A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was designed by the federal government to ensure every ‘consumer reporting agency’ (CRA) adheres to the principles of promoting accuracy, fairness and privacy of information in its files. A large number of CRAs are credit bureaus in the business of collecting and selling information about people, such as, whether they pay their bills on time, or if they have ever filed for bankruptcy, etc. to creditors, employers, landlords, and other businesses. If you are interested, the complete text of the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. 1681-1681u can be found at the Federal Trade Commission’s web site – http://www.ftc.gov. The FCRA guarantees the public specific rights outlined below. In addition, the public also has additional rights under state law that can be learnt about by contacting a state or local consumer protection agency or a state attorney general.
- You have the right to know if the information in your file has been used against you. If anyone uses information from a CRA against you, such as, denying an application for credit, insurance, or employment, they must inform you, and give the name, address, and phone number of the CRA responsible for providing that consumer report.
- You have the right to access information on your file. You are allowed to access the information on your file, including a list of everyone who has requested it recently, after making a minimal payment of $8 to the CRA. There will be no charges for the report, if action has been taken against you, as a result of information supplied by the CRA, and as long as, you request the report within 60-days of receiving the notice of action. As well, on request, you are entitled to a free report, once every twelve months, if you certify you are unemployed and will seek employment within 60-days, or if you are on welfare, or if your report is inaccurate due to fraud.
- Inaccurate information can be disputed with the CRA. If your file with a CRA contains inaccurate information, the CRA is required to investigate the inaccuracies (usually within 30-days) by presenting all relevant evidence submitted by you to its information source. The source must in turn review evidence provided and report its findings to the CRA, including advising national CRAs to whom it has provided inaccurate data, of the errors. It must give a written report of the investigation, as well as, a copy of your report with changes, and in case, a CRA investigation does not resolve the dispute, you are permitted to add a brief statement to your file. All future reports given out by the CRA must include a summary of your statement. If items are deleted or dispute statements filed, you may ask the CRA to notify everyone in recent receipt of your report of the changes.
- Correction and deletion of inaccurate information a must. CRAs are required to remove or correct inaccurate or unverified information from files, usually within 30-days of your disputing it. However, the CRA is not required to remove accurate data from your file, unless it is outdated or cannot be verified. If changes are made to your report as a result of your dispute, the CRA cannot reinsert a disputed item into your file, unless the information source verifies its accuracy and completeness. As well, the CRA is required to issue you a written notice informing you of the reinsertion of the item. The notice issued must include the name, address and phone number of the information source.
- Inaccurate items can be disputed with the source of information. If you tell anyone, such as, a creditor reporting to a CRA that you dispute an item, they cannot report the information to a CRA, without including a notice of your dispute. As well, once you have notified the information source of the error in writing, it may not continue to report the information if it is, in fact, an error.
- A CRA is not allowed to report outdated information. In most cases, negative information more than 7-years old or 10-years for bankruptcies cannot be reported by CRAs.
- Limited access files. Credit files have limited access and CRAs are only allowed to provide information about you to people, whose need is recognized by the FCRA, usually, in the case of credit applications to a creditor, insurer, employer, landlord, or other business.
- Your consent is required for providing reports to employers, or reports containing medical information. A CRA is not permitted to give out information about you to your employer, or prospective employer, without written consent from you. Neither, is it allowed to report medical information to creditors, insurers, or employers without your permission.
- The option to exclude your name from CRA lists for unsolicited credit and insurance offers is yours. Creditors and insurers may use filed information to send unsolicited offers of credit or insurance. These offers must include a toll-free phone number for you to call, if you want your name and address removed from future lists. In case, you call them, they are responsible for keeping your name off the lists for a minimum of two years, as well, requesting, completing, and returning the CRA form provided for this purpose ensures you are taken off the lists, indefinitely.
- Violaters can be sued for damage. A CRA or a user or a provider of CRA data found violating the FCRA can be sued in a state or federal court.
Knowing your rights is important for both landlords and tenants as landlords often use consumer reporting agencies or credit bureaus for a background check of prospective clients.