Answers to All of Your Virginia Legal Questions
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What is a credit report?
Although this term is widely used, the law that governs the reporting of credit matters, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) actually doesn’t use the term at all. It discusses “consumer reports” and “consumer disclosures.”
“Consumer reports” are any written, oral, or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency (“CRA”)(such as Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion - the three big players) which compiles and generates reports on consumer’s credit-bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or part for the purpose of service as a factor in establishing your eligibility for:
(A) credit or insurance to be used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes;
(B) employment purposes; or
(C) any other purposes authorized under [other parts of the FCRA] 
"Consumer disclosures” are the disclosures of the information in your file at the CRA.
The difference is important to the extent of the responsibilities the CRA has under the FCRA. A consumer report is communicated to a third party (such as when you apply for a credit card or a home loan) and under the law, the CRA has a duty of “maximum possible accuracy” of the information contained in those reports. A consumer disclosure, however, does not have this standard, as it is not communicated to anyone other than you (such as when you contact a CRA to get a copy of your “credit report”). Instead, a CRA’s responsibilities for disclosures come when you dispute the accuracy of something in the disclosure.
How do I get information about my credit information held by the credit reporting agencies (“CRAs”)?
You have the right to get your credit information from the three national CRAs (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) once every 12 months at no charge. Because it is best to obtain the cleanest report from the CRAs, as well as to document your request should future litigation be necessary, we recommend you mail in your request instead of making the request over the phone or through the internet (both of which are permissible to obtain your reports). The form to fill out and mail is here. You also have the right to obtain your credit information when you have been denied credit by someone. When you are denied credit based on a credit check, the company denying the credit must, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) provide you with notice that the adverse action was based in part on the information contained in the report given by the CRA (whichever the company used) and the consumer has the right to request a free copy of that report from the CRA within 60 days of denial.
If there is incorrect information about my credit on my report, how do I fix it?
Under the law that governs the reporting of credit matters, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), the credit reporting agencies (“CRA”), which are the businesses that gather and report on consumer’s credit information, there is the process to dispute inaccuracies.
You notify the CRA that information about your credit is incorrect (preferably in writing) and then the CRA must undertake what is referred to as a “reinvestigation” (the CRA contacting the furnisher of the information to determine if the reported credit information is, in fact, accurate). This process is as follows:
- The CRA communicates the dispute and “all relevant information” received from you to the furnisher within 5 business days of receiving the information. The requirement to communicate “all relevant information” is where most CRAs fail to abide by the FCRA in that the systems that are normally used turns your dispute (no matter how detailed or how many supporting documents are provided) into a two-digit code which it transmits to the furnishers (such as “02 disputes payment history”). This failure often leads to the information not being properly corrected (as the furnisher cannot determine from a two digit code the true nature of the issue) and also opens the CRA and possibly the furnisher to liability under the FCRA.
- The reinvestigation is to be completed within 30 days (or up to 45 days if you send additional information to the CRA during the initial 30 day period).
- The reinvestigation is to be “reasonable” under the FCRA, which is again where the CRAs usually fall short of the law’s requirements. Traditionally, the CRAs’ position has been that simply forwarding your dispute to the furnishers of the information is enough and they can report the credit information if that furnisher “verifies” it. This is not correct under the FCRA, however, as the law requires the CRA to conduct an independent investigation of the information rather than just forward along what they receive from you.
If the furnisher reports that the information is not correct, the CRA is to remove the information from the consumer’s file. The CRA is also to remove the information if the information “cannot be verified.” Unfortunately, often times unless it is clear that the information is not accurate (such as reported as such by the furnisher) the information remains in your file in contravention of the FCRA.
What are my remedies if a credit reporting agency doesn't remove inaccurate information from my credit file?
If a credit reporting agency (“CRA”) fails to remove inaccurate information from your credit file, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) allows you to file a lawsuit against the CRA. A lawsuit against the CRA will be filed in federal court (because the matter concerns a federal law - the FCRA). In addition to seeking the credit file be corrected, you can seek actual damages (such as a loss of funds due to the mistake if it involved financing, for instance) and reasonable attorney’s fees for negligent (i.e. accidental) violations. If the violation of the FCRA is found to be willful, the Court can award actual damages or statutory damages from $100 to $1,000 per violation and punitive damages (which are damages the Court awards to punish the defendant(s) or to deter other people to take such actions).