Answers to All of Your Virginia Legal Questions
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I was denied a credit card recently due to something on my credit report. Can I get a copy of my credit report without paying for it?
Yes. While you are entitled to a free report every year from the three major credit agencies, you are also entitled to a free report when you receive a credit, employment, or insurance denial letter. You should receive a notice of this right after the denial. You must ask the reporting agency (as noted on your denial) within 60 days of the notice.
Do I have to pay for my credit reports every time I request them?
No. You are entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three big credit agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) every 12 months. You are also entitled to a free report when you receive adverse credit decisions (e.g. denied credit, employment, or home rental) that were based on your credit report information. It’s best to request your free annual credit report with a written request. You can find the form here.
Is there any difference between the big three credit reports? (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax)
Yes. While the majority of information may be reported on all three agencies’ reports, there can be information damaging to your score on one that is not on another, as some creditors report to specific agencies and/or one of the agencies may pick something up on public records the others miss (or get wrong where should be different). It’s best to always get all three and review each thoroughly to determine if there are errors or fraudulent accounts. Even simple errors like previous addresses or employers can cause potential issues for you
I have accurate negative information on my credit report but it's 11 years old, doesn't this ever come off my report?
Yes. A credit reporting agency can report most accurate negative information for seven years and bankruptcy information for 10 years. After the appropriate time period, as laid out in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, has passed, the negative information cannot be reported anymore.
I have disputed items on my credit reports, but the credit reporting agencies will not remove them, can I take legal action against them?
Yes. Inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable information must be removed or corrected, usually within 30 days. Under the Fair Crediting Reporting Act (“FCRA”), credit reporting agencies must investigate your dispute and unless verified by the reporting creditors (called “furnishers” under the FCRA), they must remove the items from your file. The furnishers must investigate when contacted by the credit reporting agencies. If either the agencies or the furnishers fail to do as required by the FCRA, you can sue them.
My ex-spouse has a court order to pay off a joint debt, but he won’t pay it. Does this damage my credit?
Yes, as long as your name is on the account or loan. If possible, get the debt entirely in your ex-spouse's name. Transfer or consolidate balances on loans and credit cards. If your divorce has already been finalized, you might be able to show the lender your divorce decree and have your name removed from the loan (if the divorce decree states that your ex is responsible for paying the debt); however, this is not likely. If the lender won’t remove your name, ask your attorney about taking your ex to court for failure to abide by the existing court order.
How can I protect my credit while deployed?
Service members can place an “active duty alert” on their credit reports to help minimize the risk of someone obtaining credit in their name while deployed. This alert will require businesses to take extra steps before granting credit in your name. You will need to contact a credit reporting agency (once contacted, each agency is required to contact the others), request the active duty alert, provide proof of identity, and mark your calendar for a year. If your deployment is longer than one year, the alert must be renewed. Verify that the alert has been placed for all three credit agencies before deploying and keep copies of all letters or emails for your records.
Credit Reporting Agencies:
Equifax – 800-525-6285 Experian – 888-397-3742 TransUnion – 800-680-7289
Should I use credit cards for downloading apps or playing games online?
No. To maximize security, consider using a gift card instead. This can protect you from potential fraud and theft loss. While debit/credit cards have fraud protections as to losses (which are different depending on which is used), it's a hassle to work through the loss and get your money back in your bank account or transactions off your credit card account.
If a system is hacked, a gift card may save you the hassle, higher losses, and your primary card being compromised. Thank you, reader Jason for this tip!
I received a letter from Sentara about possible theft of my identity, what do I do now?
Sentara has offered those affected a free one-year membership to monitor your credit reports – you should sign up for that immediately. Review your credit reports very carefully. If you do not see any errors at this time, be sure to check every few weeks or so over the next year. This information may have been sold to other thieves who could be waiting to use it.
If errors show up on your reports, contact our office and we can assist you in determining the extent of the problem, advise you on what steps to take next and if need be, how to resolve disputes with the credit report agencies.
How often should I check my credit reports?
We have advised, on several occasions, that everyone should obtain his or her free annual credit reports from the three main credit-reporting agencies. Try staggering them and get a report from one of the three agencies every four to five months, thereby allowing you to check your reported information periodically. You can use the form from our website and select the agency at the bottom before mailing in your request. For most people the information among the three agencies’ reports is similar. You can find the form to request a copy of your free annual credit here.