The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) (15 U.S.C. § 1681 and following) regulates consumer reporting agencies and consumer reports. You have certain rights under this federal law, including the right to access your credit file, the right correct any inaccuracies in your credit report, the right to seek damages against those who violate the law, and more.
Read on to get information about your basic rights under the FCRA.
Again, the FCRA is the federal law that governs “consumer reporting agencies” and “consumer reports.”
What are consumer reporting agencies? “Consumer reporting agencies,” “credit reporting agencies,” and “credit bureaus” are three names for the same thing. Credit reporting agencies are for-profit companies that gather and sell information about a person’s credit history. The three nationwide credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
What are consumer reports? A consumer report is another name for a credit report. (Learn what a credit report is and what information it contains.)
While the FCRA uses the terms “consumer reporting agencies” and “consumer reports,” most people just say “credit reporting agencies” and “credit reports.”
The FCRA lays out the responsibilities for both consumer reporting agencies and those who furnish information to consumer reporting agencies. The FCRA also regulates who can access credit reports.
Requirements for credit reporting agencies. The FCRA requires consumer reporting agencies to adopt reasonable procedures for gathering, maintaining, and distributing information.
Requirements for furnishers of information. Regulations effective as of July 1, 2010 under the FCRA require anyone furnishing information to consumer reporting agencies—including original creditors and debt collectors—to have reasonable policies and procedures for ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the information they report.
Who can access your credit file. A credit reporting agency can provide information about you only to people with a valid reason. The FCRA specifies those with a valid need for access, like creditors, potential creditors, insurers, employers, landlords, and certain other businesses, such as utility companies.
Here’s a summary of your main rights under the FCRA.
You have the right to dispute the accuracy and the completeness of any item in your file. Under the FCRA, you have the right to dispute both the accuracy and the completeness of items in your file, not just inaccurate information. The distinction between accuracy and completeness can be important. For example, your credit report might state accurately that a creditor sued you. But this information might be incomplete because you later paid the debt or are not actually liable for it. You can dispute the information about the lawsuit because it is incomplete. Inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable information usually has to be removed or corrected within 30 or 45 days. (Learn about how to dispute incomplete and inaccurate information in your credit report.)
Consumer reporting agencies can’t report outdated negative information. In most cases, a consumer reporting agency may not report negative information that is more than seven years old, or bankruptcies that are more than 10 years old.
You have the right to find out what’s in your file. You have the right to get all the information about you contained in the files that a consumer reporting agency prepared—called a “file disclosure.” Sometimes the file disclosure is free, other times you might have to pay a fee. You can get one free credit report every 12 months upon request from each nationwide credit reporting agency. (To get your free reports from any or all of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion—contact the Annual Credit Report Service.)
You can also get a free file disclosure in certain situations, like if:
Specialty credit reporting agencies also have to give you with a free report every 12 months, if you ask for it.
You have the right to ask for a credit score. You may ask for your credit score from consumer reporting agencies that create or distribute scores, but you’ll usually have to pay a fee for it. In certain mortgage transactions, though, you’ll get your credit score from the lender for free.
If information in your credit file is used against you, the user must tell you. If someone uses your credit report or another type of consumer report to take some other adverse action against you—like denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment—they must let you know and give you the name, address, and telephone number of the agency that provided the information.
Employers must get your consent before getting your credit file. A consumer reporting agency generally can’t give your file to your employer, or a potential employer, without your written consent.
You may seek damages from FCRA violators. The FCRA lets you sue a credit reporting agency (or other person or entity that violates the law) for negligent or willful noncompliance with the law within two years after you discover the harmful behavior or within five years after the harmful behavior occurs, whichever is sooner.
Identity theft victims and active duty military personnel have certain rights. The FCRA provides certain rights for victims of identity theft and military personnel. For example, identity theft victims may ask businesses for a copy of transaction records (like credit applications) relating to the theft and military personnel may place an active duty alert on their credit reports. (Stolen Identity? Here’s What to Do.)
Most states have passed laws similar to the FCRA, some of which provide even greater protection for consumers than federal law. For more information about the FCRA or your state’s laws, contact your state or local consumer protection agency, your state Attorney General, or a local attorney.