Consumer's Guide to Credit Reporting

If you've ever applied for credit, a loan, insurance or a job, a consumer reporting agency (or credit bureau) is probably keeping a file on you.  This file will have information on how you pay your bills, whether you've been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy.  Consumer reporting agencies sell information about you to creditors, employers, landlords, insurers and other businesses.  This information is in a consumer report which describes where you work and live, your debts and bill-paying habits.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you specific rights in dealing with consumer reporting agencies.  It requires consumer reporting agencies to give correct and complete information to businesses that review your application for credit, insurance or a job.

How do I know if I was I denied credit because of a "bad credit report"? 

By law, a company that denied you credit must tell you the specific reasons.  You can provide more information to correct mistakes in your credit report.  Creditors must consider the information you give.

How do I find the consumer reporting agency that has my file?  The company that denied your application must give you the name, address, and telephone number of the credit reporting agency that gave negative information.

Do I have the right to know what the report says?  

Yes.  The consumer reporting agency is required to give you all the information in your report.  You have the right to be told the name, address and phone number of anyone who received a report on you in the past year.  If you’re asking about a job application, you can get the names of employers who received a report during the past two years.  The consumer reporting agency will give you a summary of your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Is this information free? 

Yes.  You are entitled to one free credit report once every year from each of the three major consumer reporting agencies:
-    TransUnion P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022; (800) 916-8800
-    Equifax P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241; (800) 685-1111
-    Experian P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013; (888) 397-3742
To get your free credit report, visit, or call 1-877-322-8228.  Or you can send a completed Annual Credit Request Form to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. 

Do not contact each of the three credit reporting agencies or any other agency to receive your free credit report. These agencies will try to sell you something, or advertise free services which will actually have fees attached. 

If you have never requested your credit report before, you should order your report from all three of the credit reporting agencies at once. In subsequent years, you may want to order one report every four months so you are able to frequently monitor the information in your credit report.

You can also get a free credit report if your application for credit was denied because of information given by a consumer reporting agency.  If you request a copy of your report within 60 days of receiving a denial notice you are entitled to the information without charge.

What can I do if the information wrong or incomplete? 

Send a written notice to the consumer reporting agency that produced the report.  The agency is required to delete or investigate the items in question.  If the new investigation reveals an error, a corrected credit report will be sent to you.  If you request, it can be sent, for free, to anyone who received your report in the past six months.  Job applicants may have corrected reports sent to employers who received a copy during the past two years.  If the consumer reporting agency deletes the inaccurate information, the agency cannot put it back into your file without written notice to you.

If you dispute information in your file, the consumer reporting agency may forward your dispute to the creditor or person who furnished the information.  You should also contact the source of that information directly.  Many creditors have a special address for this purpose.  Creditors have a duty to avoid reporting inaccurate information.  If you tell the creditor that you dispute information, the company must note that the information is disputed when it is given to a consumer reporting agency.

What can I do if the consumer reporting agency won't correct the report? 

When you dispute information in your file the credit reporting agency must investigate.  The investigation may not resolve your dispute.  Tell the consumer reporting agency to include your version of the disputed information in your file and in future reports.  You may submit a written statement of 100 words or less about the information in your report that you believe is missing or inaccurate. This statement will be included in your credit report and visible to you and anyone who requests your credit report.

How long can consumer reporting agencies report unfavorable information? 

Generally seven years.  However, there are exceptions:

  • Bankruptcy information can be reported for 10 years;
  • Criminal convictions and defaults on student loans have no time limitations;
  • Information reported due to an application for a job with a salary over $75,000 has no time limit;
  • Information reported due to an application for over $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance has no time limit;
  • Information concerning a lawsuit or judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.

Can anyone get a copy of the report? 

No.  It's given only for specific permitted reasons.

Do I have to be told before someone asks for a report about me? 

No.  However, a consumer reporting agency may not provide a credit report to an employer unless the employer has your written permission.  Also, your written permission is needed before medical information may be reported by a consumer reporting agency for credit, insurance, or employment purposes.

What if a credit reporting agency has violated my rights?  

You may want to seek legal advice.  In some cases, a consumer reporting agency or other person who has violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act must pay damages and attorney fees.

The Federal Trade Commission can't act as your lawyer in private disputes.  Information about your experience and concerns is vital to the enforcement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Send questions or complaints to the FTC, Washington, DC  20580.  Or file a complaint at


This handout is meant to give you general information and not to give you specific legal advice.
Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. Updated April 2012