Main Reporting Agencies: There are three main national consumer credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Experian Information Solutions, Inc., Equifax Information Services, LLC, and Trans Union LLC (the "Big Three").
How CRAs Get Information: Experian, Equifax and Trans Union all collect information from court records, banks, credit card companies, finance companies, department stores, cellular phone companies, court records, and many other companies issuing credit. The Big Three do not necessarily have the same credit information because not all creditors send reports to all three agencies and the agencies do not all collect information from the same public records. One CRA may have incomplete information, for instance reflecting a tax lien but not the amount or the fact that it was released. Another might not even report the first lien.
Your Credit Report Is Constantly Changing: A credit report is not a paper file kept in one place at a credit reporting bureau. This is part of the reason correcting credit errors can be so frustrating. The credit reporting bureaus have all your information saved in a particular format in a big, interconnected database. Your information is maintained with everyone else's. When a credit reporting bureau receives information from creditors and others, it all goes into one big "vat" of information or a few different vats owned by affiliated companies.
When a business inquires into or "pulls" your credit report, a search program or algorithm pulls information from this vat based on your "personal identifiers" such as your name, address, date of birth and social security number. It is kind of like an internet search engine algorithm, except of course the credit reporting algorithm should be very selective in what it includes. The search algorithm is supposed to filter out obsolete credit information and credit information that doesn't belong to you. The remaining information is combined into one report. Your credit report isn't something fixed since the information used to create your credit report is constantly changing as creditors pour information into the vat.
Obtaining a Free Copy of Your Credit Report
Consumers may obtain a free copy of their consumer report online once every 12 months. Simply go to www.annualcreditreport.com and request your complimentary Equifax, Experian and Trans Union profiles.
You are also entitled to a free report within 60 days of ANY credit denial. The agency on which denial is based will be mentioned in the notice that you receive from the company that denied your credit application.
Reading the Report
When you get your credit report the credit reporting agency may include a pamphlet or similar paperwork explaining how to read their particular format. There are generally five sections as follows:
Identification Information: This section usually includes your name, address, social security number, date of birth, former addresses, your employer's name, your job description and possibly your home phone number.
Credit History: This section shows various accounts and how timely you paid on them. There are two main types of accounts you see under "credit history." The first is revolving credit - meaning the minimum amount owed may be definite, but the payment due each month can be variable. This is typical of credit cards. Second is "installment accounts" - a definite amount due in fixed installments. A mortgage payment is typical of these, as are student loans. Underneath the accounts, it may reflect how and when payments were made on them. The credit bureaus break-down the account if there are late payments to show how many payments are 30, 60, 90 and 120 days past due (and some indicate later past dues of 150 days). Thus (3)(30), (2)(60), (1)(90) means you have paid three times past 30 days, two times past 60 days and once 90 days past the due date. If an account is fairly old, it may state that it is a "charge off", if you paid it after it was charged off it may state that it is a "paid charge off."
Collection Accounts: These accounts are being collected, usually by a collection agency, but sometimes also by companies that buy huge portfolios of charged off debt as well as some law firms.
Public Records: These records are usually obtained by a contractor for the credit bureaus. The contractor goes through the public records maintained by various courts and county records offices. Bankruptcies, judgment, satisfaction of judgment, tax liens, releases of tax liens and foreclosures are just some of the records that can go from the public record into your consumer report.
Speak to a Consumer Attorney Immediately
Once you have noted and documented errors in your credit reports, it is critical that you speak to an attorney who understands the various rights afforded to you by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The law requires that you dispute the inaccuracies to the consumer reporting agencies and specifically notify them of the problem(s) in your report. The credit bureaus must then notify the companies that published the information on your report about your dispute.
When you reach the point where you are dealing with the dispute process, please contact us or another consumer attorney as soon as possible.