Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have a right to the fair and accurate reporting of your credit information. You are also entitled to certain privacy rights concerning your credit information and protection from the misuse of your credit information. If someone violates your rights under the FCRA, you have some remedies available. Those remedies might include actual damages, punitive damages, attorneys fees, and costs. The type of remedy will depend on whether the violation was intentional or negligent.
What Is the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
The FCRA governs the behavior of consumer reporting agencies (also called credit bureaus) and the businesses or individuals that report information to the consumer reporting agencies (CRAs). The CRAs compile this information into your credit report. Creditors, landlords, and employers may rely on information in your credit report in making decisions to extend credit to you, give you a job, or rent a home or apartment to you.
The FCRA provides rules about who can access your report, what can be reported and for how long, and what CRAs and information suppliers must do if you dispute information. (To learn more, see the articles in Nolo's Credit Repair topic area.)
If a CRA or another entity violates the FCRA, you might suffer harm. For example, inaccurate information in your report could lead a creditor to deny you a car loan or credit card, an employer to refuse to hire you, or a landlord to decide not to rent to you. You could suffer other harm as well.
If there is a FCRA violation, you can sue in court. Here are the remedies that are available:
Damages for a Willful Violation
If you can show that the credit reporting agency (CRA), information furnisher, or entity using the information willfully violated its obligations under the FCRA, then you may be entitled to recover up to all of the following damages:
Basic Damages (pick one):
actual (provable) damages (no limit), or
statutory damages damages between $100 and $1,000 (to get these you don't have to prove that the violation harmed you).
If the violator was an individual who lied to get your credit report, or used it for an improper purpose, then the greater of:
your actual, provable damages (no limit), or
$1,000 flat (no minimum).
Punitive damages, as decided by the court.
Attorneys fees and costs.
Definition of “Willful”
A willful violation doesn't just mean that you have to prove that the CRA or other entity actually knew that it violated your rights. Rather, it is enough to prove that it was acting recklessly -- that is, the CRA or other entity knew or should have known that it was running afoul of the FCRA.
Damages for a Negligent Violation
You are also entitled to damages if you can show that the CRA or other entity negligently failed to comply with its obligations under the FCRA. Damages here include:
actual damages (no set limit or minimum), and
attorneys fees and costs.
Beware: Penalty for a Frivolous FCRA Lawsuit
The FCRA has a penalty for filing any lawsuit or subsequent court papers that are later determined to have been filed in “bad faith or for purposes of harassment.” You (or the defendant) may have to pay the other side's attorney fees if you/they file bad faith papers and lose.
When and Where to File a Lawsuit for FCRA Violations
You can file a complaint in either federal court or your state's court. There is a time limit (called a statute of limitations) for filing a FCRA complaint. It must be filed no later than:
two years after the date you discovered the violation, or
five years after the date of the violation.