Credit and Your Consumer Rights
A good credit rating is very important. Businesses inspect your credit history when they evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and even leases. Based on your credit payment history, businesses can choose to grant or deny you credit provided you receive fair and equal treatment. Sometimes, things happen that can cause credit problems: a temporary loss of income, an illness, even a computer error. Solving credit problems may take time and patience, but it doesn’t have to be an ordeal.
Credit laws protect your right to obtain, use, and maintain credit. These laws do not guarantee that everyone will receive credit. Instead, the credit laws protect your rights by requiring businesses to give all consumers a fair and equal opportunity to receive credit and to resolve disputes over credit errors. This brochure explains your rights under these laws and offers practical tips to help you solve credit problems.
Your Credit Report
Your credit payment history is recorded in a file or report. These files or reports are maintained and sold by "consumer reporting agencies" (CRAs). One type of CRA is commonly known as a credit bureau. You have a credit record on file at a credit bureau if you have ever applied for a credit or charge account, a personal loan, insurance, or a job. Your credit record contains information about your income, debts, and credit payment history. It also indicates whether you have been sued, arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is designed to help ensure that CRAs furnish correct and complete information to businesses to use when evaluating your application.
Your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act:
· You have the right to receive a copy of your credit report. The copy of your report must contain all of the information in your file at the time of your request.
· You have the right to know the name of anyone who received your credit report in the last year for most purposes or in the last two years for employment purposes.
· Any company that denies your application must supply the name and address of the CRA they contacted, provided the denial was based on information given by the CRA.
· You have the right to a free copy of your credit report when your application is denied because of information supplied by the CRA. Your request must be made within 60 days of receiving your denial notice.
· If you contest the completeness or accuracy of information in your report, you should file a dispute with the CRA and with the company that furnished the information to the CRA. Both the CRA and the furnisher of information are legally obligated to reinvestigate your dispute.
You have a right to add a summary explanation to your credit report if your dispute is not resolved to your satisfaction.
Your Credit Application
When creditors evaluate a credit application, they cannot lawfully engage in discriminatory practices.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits credit discrimination on the basis of sex, race, marital status, religion, national origin, age, or receipt of public assistance. Creditors may ask for this information (except religion) in certain situations, but may not use it to discriminate when deciding whether to grant you credit.
The ECOA protects consumers who deal with companies that regularly extend credit, including banks, small loan and finance companies, retail and department stores, credit card companies, and credit unions. Everyone who participates in the decision to grant credit, including real estate brokers who arrange financing, must follow this law. Businesses applying for credit also are protected by this law.
Your rights under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act:
Your Credit Billing and Electronic Fund Transfer Statements
It is important to check credit billing and electronic fund transfer account statements regularly. These documents may contain mistakes that could damage your credit status or reflect improper charges or transfers. If you find an error or discrepancy, notify the company and contest the error immediately. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) establish procedures for resolving mistakes on credit billing and electronic fund transfer account statements, including:
The FCBA generally applies only to "open end" credit accounts — credit cards, revolving charge accounts (such as department store accounts), and overdraft checking accounts. It does not apply to loans or credit sales that are paid according to a fixed schedule until the entire amount is paid back, such as an automobile loan. The EFTA applies to electronic fund transfers, such as those involving automatic teller machines (ATMs), point-of-sale debit transactions, and other electronic banking transactions.
Your Debts and Debt Collectors
You are responsible for your debts. If you fall behind in paying your creditors or an error is made on your account, you may be contacted by a "debt collector." A debt collector is any person, other than the creditor, who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis. You have the right to be treated fairly by debt collectors.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies to personal, family, and household debts. This includes money owed for the purchase of a car, for medical care, or for charge accounts. The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices while collecting these debts.
Your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:
Solving Your Credit Problems
Your credit report influences your purchasing power, as well as your chances to get a job, rent or buy an apartment or a house, and buy insurance. A history of timely credit payments helps you get additional credit. Accurate negative information can stay on your report for seven years. A bankruptcy can stay on your report for 10 years. If you are having problems paying your bills, contact your creditors at once. Try to work out a modified payment plan with them that reduces your payments to a more manageable level. Don't wait until your account has been turned over to a debt collector.
Here are some additional tips for solving credit problems:
If you can't resolve your credit problems yourself or if you need help, you may want to contact a credit counseling service. Nonprofit organizations in every state counsel consumers in debt. Counselors try to arrange repayment plans that are acceptable to you and your creditors. They also can help you set up a realistic budget. These services usually are offered at little or no cost.