The law that controls credit reports and credit reporting is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Occasionally, one of my clients will notify me, after receiving his or her bankruptcy discharge, that an account that was discharged in bankruptcy is being improperly and negatively on a credit report. Assuming the debt was not reaffirmed by signing and filing a formal “reaffirmation agreement” during the bankruptcy case, and also assuming it’s not a special category of non-dischargeable debt (like most student loans, or tax debts), then the account status, to be correctly reported, should be “DISCHARGED IN BANKRUPTCY.” If the discharged debt is still being reported as late or past due, or if it shows a balance owed, then that’s inaccurate. First, it’s a good idea to wait 60 to 90 days post-discharge before checking the details of your credit report. That way, creditors and bureaus have sufficient time to update the accounts and discharged status.
However, if you pull your credit report 90 days or more after the discharge, and it still contains incorrect information, then it’s time to initiate a formal dispute, which is process designed to help consumers fix errors in a fast and easy way.
The formal dispute process as set forth in the FCRA should be initiated quickly so that incorrect information doesn’t keep delaying your efforts to rebuild your credit score. The following are the exact steps that need to be taken in order to delete wrong information on credit reports.
- Get your credit reports. Get them for free online from annualcreditreport.com . . You can download them and print them from each provider, but (for reasons explained in the next paragraph) the better idea is to use the mail in form available at that site to obtain the credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union). The form to get all 3 credit reports is located here. If you mail in the form, attach a copy of your driver’s license and utility or other bill that ties you to the address you want the credit reports mailed to and so you can show that you are who you say you are. This is the absolute best way to get your free credit reports when you want to dispute erroneous information and it avoids many problems.
- We DO NOT recommend, at this point, getting the credit reports directly from the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) because you may lose important rights due to binding arbitration.
- At the same time, get a complete copy of your bankruptcy petition and the formal discharge document issued by the Court in your case. That way, you will have a complete listing of all of the debts that were discharged in your bankruptcy and the court document showing that they are no longer legally owed.
- Once you get the credit reports, review them carefully for any incorrect information. Make sure every debt that you listed in your bankruptcy petition shows on the credit report as “0(zero) balance – discharged in bankruptcy.” That is the only designation that can appear on what is called the trade line for that particular debt. Importantly, debts that are discharged in bankruptcy cannot show anything else such as any balance still owed, in collections, delinquent, charge-off, or any other negative information. Again, to reiterate, any debt that has been discharged in bankruptcy can only show “0 balance-discharged in bankruptcy.” If anything else appears on that particular trade line, especially if it is derogatory information, then that violates the requirements of the FCRA. If there is erroneous information in the trade line for a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy, you will then want to prepare a dispute letter directly to the credit reporting agency that has the wrong information. DO NOT submit the dispute online! It is critical that you do the dispute in writing and that you mail it in. Logically, you would think that you would dispute the erroneous information with the credit furnisher that is providing the wrong information but that will accomplish absolutely nothing. The FCRA mandates that you must make the dispute directly with the credit reporting agency itself who then will contact the furnisher. If you do not follow these steps exactly, then you will accomplish nothing and the errors on your credit reports will be entitled to remain there.
- When you prepare your dispute letter to the credit reporting agencies, you must mail it to them by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of the signed and dated letter that you send and also keep the green card you receive back from the post office verifying that the credit reporting agency did receive your dispute letter. Below is what a sample dispute letter should look like where negative information appears in a credit report on the trade line of a discharged debt. Please follow this sample letter exactly for your best chance at getting the credit reports fixed.
SAMPLE DISPUTE LETTER – USE THIS AS A GUIDE TO CREATE YOUR OWN DISPUTE LETTER
Your full mailing address
Your city, state zip code
Date of letter
Name of Credit Report Agency (Transunion, Equifax, Experian)
City, state, zip code
After reviewing my credit report, I am writing to dispute the following information. I have circled the disputed items on my attached report. These include (list item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.)
This item(s) is(are) inaccurate because (list exactly why each item is incorrect or incomplete – for instance, “The debt was included in my bankruptcy and is only allowed to be shown as a 0 balance-discharged in bankruptcy. No other negative information is allowed to be listed on that trade line.”
