Tag Archives: debt

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 (FCRA 0r sometimes, just CRA) in plain English.

The Importance of Credit Reports

Our country runs on credit and credit information and the credit reporting behind them. Of course there are the obvious uses of 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, 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. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was designed to create some accountability in this network and protect consumers from some of its abuses. 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 records. 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 – 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 the information is obtained or used.

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, and must give you the name, address and phone number of the agency that provided the information. You are entitled 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, 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 (the debt collector reporting a debt as unpaid, for example) than against the reporting bureaus.

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.

Next Step to Take

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

Is Bankruptcy the Best Option when You’re Sued for Debt?

When people are being sued for debts, they often panic and look for the quickest, easiest, or least scary way out. And bankruptcy often occurs to them as the solution. I believe there are often much more effective ways to handle old debt, especially credit card or merchant account debt that has been sold to a debt collector, than bankruptcy.You can defend yourself without hiring a lawyer, and even if that doesn’t work out – which it usually does – you could still file bankruptcy. But if you can avoid bankruptcy, you will reduce the harm the debt does to you.

Panic is not necessary, and bankruptcy—at least at first–is seldom the best solution in a real-world sense. Here’s why.

 

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Types of Debt

Debt is divided into two types: “unsecured,” and “secured.” Secured debt means that the debt has specific assets backing it. If you miss payments, you can have your house foreclosed or your car repossessed. These things “secured” the debt and can be repossessed and sold if you stop making payments.

Unsecured Debt

Unsecured debt is debt that is not secured-it isn’t attached to any specific assets. Just because a debt is “unsecured” does not mean that you cannot be sued for the debt. On the contrary, it means you must be sued in person for the debt collector to collect any money. And it cannot repossess the thing. The creditor then “enforces” the judgment against you by garnishing wages or attaching accounts. But this can be difficult for various reasons.

Secured Debt

Lenders on secured debts are in a much better position than those who are not secured. One of those advantages comes in bankruptcy.

In the bankruptcy law, the item securing a debt is really regarded as belonging to the creditor who lent the money if the payment is not made. Specifically, consider a mortgage on a house. The house “secures” the debt, and if you stop making payments the bank can take the house and sell it to pay the debt. In the bankruptcy law, it is considered unjust to allow someone not paying for the property to keep it from the rightful owner. So the lender typically asks for the bankruptcy “stay” to be “lifted” so that foreclosure can take place. Although this can sometimes be delayed, the courts usually “relieve” the lenders and allow them to foreclose on the house and kick the debtor out.

Unsecured Debt

With unsecured debt, on the other hand, the debts are simply added up and paid according to how much money the bankrupt person has. Usually very, very little. And only at the end of the bankruptcy procedure.

Bankruptcy May Not Help When It Applies

What all that means practically is that if you have a large secured debt (mortgage) that you cannot pay, bankruptcy will offer you very little protection. If you have a large unsecured debt, bankruptcy will probably protect you, but it is slow, time-consuming and expensive compared to defending yourself against the debt collector.

Some examples may help make it clearer.

Consider the Smiths. The Smiths have a house and make payments of $2,500 per month. Mr. Smith loses his job and they fall behind in their payments. If the family seeks bankruptcy as their house payments add up, the lender will obtain “relief from the stay” and foreclose on the house. The Smiths are out of luck, and bankruptcy usually does not help.

Now consider the Joneses. If the Joneses have credit card debt of $25,000 and Mrs. Jones loses her job so they can’t make payments, they could seek bankruptcy help. It would probably cost them at least a thousand dollars or more to file, require them to disclose most or all of their finances over the past year or two, and fill out a vast amount of paperwork. At the end of the proceeding, at least a year later, their debts would be wiped out. But so, of course, would their credit reports. The bankruptcy filing will remain a mark against them for ten years.

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An Alternative: Defense

The Jones could, however, simply defend themselves against the lawsuits brought by the debt collectors. For reasons I’ve made clear elsewhere, their chances of winning the suit would be excellent, and if the Jones do it right, they can simply get the debt eliminated. This does not usually mean completely cleaning their credit reports, but it can often mean canceling the debt and removal of the recent credit report damage. And it usually will happen in less than six months from the date the debt collector brings suit. They won’t have the bankruptcy on their credit report. They can do it themselves for almost no money at all, and if by chance it doesn’t work, then they could declare bankruptcy.

In addition, if you are facing debt troubles, chances are good the debt collectors have made some mistakes that violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and give rise to a counterclaim, which increases your chance of fighting the debt.

Conclusion

Better results, less cost. That’s why it’s often better to defend yourself against credit card debt than to seek bankruptcy protection. It’s also true that if for any reason the Jones lost their case against the debt collectors, they could still file for bankruptcy without having lost its protection.