Credit Score Basics — Credit Bureaus and Your Rights

Credit Bureaus and Your Rights

Having—and keeping—good credit requires personal responsibility and good habits. But what should you do if someone else’s mistake is affecting your good name? When it comes to your credit, it pays to know your rights and take action to correct errors and mistakes on your credit report. You have the right to dispute information that is inaccurate or fraudulent—and it is very important to take immediate action if you find something on your credit report that is not right.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that regulates credit-reporting bureaus and prohibits inaccurate or obsolete information from being reported in credit files. It was amended in 2003 to allow consumers free access to a copy of their report from each of the three credit bureaus, once a year.

The credit bureaus

There are the three main credit bureaus that keep consumer credit information on file:

Free annual credit report

Under federal law, you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus, every year. Order your report online at 

When ordering your credit report, you’ll need to supply the credit bureaus with some information so they can identify you, including:

  • Full Name
  • Current address and previous addresses
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Current employer
  • Phone number

If you are denied credit

If you have applied for credit—a loan, a credit card, or a personal line for example—and have been denied based on your credit report, you are entitled by law to a free copy of that report. This does not count against you as your free annual copy, but you do need to request it within 60 days of being denied credit. The lender's explanation of why your application was denied will tell you which credit reporting bureau supplied your credit report. You can contact the credit reporting bureau by telephone to get your free copy sent to you.

When you receive your credit report, check it carefully for accuracy. If you find errors, start the dispute process right away.

Disputing inaccurate information

You have a right to point out and dispute any incorrect information in your credit report. You also have the right to correct errors in your credit report.

Once you file a dispute, the credit bureau is required to check with the creditor who supplied the information, and send you an update. In fact, the credit bureau must respond to your dispute in a timely manner (30–45 days is normal).

If the credit bureau does not accept your dispute or you otherwise disagree with their response, you can submit a 100-word statement that will be added to your credit report to give your side of the story. This way, when you apply for credit again the lender may be able to take your dispute into consideration.

How long information stays on your credit report

The law governs how long information stays on your credit report. Information about accounts you have paid off will remain on your credit report even after you have finished paying them. The good news is that well-managed accounts stay on for 10 years after they are paid off or closed, showing potential lenders that you handled your finances responsibly. Negative information, however (such as late payments or abandoned accounts) will stay on your credit report on for up to 7 years. If you declare bankruptcy, it will stay on your credit report for up to 10 years.

Why is your credit score so important?

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This site is for education purposes. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.