Credit reports contain information on where you work and live, how you pay your bills and whether you have been sued, arrested, or have ever filed for bankruptcy. This information is gathered by companies ("credit bureaus" or "credit reporting agencies") which then sell this information to others when you apply for credit, insurance, employment or to rent an apartment.
If you are denied credit by someone because of a bad negative credit report, they must tell you of this fact and give you the name and address of the credit reporting agency making the bad negative report. You have a right to review your files, to obtain a free copy of your report from that credit reporting agency and to dispute any information you think is inaccurate, obsolete or incomplete. When you dispute information in your credit report, both the credit reporting agency and the person or company that provided the disputed information are responsible for correcting the inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. You should tell the credit reporting agency in writing what information you believe is inaccurate. The credit reporting agency then must notify the provider of the disputed information. That information provider must investigate and report the results to the credit reporting agency within 30 days of receiving your written request. If the disputed information is inaccurate, the information provider must notify all nationwide credit reporting agencies to correct this information in your credit report. If the credit reporting agency or the information provider will not change the disputed information, then you may ask to have your statement of the dispute included in your credit report and in future reports.
With certain exceptions, a credit reporting agency can report negative information for 7 years before it is considered obsolete. Bankruptcy information may be reported for 10 years, suits and judgments for 7 years or until the statute of limitations on the associated debt runs out, (whichever is longer), and records of arrest, indictment or conviction of a crime for the 7-year period pre-dating the report.
Only people with a legitimate business need can get a copy of your credit report. An employer or prospective employer cannot get a copy of your credit report without your written consent. A credit report that contains medical information about you cannot be given to creditors, employers, or insurers without your consent. Creditors and insurers may use credit reporting agency information as a basis for sending you unsolicited offers. These offers must include a toll-free number for you to call if you want to remove your name and address from lists for two years; completing a form that the credit reporting agency provides for this purpose will keep your name off the lists permanently.
If you do have negative information on your credit report, beware of so-called "credit repair companies." These companies often can do nothing that you cannot do for yourself. You can obtain a free credit report annually from each of the three major credit reporting agencies by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228.