post office seems to want the letter presented to them for the receipt to be stamped, simply putting the correct postage on the letter and placing it in the mail, then tracking it on the web seems to work. Talk to your local post office to determine how it likes to handle the mailing.
Where to Send Credit Disputes. It is not absolutely necessary to send disputes to the the company furnishing incorrect credit information to the credit reporting agency, but it certainly doesn’t hurt and may put them on the same sheet of music with the credit reporting agency with the investigation, especially in theft of identity cases where there are affidavits and police reports. Believe it or not, the credit reporting agencies do not send your dispute documents to the the furnisher of information – they typically just summarize the dispute into a code. If a credit reporting bureau were reporting the Gettysburg Address, the story would read: “Code 8 – Died For Union”. Your affidavit, police report or copies of other relevent documents will not be sent on. The bureaus are not truely concerned with the “maximum possible accuracy” as required by the FCRA. Like your disputes with the credit reporting bureaus, you will want to send it all by certified mail return receipt requested. Some credit card companies have been known to deny receiving mail even when their representative signed a receipt for certified mail! You can only imagine which garbage can a dispute not received by certified mail goes into.
Styles of Credit Disputes. With disputes you want to provide the information necessary to have your dispute investigated and convey what is happening to you as a result of the false credit reporting. There are no statutes you need to state in the letter as long as you provide in plain words what you are demanding. Letters that have a lot of statutes sometimes look a little too smart for their own good. If a company has a statutory obligation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or the Fair Credit Billing Act, giving them the statute isn’t going to affect that obligation as the demand is stated in plain English.
Basics of Contesting Credit Errors. The minimum information is as follows: 1) Name of the company reporting the inaccurate entry; 2) credit account number; 3) a statement that the account was in error; 4) why you believe the credit report is in error; 5) what you want done (i.e. whether you want the entire account deleted or corrected in a certain way); 6) that you want a statement from the CRA of the manner in which it investigated the claim including the name and phone number of anyone contacted in connection with the reinvestigation; 7) your name, social security number, address and date of birth; 8) attach relevant documents to your dispute. Further, you may want to attach a copy of your credit report from that company or a copy of your drivers license or utility bill that shows your current address if you moved recently. You might also add requests for verification if you are dealing with a collection agency, statement of billing error if you are dealing with a credit card company and demand to send corrected information directly to a company that pulled your report if you were denied credit based on an error in a report.
Types of Credit Disputes. Credit dispute letters should be tailored to the type of recipient and the sender’s situation. The credit disputes below are just an example and should be a starting point in deciding what to write. There are some companies that sell credit dispute forms. No credit dispute form can possibly be used to solve the many types of errors consumers encounter. Rather than use credit dispute forms, a consumer is better off being providing the information that covers their individual situation. Letters to credit reporting bureaus and furnishers of information should consider the Fair Credit Reporting Act, disputes to collection agencies should take into account the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and possibly the Fair Credit Billing Act and disputes to credit card companies may want to take into account the Fair Credit Billing Act.