Your Credit Report
In the United States there are three major credit bureaus, Experian (formerly TRW), TransUnion, and Equifax. A credit bureau is a company that acquires and maintains files on almost every US adult. These credit bureaus acquire data from creditors such as banks, mortgage lenders, and retail establishments. They search court records for lawsuits, judgments, and bankruptcy filings. Also, bureaus review county records for tax, judgment, mechanics, or other liens (legal claims).
This information is compiled along with personal information and provided to creditors, insurance companies, employers, landlords, or anyone else who has a legitimate business use for the information, at their request.
Typically a credit report will contain your name and any former names or aliases. It also has your address and former addresses, employment history, and changes in marital status. It reflects all lawsuits to which you are a party, as well as any liens or legal claims on your property.
The bulk of a credit report provides information on your credit history. Most creditors and their account numbers are reported along with information about the date the account was opened, the credit limit or original balance, whether anyone else is named on the account, the balance and the payment pattern for the last 24 to 36 months. Accounts that are in collections or in dispute are shown as such.
Information about bankruptcies and past due child support will also show up on a credit report. Credit bureaus are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, and must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Act gives the credit bureaus the right to gather information about you, as it relates to your eligibility for credit, insurance, or employment.
The bureaus are able to provide information for any legitimate business need. Reports may reflect lawsuits, judgments, liens, foreclosures, Chapter 13 bankruptcy, late payments, or any other negative information for seven years from the time it was reported. If you have filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the seven-year period begins on the date of filing. For charged off accounts in collection agencies, the period begins on the date the account was written off by the original creditor and sent to the collection agency. Judgments, if not paid, can be renewed until they are satisfied.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy will remain on a credit report for ten years from the date of filing. The bureaus do have the right to indefinitely report bankruptcies, lawsuits, liens, and criminal records if you are applying for credit greater than $150,000, insurance valued at more than $150,000, or employment with an annual income of greater than $75,000. This, however, is rare. Usually the information is deleted permanently after seven years.
It is a good idea to review your own credit report from time to time. This is particularly important before seeking a rental, making a career change, or applying for credit for a large purchase, such as a house or car.
Your report will show all of the information in the credit file, the sources of that information, and the names of all those who have requested your report for at least the past year, although inquiries are often reflected for two years. Not all creditors report to all three credit bureaus, although the information in all reports should be similar. If there is a problem with one report, it might be in your best interest to acquire the other two as well.
You may receive a free copy of your credit report if:
- You have been denied credit, housing, employment, or insurance within the last 60 days (from the bureau that supplied the information).
- Adverse action (such as raising interest or lowering your credit limit) was taken against you based on information contained in your credit report.
- You certify that you are unemployed and plan to seek employment within 60 days (one free report every 12 months).
- You certify that you are receiving public benefits (one free report every 12 months).
- Your report is inaccurate due to fraud (one free report every 12 months).
Other Types of Reports
ChexSystems is the report used by banks when determining whether or not to open a savings or checking account for a new customer. This is a report of past banking activity such as closed bank accounts and checks returned for insufficient funds. Not all banks use this service, and there is no standard for adding information to the report - some banks will report one check that bounced due to miscalculation, where others may only report in cases of bank fraud.
Negative information on a ChexSystems report may be prohibitive when trying to open a new bank account. Accurate information remains for five years, even if the check is paid. It can only be removed by request of the financial institution.
A consumer can get a copy of this report free of charge and may dispute any incorrect information. It is also possible to add a 100 word statement explaining the circumstances surrounding a returned check. Equifax Check Services provides similar information to banks that subscribe to their service.
To reach ChexSystems, call (800) 428-9623, or write to their Consumer Relations Dept. at 12005 Ford Road, Suite 600, Dallas, TX 75234-7253.
National Tenant Network
The National Tenant Network compiles information on evictions and provides it to landlords who make use of their service. This is not regulated by the Federal Trade Commission so they need not comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It is also not a nationwide agency; its used mostly on the West Coast. A consumer has a right to request and inspect his or her report with this Network and dispute inaccurate or incomplete information.
A brief statement can also be added to the report to explain the circumstances of an eviction. Negative information on this report, or any report, can seriously hamper a renters ability to get an apartment, or cause a landlord to require a larger security deposit.
National Tenant Network can be reached by phone at (510) 295-9500, and by mail at PO Box 1145, Lafayette, CA 94549-1145. There may be a fee to obtain a copy of your report.
Credit Reporting Bureaus
PO Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-2104
PO Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
PO Box 105783
Atlanta, GA 30348