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Credit Reporting Errors: When Legal Action Might Be The Next Step

Credit Reporting Errors: When Legal Action Might Be The Next Step

If you check your credit report regularly, there's a reasonable chance that you've come across an error. As many as 1-in-4 consumers have errors on their report that might affect their credit score. Further, 1-in-20 consumers have errors that might lead to financial impacts, like paying a higher interest rate on an auto loan.

"It happens all the time. And unfortunately, I think mistakes on credit reports are just becoming more costly to consumers," said Taylor Kosla, an attorney with Agruss Law Firm.

The three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S. all have a process for filing disputes online, and they all promise to complete investigations within thirty days. But what happens when those investigations don't result in resolution? What is your next step?

Depending on the severity of the error and the impact on your life, the next step might be legal action.

Debt Inaccuracies Are The Most Common Mistake

Kosla said the types of errors her clients identify on their credit reports vary, but the most common examples include inaccurate amounts owing for debts, or mistakes in a debt's repayment schedule. That means a report could be showing that a consumer owes more than they do, or it might be showing that they're late on a payment they've already made.

But those aren't the only types of errors that can pop up on a credit report. Some are relatively benign, like a misspelled name or an incorrect address. However, sometimes pieces of someone else's credit report can accidentally make their way onto yours. This is called a mixed file, and it can be a major problem for unsuspecting consumers whose credit score and creditworthiness suddenly take a hit because of debts that don't belong to them.

Kosla describes a mixed file case she got resolved for a client: "These weren't their actual names, but let's say it was a John T. Smith and a John S. Smith, father and son, and the father's information was reporting on the son's credit report, and there was some negative reporting. The son disputed it; the credit bureaus didn't fix it, so we had to file suit and get it fixed. But somewhere along the way, it appears their files had been mixed, likely because they had the same address, similar names, so it was just that middle initial that caused the credit reports to be mixed."

Unsuccessful Disputes Abound

Although each of the three credit reporting agencies has simple procedures in place for disputing errors, there's no guarantee that a dispute will result in a satisfactory resolution.

Generall, the first piece of advice lawyers provide is to write a dispute letter to the credit reporting agency and the debt collector.

Consumers should include as much evidence and documentation as possible to strengthen their dispute. This could include things like a copy of your driver's license, proof of address, or a copy of a police report in the event of identity theft.

More often than not, though, dispute attempts are unsuccessful, and the only option is to file a lawsuit.

Consumers Have Legal Rights

The Fair Credit Reporting Act protects consumers from harm resulting from inaccurate credit reporting.

Credit reporting agencies are legally obligated to correct or delete inaccurate information, generally within 30 days — this is the time they have to complete an investigation in response to a dispute. However, if they determine the disputed information to be verified, they can continue to report it. This is when it may be necessary to pursue legal action.

"If inaccurate information comes back verified, we file suit against both the debt collector and the credit bureaus. The debt collectors would be on the hook for reporting inaccurate information to the credit bureaus, and then the credit reporting bureaus for reporting the inaccurate information to our client's credit report," said Kosla.

Under the FCRA, consumers who are negatively impacted by inaccuracies on their credit reports may be entitled to several types of compensation, including statutory damanes and legal costs.

Review Your Credit Report Regularly to Minimize the Impact of Inaccuracies

You may not always be able to prevent credit reporting agencies from making mistakes on your report, but you can minimize the impact by reviewing your credit report regularly. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, it's important to take action and dispute the inaccuracies immediately to avoid any negative repercussions.

Related Links:

With Credit Scores Inflating, Are You Prepared For An Economic Slowdown?

How A Fraud Ring Got 25,000 Real Credit Cards For Fake People

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

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