In a computer somewhere, there is probably a file that says how you pay your bills, or whether you have been sued or arrested. And there's a chance that the information is wrong. Consumer reporting agencies gather and sell information to creditors, insurers and other businesses that use it to decide whether you can rent an apartment, buy insurance or obtain a loan to buy a house or car.
It is not uncommon for that information to be wrong, according to a recent survey by Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports. The survey reviewed 161 credit reports of 57 consumers in metropolitan areas.
Because of the possibility of error, consumer groups recommend people periodically review their credit reports. Federal laws protect consumers against inaccuracies in their reports.
Here are some consumers' rights, according the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection:
If you have been denied credit, you have 30 days to ask for a free credit report from the agency that supplied the information. You can get a copy of your credit report at any time for $15 to $20 by contacting the consumer reporting agency and requesting it.
If information in your report is wrong, notify the agency. It is required to investigate the items in question, and if a new investigation reveals an error, a corrected version will be sent, on your request, to anyone who received your report in the past two years.
Even if your report is supposed to have been corrected, it is advisable to check it again later, because sometimes the error can reappear.
If, after investigating, the agency says there is no error, you have a right to include in your file an explanation of up to 100 words explaining that you dispute the accuracy of the information.
There are three main credit companies in the nation and hundreds of smaller ones. While they share information, it is possible that one has information another doesn't.
All correspondence to the agencies should include your full name, address, your former address if you've moved within the last two years, Social Security number and date of birth.
The three largest consumer reporting agencies:
Equifax _ 1-800-873-4629. Address: P.O. Box 140990, Orlando, Fla., 32814-0990.
Trans Union, 215-569-4582. Address: P.O. Box 360, Philadelphia, Pa., 19105.
TRW _ 214-235-1200, extension 251. Address: P.O. Box 749029, Dallas, Texas, 75374-9029.