15 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq.
Fair Credit Reporting Act
Purpose and Origin of the Fair Credit Reporting Act
The three major credit reporting agencies are TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. These three companies gather information from “furnishers” (i.e. creditors that report information to the credit agencies) and then compile that information into credit reports and credit scores. Lenders will use the credit reports and credit scores to determine whether credit should be extended to a particular consumer and the terms by which credit is extended. By collecting this sensitive financial information and compiling it into credit reports that are accessible to lenders, credit reporting agencies are one of the few private companies that can directly affect the lives of almost every single American.
Since credit reporting agencies possess such tremendous power, Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) to regulate the credit reporting industry. Congress found that the banking system in the United States is dependent upon fair and accurate credit reporting and that unfair or inaccurate credit reporting directly undermines public confidence in the banking system, which is essential to the banking system’s stability. Therefore, Congress passed the FCRA “to require that consumer reporting agencies adopt reasonable procedures for meeting the needs of commerce for consumer credit, personnel, insurance, and other information in a matter which is fair and equitable to the consumer, with regard to the confidentiality, accuracy, relevancy, and proper utilization of such information. . . .” 15 U.S.C. § 1681(b).
A credit reporting agency must follow reasonable procedures every time it prepares a credit report “to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates.” 15 U.S.C. § 1681e(b).
Not only are the credit agencies required to create reasonable procedures to ensure that information on credit reports is accurate, furnishers must also create reasonable procedures “regarding the accuracy and integrity of the information relating to consumers that it furnishes” to a credit agency. 12 C.F.R. 1022.42. These procedures must also be appropriately designed to account for the “nature, size, complexity, and scope” of the furnisher’s business. Id. The furnishers must also continually review their procedures and update them as necessary to ensure that the procedures are effective. Id.
Disputing Inaccurate Information on your Credit Report
15 U.S.C. § 1681i provides consumers with the power to dispute inaccurate information that is listed on their credit reports. To do this, the consumer must notify the credit reporting agency of the inaccuracy or misstatement on his/her credit report in writing (i.e. a written letter). I recommend that a consumer (you) send this dispute letter via certified mail return receipt requested so that there is proof that the dispute letter was mailed and that the credit reporting agency received the letter. Knowing when the credit reporting agency receives the letter is very important because there are certain deadlines that the credit reporting agency must meet (described below). The date deadlines begin on the date that the credit agency receives the letter. With this letter, the consumer should include copies of any documents that indicate that the reported information is inaccurate (never send the original documents); the letter should also include the consumer’s complete name, and address; clearly identify each item that is inaccurate and is being disputed on the credit report along with an explanation why the item(s) is incorrect and being disputed. It is important to specifically describe each item that is being disputed and why that particular item is inaccurate, incorrect, or incomplete. A consumer must also state that the disputed items must be corrected or removed from the credit report.
You must keep copies of the dispute letter that is forwarded to the credit agency. Otherwise, if the consumer does not keep copies of the letters, it will be very difficult to prove that the consumer actually disputed items on his/her credit report if a lawsuit against the credit reporting agencies and furnishers for failing to correct the credit report is necessary.
Please note that the written dispute letter must be sent to a very specific address chosen by the credit reporting agency. These addresses often change. Therefore, it is best to identify the correct address each time a dispute letter is sent.
Credit Bureau’s and Furnisher’s Responsibilities after Receiving Dispute
After receiving the consumer’s written dispute letter, credit reporting agencies must conduct a free reasonable investigation to determine if the information disputed is inaccurate and should be changed or deleted from the credit report. The credit reporting agency normally has 30 days from the day it receives the dispute letter to conduct its reasonable investigation and provide the consumer with the results of that investigation. This 30 day period can be extended to 45 days in certain situations where the credit reporting agency receives new information from the consumer during the 30 day investigation period. Within 5 days of receiving the dispute letter, the credit reporting agency must also notify the furnisher of the disputed information. The furnisher can then provide documentation or other evidence supporting its reasoning that the disputed information is accurate and/or complete.
