FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
If youve ever applied for a charge
account, a personal loan, insurance, or a job, theres a
file about you. This file contains information on where you work
and live, how you pay your bills, and whether youve been
sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy.
Companies that gather and sell this information are called Consumer
Reporting Agencies (CRAs). The most common type of CRA is the
credit bureau. The information CRAs sell about you to creditors,
employers, insurers, and other businesses is called a consumer
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), enforced by the Federal
Trade Commission, is designed to promote accuracy and ensure the
privacy of the information used in consumer reports. Recent amendments
to the Act expand your rights and place additional requirements
on CRAs. Businesses that supply information about you to CRAs
and those that use consumer reports also have new responsibilities
under the law.
Here are some questions consumers commonly ask about consumer
reports and CRAs and the answers. Note that you may
have additional rights under state laws. Contact your state Attorney
General or local consumer protection agency for more information.
Q. How do I find the CRA that has my report?
A. Contact the CRAs listed in the Yellow Pages under "credit"
or "credit rating and reporting." Because more than
one CRA may have a file on you, call each until you locate all
the agencies maintaining your file. The three major national
credit bureaus are:
- Equifax, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241; (800)
- Experian (formerly TRW), P.O. Box 949, Allen, TX 75013;
- Trans Union, 760 West Sproul Road, P.O. Box 390, Springfield,
PA 19064-0390; (800) 916-8800.
In addition, anyone who takes action against you in response
to a report supplied by a CRA such as denying your application
for credit, insurance, or employment must give you the
name, address, and telephone number of the CRA that provided
Q. Do I have a right to know whats in my report?
A. Yes, if you ask for it. The CRA must tell you everything
in your report, including medical information, and in most cases,
the sources of the information. The CRA also must give you a
list of everyone who has requested your report within the past
year two years for employment related requests.
Q. Is there a charge for my report?
A. Sometimes. Theres no charge if a company takes adverse
action against you, such as denying your application for credit,
insurance or employment, and you request your report within
60 days of receiving the notice of the action. The notice will
give you the name, address, and phone number of the CRA. In
addition, youre entitled to one free report a year if
you can prove that (1) youre unemployed and plan to look
for a job within 60 days, (2) youre on welfare, or (3)
your report is inaccurate because of fraud. Otherwise, a CRA
may charge you up to $8 for a copy of your report.
Q. What can I do about inaccurate or incomplete information?
A. Under the new law, both the CRA and the information provider
have responsibilities for correcting inaccurate or incomplete
information in your report. To protect all your rights under
this law, contact both the CRA and the information provider.
First, tell the CRA in writing what information you
believe is inaccurate. CRAs must reinvestigate the items in
question usually within 30 days unless they consider
your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all relevant
data you provide about the dispute to the information provider.
After the information provider receives notice of a dispute
from the CRA, it must investigate, review all relevant information
provided by the CRA, and report the results to the CRA. If the
information provider finds the disputed information to be inaccurate,
it must notify all nationwide CRAs so that they can correct
this information in your file.
When the reinvestigation is complete, the CRA must give you
the written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute
results in a change. If an item is changed or removed, the CRA
cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless
the information provider verifies its accuracy and completeness,
and the CRA gives you a written notice that includes the name,
address, and phone number of the provider.
Second, tell the creditor or other information provider in
writing that you dispute an item. Many providers specify
an address for disputes. If the provider then reports the item
to any CRA, it must include a notice of your dispute. In addition,
if you are correct that is, if the information is
inaccurate the information provider may not use it again.
Q. What can I do if the CRA or information provider wont
correct the information I dispute?
A. A reinvestigation may not resolve your dispute with the
CRA. If thats the case, ask the CRA to include your statement
of the dispute in your file and in future reports. If you request,
the CRA also will provide your statement to anyone who received
a copy of the old report in the recent past. There usually is
a fee for this service.
If you tell the information provider that you dispute an item,
a notice of your dispute must be included anytime the information
provider reports the item to a CRA.
Q. Can my employer get my report?
A. Only if you say its okay. A CRA may not supply information
about you to your employer, or to a prospective employer, without
your written consent.
Q. Can creditors, employers, or insurers get a report that
contains medical information about me?
A. Not without your approval.
Q. What should I know about "investigative consumer
A. "Investigative consumer reports" are detailed
reports that involve interviews with your neighbors or acquaintances
about your lifestyle, character, and reputation. They may be
used in connection with insurance and employment applications.
Youll be notified in writing when a company orders such
a report. The notice will explain your right to request certain
information about the report from the company you applied to.
If your application is rejected, you may get additional information
from the CRA. However, the CRA does not have to reveal the sources
of the information.
Q. How long can a CRA report negative information?
A. Seven years. There are certain exceptions:
- Bankruptcy information may be reported for 10 years.
- Information reported in response to an application for a
job with a salary of more than $75,000 has no time limit.
- Information reported because of an application for more
than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance has no time
- Information about a lawsuit or an unpaid judgment against
you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of
limitations runs out, whichever is longer.
Q. Can anyone get a copy of my report?
A. No. Only people with a legitimate business need, as recognized
by the FCRA. For example, a company is allowed to get your report
if you apply for credit, insurance, employment, or to rent an
Q. How can I stop a CRA from including me on lists for unsolicited
credit and insurance offers?
A. Creditors and insurers may use CRA file information as a
basis for sending you unsolicited offers. These offers must
include a toll-free number for you to call if you want to remove
your name and address from lists for two years; completing a
form that the CRA provides for this purpose will keep your name
off the lists permanently.
Q. Do I have the right to sue for damages?
A. You may sue a CRA, a user or in some cases
a provider of CRA data, in state or federal court for most violations
of the FCRA. If you win, the defendant will have to pay damages
and reimburse you for attorney fees to the extent ordered by
Q. Are there other laws I should know about?
A. Yes. If your credit application was denied, the Equal Credit
Opportunity Act requires creditors to specify why if
you ask. For example, the creditor must tell you whether you
were denied 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 additional information
you might supply about your credit history. You may want to
find out why the creditor denied your application before you
contact the CRA.
Q. Where should I report violations of the law?
A. Although the FTC cant 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: Consumer Response Center -
FCRA, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580.
For More Information
For a free copy of Best
Sellers, a complete list of FTC publications, contact:
Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C. 20580
(202) 326-2222; TDD: (202) 326-2502