A credit report contains information about where you live and work, how you pay your bills, and whether you have been sued, arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. Companies that gather and sell this credit report are called Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) or Credit Bureaus.
You can get free copies of your credit reports once per year from each of the nationwide CRAs: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. (See 2020 Coronavirus Update below) The three CRAs have set up a central Website, number, and mailing address, from any of which you can order your free report.
They only provide free reports through this centralized request service. Do not contact the agencies individually for your free report.
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
The information in your report affects your credit score, whether you can get a loan, and how much you must pay to borrow money. Ordering your report can also help guard against identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, to commit fraud.
You have a right to dispute incorrect information directly with the creditor. However, if the creditor mishandles your dispute, you will not have a right to seek legal relief. Only disputes sent to the CRA gives you that right. Make sure to send the agency a copy of any dispute with a creditor.
If the creditor finds the disputed information inaccurate, it must notify all nationwide CRAs so they can correct your file. To persuade a creditor information is inaccurate, supply whatever proof you have. In some cases, you might be willing to pay part or all the debt immediately or in installments. If you agree to do so, get it in writing. If an item is changed or deleted, the CRA cannot put it back in your file unless the information provider verifies it is accurate and complete.
The CRA must send you a written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the information provider. If an investigation does not resolve your dispute with the CRA, you can ask for a statement of the dispute to be included in your file for future reports.
You can ask the CRA to provide your statement to anyone who, in the recent past, received a copy of your report. You will probably have to pay a fee. If you tell the provider you dispute an item, a notice of your dispute must be included any time the creditor reports the item to a CRA.
A CRA can report most accurate negative information for seven years and bankruptcy information for 10 years. There is no time limit on reporting information about criminal convictions.
Only people with a legitimate business need, as recognized by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, can look at your report without your permission. For example, a company is allowed to get your report if you apply for credit, insurance, employment, or an apartment rental. A CRA may not give information about you to your employer prospective employer without your consent, unless you are being investigated for suspected misconduct regarding preexisting written employer policies or compliance with federal, state or local laws.