You can’t choose to not have a credit report. You can’t choose what goes on it, and what doesn’t go on it. But, you do enjoy considerable rights as it pertains to your credit reports. Those rights are conferred to you by a federal statute called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
What Is the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
The FCRA was enacted in 1970 and has been amended dozens of times since. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the FCRA “promotes the accuracy, fairness and privacy of information in the files of consumer reporting agencies.” In other words, the statute sets the rules concerning how your credit reports are maintained, accessed, sold and corrected when errors or mistakes happen.
Your Fair Credit Reporting Act Rights
The FCRA is over 100 pages long, so it’s not possible to go over all of your rights in a single article. Instead, here are some highlights of the most important consumer protections you enjoy thanks to the law.
Free Annual Credit Reports
In 2003 the FCRA was amended by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA). FACTA gave consumers free access to a credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — once every 12 months. To claim these free reports, simply visit AnnualCreditReport.com. You won’t need a credit card.
Beyond free annual reports, you can claim additional free credit reports if:
- A lender or other company has taken an adverse action against you (e.g. you were turned down for a loan or charged a higher rate) due to your credit report or credit score.
- Your identity has been stolen.
- You are a victim of fraud and your credit file has errors as a result.
- You receive public assistance funds.
- You plan to apply for a job in the next two months (and you’re currently unemployed).
Limits on Credit Report Access
You have the right to privacy, at least some privacy, where your credit reports are concerned. The credit bureaus are only allowed to let people with a “permissible purpose” access your credit report. Some common examples of permissible purpose are:
- You can request a copy of your own credit file (it’s called a consumer disclosure) anytime. However, if you’ve used up your free allotments, you might have to pay for a report or find a website that will give you access for free.
- Lenders, credit card issuers, insurers and other companies may access your credit report when you apply for new credit or service.
- Your existing creditors may access your credit for account maintenance.
- Employers may access your credit, but only with your written permission. And no, your credit scores are not given to employers.
- Collection agencies can access your credit reports to help them collect debts.
A Dispute Process When Errors or Questions Come Up
Any time you discover information on your credit report that’s incorrect or suspicious, you can dispute it. When you submit a dispute to a credit bureau, it has to investigate your claim. Typically the entire process can take no longer than 30 days. If the disputed item is found to be a mistake, the credit bureau must correct it or delete it from your credit report.
Time Limits on Negative Credit Reporting
Most negative information has to eventually be removed from your credit reports. Typically, negative info may only stay on your report for between seven and 10 years, depending on the type of information.
Knowing how the credit bureaus are supposed to handle your information is an important part of earning and maintaining good credit. Because your credit can have a very real impact on your financial well-being, it’s a good idea to do everything you can to protect it, including understanding your rights.