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Is Your Credit Report Accurate?

A Suitland woman was unable to refinance her car loan. She discovered that her credit report listed accounts she had paid off as having been "charged off" by the businesses, and other accounts were incorrectly listed as being in collection.

When his application for a credit card was denied, an Olney man was surprised to find out that his credit report showed delinquent accounts for stores he had never visited, including a debt of more than $1,500 at a jewelry store. His credit was being used by an identity thief.

An Annapolis man was refused an extension of credit from his credit union. Upon getting a copy of his credit report, he saw debts that belonged to his father.

Inaccurate information often appears in consumers' credit reports. In July 2000, Consumer Reports magazine reported that half of the credit reports they surveyed had serious errors in them. These errors could result in your being denied a credit card, an insurance policy, a job or a mortgage. If you aren't aware of the errors until you apply for the new credit, loan or job, you may not be able to get the report corrected in time. That's why consumers should check their credit reports from time to time, and especially before applying for a major loan or a mortgage. By law, Maryland residents are entitled to one free copy of their credit reports from each reporting agency each year. (See contact information at end.)

You are also entitled to a free copy of your report if you have been denied credit and the company you applied to tells you it was because of something in your credit report, or if you are unemployed, are on welfare, or have been a victim of fraud.

What's in a Credit Report?
Your credit report contains information about how you have handled credit, such as loans or credit card accounts, as well any bankruptcies, tax liens or monetary judgments issued against you. It is compiled by a credit reporting agency, often called a credit bureau. These agencies get the information from creditors, such as credit card issuers and retailers, who regularly send information showing what each of their account-holders owes and whether the payments were made on time. They also get information from public records. The agencies sell the report to credit grantors, employers, landlords and others who want to check out an individual's credit history.

Correcting Errors
When you request a copy of your report, the credit reporting agency must send you an exact copy of your report along with a written explanation of any codes used. They will include a list of who else has made inquiries so you know who has the information

If you find incorrect information in your credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act provides a process to get the information removed:

  • Write to the credit reporting agency, telling it which items in the report are incorrect and why. Include copies of relevant documents. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.

  • The agency must, within 30 days, reinvestigate with the company that reported the information.

  • If the credit reporting agency cannot verify the accuracy of the information, it must delete the information within seven days and mail a written correction to you and each person who received a copy of the report with the incorrect information.

  • If the credit reporting agency verifies the item was accurate, it must mail you a written notice of its findings. If you disagree with these findings, you may file a brief statement explaining why, which becomes part of your credit report. Following a dispute, Marylanders can ask the credit reporting agency to disclose the name, address and telephone number of each person contacted during the reinvestigation. That way, you don't have to spend hours tracking down who at "the bank" verified adverse information with the credit reporting agency.

If you are unable to resolve the problem, call the State of Maryland Division of Financial Regulation at 410-330-6830.

Adding Information
Your credit report will not include information on every debt you have ever owed. Some creditors do not regularly report consumer account information to credit reporting agencies, but only do so when an account is in collection or in default. Typically, bank cards and large retailers regularly report, while smaller retailers, auto dealers and mortgage companies may not, unless the account is delinquent or has gone to collection. If you're denied credit because of "no credit file" or "insufficient credit file," and your credit report is missing information on credit accounts you have, you can ask the credit reporting agency to add the information. They are not required to do so, but may for a fee.

Improving Your Credit Record
So-called credit repair companies say they can "clean up" bad credit reports, in return for a fee. But the truth is, the only thing these companies can legally do is what you could do yourself - dispute any wrong information in it. Nobody can remove negative information that is accurate from your credit report. The only thing that can really improve your credit report is time and being diligent about paying off debt. Generally, negative information about you is removed from your report after seven years, although a bankruptcy can stay in the report for 10 years.

To Get Your Free Report
To request your free annual copy of your credit report, call the three major credit reporting agencies, all toll-free:

Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
Experian: 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union: 1-800-888-4213.

Reduce Your Junk Mail
Credit reporting agencies provide the names and addresses of people in their files to companies that market credit cards. As a result, you may receive a lot of pre-approved credit card offers in the mail. These can not only add to your unwanted "junk mail," but can also lead to credit card fraud if they fall into the hands of a mailbox thief. You can tell all three major credit reporting agencies that you want to opt out of receiving these offers by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT.

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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