Protecting Your Credit

Jarrod R. Franks
LTJG, JAGC, USN

With the state of the current economy, it is increasingly important that your credit record is protected. A quick and easy way to keep track of your credit is to request free copies of your consumer credit reports. Credit bureaus keep track of the payment records of every person issued credit. This includes holders of credit cards, car loans, home loans, and sometimes apartment leases. Businesses use these records, which are stored in national data bases, to determine whether you should be issued credit.

There are three major credit bureaus, Equifax (1-800-685-1111, http://www.equifax.com), Experian (1-888-397-3742, http://www.experian.com), and Trans Union (1-800-916-8800, http://www.tuc.com) that keep track of credit ratings. You are entitled to receive one free credit report from each of the reporting bureaus that can be obtained online (www.annualcreditreport.com) or through mailing in your request. If you are denied credit, you can also request a free credit report within 60 days of the denial.

Additionally, The Fair Credit Reporting Act, a federal statute, provides consumers protection from credit reporting agencies. Consumers have the right to request that inaccurate or incomplete information on a credit report be changed. If this does not work, you have the right to request, in writing, an investigation into the validity of the information. If that is unsuccessful, you have the right to dispute the accuracy of the report by filing a written statement with the source of the information (such as a bank or credit card company). If a credit bureau or source of information knowingly provides false or inaccurate information, you can sue for damages in state or federal court.
If you are denied credit, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act requires creditors to explain the rationale for denial. If you have a complaint with a creditor, you can write to: Consumer Response Center — FCRA, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580.

Only you, your creditors and potential creditors are entitled to see the reports filed by the credit bureaus. Adverse credit information cannot be retained on your record for more than seven years, with the following exceptions: a bankruptcy will stay on your record for up to 10 years, and lawsuits or judgments against you may be reported until the statute of limitations runs. However, there is no time limit for the reporting agencies to share this information with creditors in response to a job application with a salary of $75,000 or more, or when you make an application for credit or life insurance of $150,000 or more.
If you do find negative remarks on your credit report and you are unable to show that it is inaccurate or false, the only way to “fix” your credit is by developing good credit over time. If you have bad credit from an overdue account, for example, it will be wiped off your record after seven years from the time you close the account and pay it off. Be wary of firms that promise to “fix” your credit. These are very often scam companies that charge hundreds of dollars to do things you can do yourself for free.

If you have any further questions or concerns about your credit report, get a copy from all three agencies and an attorney can review your options with you at your local Naval Legal Service Office.

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About rlsonw

Navy JAG Corps
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