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Credit Reporting Act: Repairing Credit after Debt Litigation Part 2

Fair Credit Reporting Act

This is the second part of this article. You can get part 1 by clicking here

You may have heard of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1681. Congress intended this law to limit and reduce the abuses of the credit reporting agencies, which were running roughshod over consumer rights. In particular, credit agencies would report false or disputed information. This damaged people in very real ways – and then the agencies ignored requests to correct that information.

The FCRA was therefore an attempt to assert some kind of control over the process of credit reporting.

I will address this issue in greater detail elsewhere, but the law divides the reporting community into two groups: the agencies and “information suppliers.”

Debt Collectors Are Often Information Suppliers

The people who report debts to the credit reporting agencies are “information suppliers.” While they have a legal duty to report that information truthfully, only the government agencies can enforce that duty initially. In plain English – you can’t sue them just for reporting information falsely. You have to follow some steps.

Your Right against Information Suppliers

Your right against information suppliers is located in 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1681s-2(b). What this part of the law says is that:

1. In general

After receiving notice pursuant to section 1681i(a)(2) of this title of a dispute with regard to the completeness or accuracy of any information provided by a person to a consumer reporting agency, the person shall –

(A) conduct an investigation with respect to the disputed information;’

(B) review all relevant information provided by the consumer reporting agency pursuant to section 1681i(a)(2) of this title;

(C) report the results of the investigation to the consumer reporting agency; and

(D) If the investigation finds that the information is incomplete or inaccurate, report those results to all other consumer reporting agencies to which the person furnished the information and that compile and maintain files on consumers on a nationwide basis.

Your Rights under the FCRA

What this means in a practical sense is that you should consider following up a debt defense with credit repair. That is, if you win at trial or if you force the debt collector to dismiss “with prejudice,” then you can probably repair your credit, too.

If the debt collector has reported you as owing, or if the original creditor has not reported the debt as sold, then you may want to file a dispute. It is the filing of the dispute that allows you to sue the information supplier for providing false information to the credit reporting agencies.

How it Works

Suppose you go through the litigation process and get the case dismissed with prejudice. Your next move might be to request a credit report from all the credit reporting agencies. Debt collectors do not necessarily provide information to all the agencies, and perhaps they provide different information to different agencies. In any event, get your report from each of them.

When you get the reports, you must read them carefully – do they reflect that the debt was sold? Has the debt collector filed reports saying that you still owe? If the answer to either or both of these questions is “yes,” then you can write to the credit reporting agency requesting that it reinvestigate and stating very specifically that you “dispute” the report and the debt. Don’t be coy about this – you get no points for style here – you need to dispute the report and insist on a correction.

This dispute triggers the responsibility of the credit reporting agency to conduct a reasonable “reinvestigation.” As part of this reinvestigation, the agency must ask the information supplier to investigate the information it is supplying. If the information supplier provides false information at this point, you can sue it under the Fair Credit Reporting Act as well as under “common law” (state law) theories like defamation.

If they claim you owe the money even though they have dismissed the case with prejudice, they would be “estopped” from arguing they were telling the truth if you sued them for defamation or false reports under the FCRA.

Sue the Credit Reporting Agencies?

I’ve never suggested that nonlawyers try to sue the credit reporting agencies. They’re hard to find and serve. It is hard to figure out who is responsible for what at the agencies. And they almost never give up. If you decide to go after the credit reporting agencies, therefore, you should very strongly consider hiring a lawyer.

Credit Reporting Act: Repairing Credit after Debt Litigation Part 1

Life after Debt Litigation

You can use the Credit Reporting Act to clean your credit.

You probably know I am a big believer in filing a counterclaim to a debt lawsuit if possible. Having a counterclaim gives you some very important control over the lawsuit itself. And it also can help prevent other suits or harassment on the debt. If you do not have a counterclaim, the debt collector is free to drop the case at will in most jurisdictions. Your counterclaim prevents this.

There is also another reason relating to your life after litigation: Repairing your credit after the lawsuit.

