When you request a copy of your “credit report” from a consumer reporting agency, you are actually receiving a document that is a consumer report often referred to as a consumer file disclosure. Under the FCRA, a credit report is consumer credit information that a CRA provided to third parties like banks, car dealers, and mortgage brokers. A consumer report is simply that same credit information, however it sent directly to you the consumer not a third party. Pursuant to Section 1681g of the FCRA, you are entitled to receive an exact copy of the entire contents of the credit file that the CRA maintains on you that it sends to third parties as a credit report.
The consumer reports provided by Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax all have a different appearance and layout, but the types of information maintained on the report are basically the same. Some furnishers only report to one of the three main CRAs, so an account may appear on only one out of the three credit files. Moreover, if you obtain a consumer report from a third party vendor, the appearance and ordering of the information can change. In general, there are five main groups of information that appear on all consumer reports including: background information, public record information, prior credit account history, inquiries, and FCRA required disclosures.
On the top of your consumer credit report, the CRA provides you with the background information associated with the credit file as well as a credit file number. The background identifying information includes: name, address, former addresses, date of birth, partial social security number, and employment data. You should check this information carefully to make sure that none of the information is inaccurate. If you are the victim of identity theft, many times you will see information related to the identity thief such as addresses and dates of birth that are unrelated to your actual identifying information. Make sure you dispute any of the information that is inaccurate as incorrect background information can cause erroneous credit accounts to be associated with your credit file. For information on how to dispute inaccurate information in your credit file, please see my prior post:
Following your background information, you will see public record information, which can be some of the most damaging information on a credit file. Many credit denials are the result of inaccurate judgment information, inaccurate bankruptcy information, or inaccurate tax liens. You should carefully review the reported public record information to make sure that no information related to another consumer has been mixed up with your credit information.
Next, you will typically see information related to your past credit accounts. Some CRAs will list the adverse accounts in a separate section of the report, while others will simply report the accounts in alphabetical order. Attention to detail is vital as you review these accounts because account number and creditor names can change. Because of these changes, it can be difficult to determine if a particular account is yours. If you see credit accounts that are not yours or accounts that are reporting inaccurate late payments, include a description why the account(s) are inaccurate when you send a credit dispute letter to the credit reporting agency.
Following your credit account information, you will see information related to third party inquires into your credit history. These inquiries will include both “hard inquires” and “soft inquiries.” When reviewing your inquiries, please make sure that you either authorized the credit inquiry or that the creditor had a legitimate business reason for acquiring a copy of your credit report. “Soft inquiries” do not affect your credit score and can be acquired by companies that want to establish a business relationship with you. Be careful when dealing with companies that have acquired your information via a soft inquiry as in some instances they can be companies that have poor records with organizations like the Better Business Bureau.
Finally, all CRAs are required to provide you with important notices regarding your rights under the FCRA. At the end of the consumer report, you should receive a summary of your consumer rights as well as a list of regulatory agencies that you may contact. If you are reviewing your consumer report and notice anything unusual, inaccurate, or wrong, please do not hesitate to contact me at my office, 571-313-0412.