Your credit rating is your reputation. What's on file about you can be looked at not only by lending institutions and merchants, but also by insurance companies and prospective employers. And it may not be limited just to areas like how promptly you pay your bills. It can include the opinions of your friends and neighbors on your character, general reputation, and manner of living.
What if the information is in error? And what if it hurts your chance to get a loan or a job?
A booklet by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation tells how to set matters straight. The booklet's title is the same as the law it explains -- the Fair Credit Reporting Act. For a free copy, write the Consumer Information Center, Department 608J, Pueblo, Colo. 81009.
How do you know if unfavorable information is in your file? Under the law, anyone who denies you credit or employment or raises your insurance rates on the basis of an unfavorable credit report is required to tell you that this was the reason for the decision and to provide you with the name and address of the credit agency that prepared the report. You should contact the reporting agency as soon as possible and tell it you want to review your file. Provided you make the request within 30 days of finding out about your problem, the reporting company can't charge you for the service.
If you find inaccurate or incomplete information in your file, point it out to the credit agency. Unless your objections are obviously frivolous or irrelevant, they're required to reinvestigate. And if this second check fails to verify the information, they're legally bound to remove it from your file. Not only that, but they must notify people who have received erroneous reports that this correction has been made.
Even if the reinvestigation doesn't result in the removal or correction of the objectionable information, you have the right to include your own version of the dispute, where it will be part of all future reports.
In dealing with the credit reporting agency, it is also important to know what rights you don't have under the law. You can't, for instance, demand for free the kind of report on yourself that a business gets when it pays for the reporting company's services. Nor are you legally entitled to a copy of your file, although some credit agencies will give you one voluntarily. And regardless of what you resolve with the credit reporting agency, the law does not compel anyone to do business with you.
The booklet is written in both English and Spanish.