Notification After Credit Bureau Completes Its Investigation
A credit reporting agency must notify the consumer of their investigation results within 5 days after the investigation is completed. This notification must be in writing and must include a statement that the investigation is complete, a copy of the consumer’s credit report containing any revisions that result from the investigation, a description of the procedure used to determine the accuracy or completeness of the disputed information if the consumer requests it. Further, the credit agency must also send a notice that the consumer has the right to add a statement disputing the accuracy or completeness of the information to his/her credit report, and the agency must inform the consumer that he/she has a right to request that the credit reporting agency notify any entity identified by the consumer specifying that the inaccurate information has been deleted or modified if that entity/company received a copy of the consumer’s credit report in the preceding 2 years.
If the credit reporting agency determines that the disputed information is inaccurate, incomplete, or cannot be verified, the credit reporting agency must promptly delete the disputed information from the consumer’s credit report or modify the disputed information as appropriate. Additionally, the furnisher must be notified that the disputed information has been modified or deleted from the credit report.
When No Investigation is Required
A credit reporting agency would not have to conduct a reasonable investigation regarding the accuracy of the disputed information on a credit report if it determines that the dispute is frivolous or irrelevant. However, the credit reporting agency must make a reasonable determination that the consumer’s dispute is frivolous or irrelevant. If this occurs, the consumer must be notified within 5 days of the determination that the dispute is frivolous or irrelevant. This notification must inform the consumer why the dispute was deemed frivolous or irrelevant and inform the consumer of what information the credit reporting agency would need to reinvestigate the dispute.
Information Deleted from Your Credit Report Could be Reinserted
Even if disputed information is deleted or modified, it can be reinserted into the consumer’s credit report if the furnisher certifies that the information is accurate and complete. However, the consumer must be notified that information is going to be reinserted into their credit report within 5 days of the reinsertion. A consumer would also have the right to send another dispute letter challenging this new information using the same process that was described above. Therefore, even if the inaccurate or incomplete information is removed from your credit report, you should carefully monitor it to ensure that it is not reinserted.
Damages for Noncompliance
If any credit reporting agency or furnisher willfully fails to comply with the terms of the FCRA, it is liable to the consumer for actual damages or statutory damages between $100 and $1000, punitive damages, and the consumer’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
If a furnisher or credit reporting agency negligently fails to comply with the terms of the FCRA, it is liable to the consumer for actual damages and the consumer’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
Since the consumer is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs if his/her lawsuit is successful, Lampman Law normally agrees to take FCRA cases on a contingent basis, which means the client has to pay little or no money up front and Lampman Law only gets paid when we win.
Obtaining Free Credit Reports
The FCRA gives consumers the right to obtain 3 free credit reports per year, one from each major credit reporting agency. A consumer can receive all 3 reports at one time or the consumer can choose a different number of reports if he/she will want to retrieve another credit report before the one-year time limit has passed.
Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax have set up www.annualcreditreport.com where you can receive free credit reports. A consumer can also call (877) 322-8228 or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to the appropriate address to receive the free credit reports. If a consumer chooses to retrieve the credit reports online, it is imperative to save and/or print a copy before closing the PDF window. Once the PDF is closed, the consumer’s “free look” is finished and the PDF can only be re-opened if the consumer pays for it.
I normally suggest that consumers obtain their free credit reports by using the paper Annual Credit Report Request Form because when you obtain your credit report via the website, you must agree to many boilerplate conditions that you do not have to agree to when you use the paper form method to retrieve your credit reports.
Statute of Limitations
A lawsuit under the FCRA must be filed within 2 years of the date the plaintiff discovered the alleged violation or within 5 years of the date that the violation, which is the basis of liability, occurs, whichever is earlier. Since 15 U.S.C. § 1681p provides that the statute of limitations is the earlier of the two dates described above, it is critical to evaluate both dates to make sure that any lawsuit is filed on time.
If you (the consumer) think that your credit reports contain inaccurate or incomplete information, call us today for a free consultation.
The FCRA is a complicated Federal statute with accompanying regulations and it is important to have legal counsel to help and advise you throughout the process.
Lampman Law is NOT a Credit Repair Organization
Lampman Law is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined by 15 U.S.C. § 1679a(3).