Your Free Credit Report Rights

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Free credit report offers have increasingly appeared on TV, in your e-mail in-box and on the Internet over the last few years. This is due in part to the increase in identity theft cases, because checking your credit report can help you detect instances of identity theft.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting agencies — TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.

Beyond a free credit report every year, though, what other rights does FCRA grant you as a consumer? Read on...

Your Free Credit Report Rights Under FCRA

You have the right to know what's in your file. Under FCRA, you have a right to know everything about you in the files of a consumer reporting agency (your "file disclosure"). You'll need to provide proper identification to access this information, but in some cases, the file disclosure will be free.

You must be told whether information in your file has been used against you. Anyone who uses any aspect of your credit history against you — for example, using the information contained in your credit report to deny credit, insurance or employment — or to take other adverse action against you — is required to tell you. That person or entity is also obligated to tell you the name, address, and phone number of the agency that provided the information.

You have the right to request a credit score. Your credit score is a numeric assessment of your creditworthiness; it can be used by lenders and others to decide whether to give you a loan, extend you credit, rent you an apartment and more. While your free credit report won't include a credit score, you can request a credit score from the three credit bureaus. You'll have to pay for it, though, except in certain transactions with your mortgage lender.

You have the right to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information. If you order a free credit report and find incomplete or inaccurate information in your file, you can report it to the consumer reporting agency. Unless your dispute is frivolous, the agency must investigate your claim.

Credit reporting agencies must correct or delete inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable information from your credit report. Inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable information must be removed or corrected, usually within 30 days. However, if a credit reporting agency has verified that the information is accurate, it may continue to report it.

Credit reporting agencies may not report outdated negative information. In most cases, negative information that is over seven years old must be removed. In the case of a bankruptcy, the information can stay on your report for up to 10 years.

Access to your file is limited. Only people with a valid need to see your credit information — a creditor, insurer, employer, landlord, or other business — can access it. The FCRA specifies those with a valid need for access.

Employers can access your credit report only with your consent. Your credit information can be shared with your employer, or a potential employer, only after you've given written consent to the employer. Some exceptions do exist. For example, this written consent generally isn't required in the trucking industry.1

You can limit "prescreened" offers of credit and insurance you get based on information in your credit report. The FCRA requires that unsolicited, "prescreened" offers for credit and insurance include a toll-free phone number you can call if you want your name and address removed from the lists on which these offers are based. You can opt out with the nationwide credit bureaus by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).

You may seek damages from violators. If a credit reporting agency, a user of credit reports, or a furnisher of information to a credit reporting bureau violates the FCRA, you may be able to sue in state or federal court.

Identity theft victims and active-duty military personnel have additional rights. Active-duty military personnel can place an "active duty alert" in their credit reports that requires creditors to verify their identity before issuing credit in their name. Similarly, identity theft victims can place "fraud alerts" in their credit reports to require creditors to contact them before opening any new accounts or making any changes to their existing account.

Many states have their own credit reporting laws, and in some cases, you may have more rights under state law. Contact your state or local consumer protection agency or your state Attorney General. And be sure to visit www.ftc.gov/credit for more information about the FCRA and your free credit report.

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