In 1970, Congress created the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to protect consumers when dealing with credit bureaus. The FCRA limits who can see a consumer’s credit report, mandates how long negative information can remain on a report, and contains a number of identity theft protections. The credit bureaus, which are called “consumer reporting agencies” under the FCRA, are required to follow “reasonable procedures” to ensure the “maximum possible accuracy” of credit reports.
One of the most critical FCRA protections is the consumer’s right to dispute errors in his or her credit report. Under the FCRA, both the credit bureaus and the information provider have responsibilities to investigate disputes and correct inaccurate or incomplete information. The provider of information is often referred to as the “furnisher.” Furnishers include banks, credit card companies, auto lenders, collection agencies or other businesses.
If the consumer sends a dispute to a credit bureau, the bureau must investigate the items in question, usually within 30 days. The bureau can reject the dispute if it determines the dispute to be frivolous or irrelevant. The credit bureau must conduct a “reasonable” investigation (sometimes called a “reinvestigation,” which is the term used in the FCRA) that includes reviewing and considering all relevant information submitted by the consumer. Within five days of receiving the dispute, the bureau must also notify the furnisher of the dispute, and the notice must include “all relevant information” provided by the consumer about the dispute.
After the furnisher receives notice of a dispute from the credit bureau, the furnisher has its own duties under the FCRA. The furnisher must conduct an investigation, review all relevant information provided by the credit bureau, and report the results to the bureau. If the furnisher finds the disputed information to be inaccurate, it must notify all three of the national bureaus so that they can correct this information in the consumer’s credit report file.
When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau must give the consumer the written results and a free copy of the credit report if the dispute results in a change. If information is corrected or deleted, the credit bureau cannot put back the disputed information in the consumer’s credit report unless the furnisher verifies that it is accurate and complete. The credit bureau also must send the consumer a written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the furnisher.
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