Every person is entitled to one free credit report a year at annualcreditreport.com or you can call 1-877-322-8228. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) regulates credit reporting agencies and those organizations that furnish credit information, such as creditors and debt collectors. These entities are called furnishers of information.
Disputing inaccuracies on your credit report begins with a letter to the credit reporting agency (Experian, Transunion and/or Equifax) that is reporting the disputed information. The letter must include your name, address, each item in the report that you dispute, why you dispute the information, and a request that it be removed or corrected. You should include copies of any documents that support your position. Try to be as specific as possible in explaining why you believe the item on your report is a mistake. The reasonableness of the investigation that follows your dispute is evaluated according to the amount of information you provide.
Upon receipt of your dispute letter, the credit reporting agency has 5 business days to pass the dispute to the furnisher of information (the entity that originally provided the disputed information) and 30 days to investigate the dispute. Within that 30 day period (may be extended by 15 days if the consumer reporting agency receives additional relevant information from the consumer), the credit reporting agency and furnisher of information must conduct reasonable investigations. Both entities (the credit reporting agency and the furnisher of information) must complete their own investigations within that 30 day dispute period. If either the credit reporting agency or furnisher of information finds the disputed information to be inaccurate it must delete or modify that item of information from the file.
The credit reporting agency must provide you with written results within 5 business days of completion of the reinvestigation. The results must include: (1) a statement that the reinvestigation is completed; (2) a credit report based upon your file as revised as a result of the reinvestigation; (3) a notice that you may request from the consumer reporting agency a description of the procedure used to determine the accuracy and completeness of the information, including the business name and address of any furnisher of information contacted in connection with such information and the telephone number of such furnisher, if reasonably available; (4) a notice that you have the right to add a statement to your file that indicates you dispute the accuracy or completeness of the information; and (5) a notice that you have the right to request that the consumer reporting agency notify anyone you designate (who has pulled your credit report within the last 2 years for employment purposes or pulled your credit report within the last 6 months for any other reason) that the item has been deleted, disputed, etc.
In many FCRA lawsuits, the issue comes down to the reasonableness of the reinvestigation. As set forth above, the reasonableness of any investigation is evaluated on a case by case basis, but of primary importance is the information the consumer originally provided to the consumer reporting agency.
A common mistake consumers make is disputing the information directly to the furnisher of information (thinking to resolve the dispute with the entity that provided the inaccurate information in the first place). When the furnisher of information fails to amend the consumer’s credit report, the consumer sues the furnisher of information for violating the FCRA. However, liability under the FCRA only arises if you dispute the item of information to the credit reporting agency. So make sure you dispute the information to the right entity, the credit reporting agency. It’s the credit reporting agency’s duty to pass the dispute along to the furnisher of information.
If you’ve disputed information to the credit reporting agency and (1) the steps above were not followed or (2) the investigation was not reasonable, the credit reporting agency and the furnisher of information may be liable to you for actual damages, statutory damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.