you've ever applied for a charge account, a personal loan, insurance,
or a job, someone has a file on you. This file — known as
a consumer report — contains information on where you work
and live, how you pay your bills, and whether you've been sued,
arrested, or filed for bankruptcy.
Companies that gather and sell this information are called credit
reporting agencies, or CRA's. The most common type of CRA is the
credit bureau. The information CRA's sell about you to creditors,
employers, insurers, and other businesses is called a consumer
The Fair Credit Reporting Act, which is enforced by the Federal
Trade Commission, gives you specific rights in dealing with CRA's.
It protects you by requiring credit bureaus to furnish accurate
and complete information to businesses when they evaluate your
applications for credit, insurance, or a job.
Here are some common questions about consumer reports and CRA's
— and the answers.
How do I find the CRA that has my report?
Contact the CRA's listed in the Yellow Pages under "credit"
or "credit rating and reporting." Since more than one
CRA may have a file on you, call each until you locate the agencies
maintaining your file. If your application was denied because
of information supplied by a CRA, the company you applied to must
give you the agency's name and address.
Do I have the right to know what's in my report?
Yes, if you ask for it. The CRA must tell you everything in the
report, and in most cases, the sources of the information. Although
the CRA is not required to give you a copy of the report, many
do. You also have the right to know who received your report in
the past six months. If your inquiry concerns a job application,
you can get the names of those who received your report during
the past two years.
Medical data is exempt from this rule, but your doctor may be
able to get it for you.
Is there a charge for my report?
Not if your application was denied because of information supplied
by the CRA, and not if you request your report within 30 days
of receiving the denial notice. If these requirements are not
met, the CRA may charge a reasonable fee.
What can I do about inaccurate/incomplete
Contact the CRA. They're required to reinvestigate the items
in question. If the new investigation reveals an error, you may
ask that a corrected report be sent to anyone who received your
report in the past six months. Job applicants can have corrected
reports sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two
What can I do if the CRA won't modify my report?
The reinvestigation may not resolve your dispute with the CRA.
If so, have the CRA include your version or a summary statement
of the dispute in your file and in future reports. At your request,
the CRA also will provide your version to anyone who recently
received a copy of the old report. There's no charge for this
service if you request it within 30 days after you receive your
denial notice. After that, there may be a reasonable charge.
Do I have to get the information in person?
No, you can ask that the information be provided to you over
the phone or by mail. However, to verify your identity, the CRA
can ask you to submit your request in writing. If you want to
visit the CRA, you'll need to make an appointment.
Are reports prepared on insurance and job applicants
If a report is prepared in response to an insurance or job application,
it may be an investigative consumer report. These are much more
detailed than regular consumer reports. They often involve interviews
with acquaintances about your lifestyle, character, and reputation.
Unlike regular consumer reports, you'll be notified in writing
when a company orders an investigative report. This notice also
will explain your right to ask for additional information about
the report from the company you applied to. If your application
is rejected, you may prefer to obtain a complete disclosure by
contacting the CRA. Note that the CRA does not have to reveal
the sources of the investigative information.
How long can a CRA report negative information?
Generally seven years, with certain exceptions:
bankruptcy information can be reported for 10 years;
information reported because of an application for a job with
a salary of more than $20,000 has no time limit;
information reported because of an application for more than $50,000
worth of credit or life insurance has no time limit;
information concerning a lawsuit or a judgment against you can
be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations
runs out, whichever is longer.
Can anyone get a copy of my report?
No. Only people with a legitimate business need can get your
Are there other laws I should know about?
If your credit application was denied, the Equal Credit Opportunity
Act requires creditors to tell you the specific reasons for your
denial. For example, the creditor must tell you whether the denial
was because you have "no credit file" with a CRA or
because the CRA says you have "delinquent obligations."
The ECOA also requires creditors to consider, upon request, additional
information you might supply about your credit history. You may
want to find out the creditor's reason for the denial before you
contact the credit bureau.
Where should I report violations of the law?
Although the FTC can't act as your lawyer in private disputes,
information about your experiences and concerns is vital to the
enforcement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Send your questions
or complaints to:
Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission,
Washington, D.C. 20580.