Far too often, people don’t realize that they have a credit problem until something goes wrong. They may get the first inkling of trouble when they are denied a loan for an important purchase or start receiving collection notices for unfamiliar debts. By then, unfortunately, the damage has already been done — and it can be difficult to undo.
You can avoid unpleasant credit surprises by reviewing your credit report on a regular basis, whether or not you have any reason to think something might be amiss. Under federal law, you can receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies each year by visiting the official annual credit report website.
What’s in a Credit Report?
Your credit report contains information about who you are, where you live, what you owe and how you pay your bills. It also indicates whether you have any collection judgments against you, and whether you have filed for bankruptcy. Since your credit report directly affects your credit score, having false or outdated information in your credit report can interfere with your ability to obtain a loan, rent a home, qualify for a mortgage or even get a job.
Inaccurate information can appear on your credit report for a number of reasons. Identity theft is involved in many cases, while others result from simple mistakes like mixing up two people with similar names. In other cases, information may be accurate but outdated. Most negative information can only appear on your credit report for seven years. Bankruptcies, however, can appear for 10 years, while criminal convictions can stay on your credit report indefinitely.
Removing Old or Inaccurate Information
If you discover false, inaccurate or outdated information on your credit report, it is possible to have it removed. The first step is to notify the credit bureaus in writing of any items that you want to dispute, explaining the facts and providing documentation to support your position. If the credit bureaus do not correct the inaccurate item, you should contact an experienced consumer protection attorney for assistance. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can sue for actual damages, statutory damages of up to $1,000 and attorney’s fees. Most consumer protection attorneys will take good Fair Credit Reporting Act cases on a contingency basis.
Avoid credit-repair companies that offer to “erase” your bad credit or create a new credit identity for you — these are scams that aim to take your money, and they could get you involved in fraud or other illegal activities in the process.