The Common Law

Checking your credit history

The new year often brings about a renewed commitment to organizing our financial affairs. For the next few weeks, "The Common Law" will focus on issues that affect your finances.

Isn't there a way to get my credit-history report for free? What happens if the credit report is wrong?

Yes. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report every 12 months upon request. You can get your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877/322-8228. In addition, there are many providers on the Internet from whom you can purchase your credit report for a nominal fee.

Regularly checking your credit history is an important step in combating identity theft. Identity theft generally occurs when someone uses your personal information to commit fraud (such as opening credit cards in your name), and it can lead to inaccuracies in your credit rating. This inaccurate information can affect your ability to get credit, especially loans for major purchases like a house or a car. You want to routinely check your credit report to ensure the information contained in it is accurate and up-to-date.

Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the person or organization that provides information about you to a consumer reporting company) are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information contained in your credit report. Should you find inaccuracies in your credit report, you need to contact the consumer reporting company and the information provider, in writing, and dispute the information you think is inaccurate. Consumer reporting companies generally then must investigate the items in question and forward all the relevant data you provide about the inaccuracy to the person or organization that provided the information. After the information provider receives notice of the dispute from the consumer reporting company, it generally must investigate and report the results back to the consumer reporting company. If the information provider finds the disputed information is inaccurate, it must notify the nationwide consumer reporting companies so they can correct the information in your credit file. When the investigation is complete, the consumer reporting company should give you the written results of the investigation and a free copy of your credit report if the dispute results in any changes to your credit history.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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