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Protect Your Credit Report

You may not know it, but when a creditor or debt collector sells your debt to someone else, it should report that information on your credit report. That way, if the next company also reports you, it is clear that they are doing so on a debt that someone else previously owned. And this in turn prevents one “bad debt” from looking like several bad debts. After charge-off and sale of the debt, the original creditor should not be adding information to your file. That is the right of the next person who obtains the debt. In other words, only the person who currently owns the debt has a right to report information about that debt.

Why is this important?

It’s important because if you force the debt collector to settle a debt as a dismissal “with prejudice,” you terminate the debt collector’s right to collect. You also end its right to report the debt as a debt. That is because it, and any subsequent owner of the debt, is bound by what is known as “res judicata” (or more commonly now called “collateral estoppel”). Basically what that means is that once a court has ruled on the validity of the debt – that ruling will apply no matter who later owns the debt.

Use the Credit Reporting Act

We’ll discuss how you can use the Credit Reporting Act (also called the “Fair Credit Reporting Act) to force debt collectors to remove negative credit references from your record once you’ve beaten them in a debt lawsuit in Part 2 of this article. You can get the rest of this article by clicking here: Using the Credit Reporting Act.

Fair Credit Reporting Act: Your Rights under the FCRA

The Fair Credit Reporting Act establishes certain rules for the credit reporting agencies and outlines your rights against them if they fail. You’ve heard about having rights to a fair credit report. Here, in plain English, is a list and explanation of your most important rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The Importance of Credit Reports

Our country runs on credit and credit information and the credit reporting behind them. Obviously,  people use credit to purchase things, but as more and more people are finding out, credit reports are used for much more than that. They often impact employment decisions, housing decisions and rates. They also affect business equipment lease rates and insurance availability and price, among other things.

Bad credit has a high price in so many ways.

Credit Reporting Network

As important as all the interests affected by it are, the credit reporting network (the businesses which create and publish your credit information) is a vast and largely faceless bureaucracy. Congress intended the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to create some accountability in this network. The FCRA was designed to safeguard the accuracy, fairness and privacy of information in the files of consumers held by the reporting agencies.

Different Kinds of Credit Reporting Agencies

There are many different kinds of consumer reporting agencies. Almost everybody knows about the credit bureaus, of course, and there are also “specialty agencies” that sell information about check writing histories, medical records and rental history. The FCRA was directed primarily at these agencies, rather than the creditors or companies with which you normally do business.

Here is a partial list of your major rights under the FCRA.

This isn’t a complete, exact replication of your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. As with most important laws, the exact rights and their limits change as courts interpret the laws. But this will give you an accurate overview – a place to start.

Access to Your Credit Report Limited

A consumer reporting agency may provide information about you only to people with a valid need. These include considering an application with a creditor, insurer, employer, landlord, or other business. The FCRA specifies those with a valid need for the information. And in most cases you must give your consent before they get the information.

Rights When Credit Information Used Against You

Anyone who uses a credit report or another type of consumer report to deny an application for credit, insurance, or employment – or to take other adverse actions against you – must tell you. They also must give you the name, address and phone number of the agency that provided the information. You have a right to a free copy of that report.

Right to Find out What Is in Your File.

You can find out all the information about you in the files of a consumer reporting agency. You must be offered a free disclosure if:

  • A person has taken adverse action against you because of information in your credit report;
  • You place a fraud alert in your file as a victim of identity theft;
  • Your file contains inaccurate information as a result of fraud;
  • certain other reasons.

All consumers will be entitled to one free disclosure every 12 months upon request from each nationwide credit bureau and from nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies.

Right to Dispute and Correct Information

If you identify information in your file that is incomplete or inaccurate and report it to the consumer reporting agency, you have rights. The agency must conduct a “reasonable” investigation, and it must report the information as disputed. If it is unable to verify the information after investigation, the agency must remove or correct the entry.

For practical reasons, this provision may actually provide more important rights against the businesses that report credit events than against the reporting bureaus. Debt collection firms have a hard time providing the required verification.

Time Limits for negative information.

In most cases, a consumer reporting agency may not report negative information that is more than seven years old, or bankruptcies that are more than 10 years old.

Note that is in “most cases.” There are important exceptions to this rule. The exceptions relate to larger transactions. Where a person is seeking a job with a higher salary or insurance with a higher payment amount, the time limit may not apply.

Next Step to Take

Sign up for your free copy of the Fair Credit Reporting Act on this page.