Supporting documents have been enclosed. (BE SURE TO INCLUDE AS MUCH SUPPORTING PROOF AS POSSIBLE TO SUPPORT YOUR DISPUTE – THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!! In a situation where a debt was discharged in bankruptcy and it still shows negative on the credit report, be sure to include a copy of the page(s) of the credit report that shows the negative information, circle it and explain in paragraph two above what the negative language is that is not allowed. Also, make sure to include the copy of the page of the bankruptcy petition that shows the debt itself and a copy of the bankruptcy discharge entered in the bankruptcy case.) Pursuant to the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act), please forward them to the credit furnishers. If you are not going to forward them, please inform me immediately so that I may do so myself.
Your name printed AND signed name
Encl. (List by name each document that you are enclosing)
- In addition to NOT submitting your disputes online, DO NOT use a PO Box as the mailing address for your disputes. Use ONLY the physical mailing addresses for the credit reporting agencies. The physical addresses are as follows:
1550 Peachtree Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30309-2468
701 Experian Parkway
Allen, TX 75013
555 West Adams St
Chicago, IL 60661
- Remember to keep a copy of everything you send, including all of the supporting documents/enclosures, and then keep a copy of the green card you get back from the post office so you can verify that the credit reporting agency received your dispute. Also, make sure you keep a copy of ALL credit reports and every page of the credit reports. In sum, make sure you have a complete copy of everything that you send and everything that you receive. The importance of doing this cannot be overstated.
- If you want, simply out of frustration, you can also write a separate letter regarding your dispute to the actual credit furnisher. This may help expedite the correction but remember that, under the FCRA law, this WILL HAVE NO EFFECT in correcting erroneous or wrong information on your credit report. The only way the system operates is by a dispute letter directly to the credit reporting agency, regardless of whom is furnishing incorrect information on you!
- Once you have submitted a proper dispute, wait up to 45 days for a response. If your credit report is fixed, then you need to do nothing further.
- If your credit report is not corrected after your first dispute, then try to get credit and see if whomever you are applying for credit denies you or gives you a problem or a higher interest rate because of this incorrect information. Make sure to keep proof of ALL denials you receive or problems you have getting credit AFTER your initial dispute. As a side note, any damage or problems you have suffered before you do your initial dispute are meaningless and of no force or effect under the FCRA. That first dispute triggers liability and the requirement for the credit reporting agency to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy” of your credit report. The furnisher of the incorrect information, once it receives the dispute directly from the credit reporting agency, is required under the law to “conduct an investigation” of the dispute and report its findings back to the credit reporting agencies.
- If the information is not corrected as you think it should be, then do a second round of disputes. That is essentially your initial letter again with all of your supporting enclosures as described above and you should note on it “2nd Request – Urgent!” with the new date and explain again what your dispute is and that this is the second time you’re disputing the inaccurate information and that you needed corrected because it is damaging to you.
- Once you get the report back from the second round of disputes, if the credit reports are still not fixed, tried to get credit again and keep all proof if you are denied credit or if you have problems again after the second round of disputes.
- You may have to do disputes another time or two if the credit reporting agencies and the furnisher of the incorrect information will not fix your credit reports.
- The best advice that we have for doing an effective dispute letter is to pretend that you are trying to explain to a fifth-grader what the problems are with your credit reports and why the information that is being shown is wrong. Explain the problems in great detail with all of the supporting documentation that you have and in simple terms so that even a fifth-grader would understand why the information on your credit report is erroneous.
If Credit Reports Aren’t Corrected
If your credit reports are not corrected to reflect that each debt discharged in bankruptcy is shown as a “0 balance – discharged in bankruptcy” and you are suffering damages in the form of credit denials, job denials, etc., you then have a right to file a lawsuit against the credit reporting agencies and the credit furnisher for the erroneous information that is still showing on your credit reports.
The law under the FCRA is complicated and illogical in parts. If you need assistance helping to resolve the lingering credit problem, reach back out to me directly to discuss your legal recourse. The bankruptcy laws are designed to allow folks to obtain a “fresh financial start.” A creditor, debt collector or credit reporting agency is not allowed to continue to punish you after a legal discharge of the debt. Remember, “0 balance – discharged in bankruptcy” is the only allowed designation on a trade line of a discharged debt in a credit report. A balance still owing, charge off, delinquency or any other derogatory information is not allowed!
Brian R. Cahn
Bankruptcy Attorney with over 25 Years of Experience
All Consultations are Absolutely Free and Confidential
Brian R. Cahn & Associates, LLC
222 East Main Street
Cartersville, GA 30120