Fair Credit Reporting Act

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Fair Credit Reporting Act
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titles
  • Consumer Credit Protection Act Amendment
  • Consumer Credit Reporting
  • Credit Reporting Agencies
Long title An Act to amend the Federal Deposit Insurance Act to require insured banks to maintain certain records, to require that certain transactions in U.S. currency be reported to the Department of the Treasury, and for other purposes.
Nicknames Federal Deposit Insurance Act Amendments
Enacted by the 91st United States Congress
Effective October 26, 1970
Public law 91-508
Statutes at Large 84 Stat. 1114-2 aka 84 Stat. 1127
Titles amended
U.S.C. sections amended
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 15073
  • Passed the House on May 25, 1970 (302–0)
  • Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on October 26, 1970

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a United States federal law (codified at Title 15 United States Code Section 1681 and following) that regulates the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer information, including consumer credit information.[1] Along with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), it forms the base of consumer credit rights in the United States. It was originally passed in 1970,[2] and is enforced by the US Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and private litigants.


The Fair Credit Reporting Act, as originally enacted, was title VI of Pub.L. 91–508, 84 Stat. 1114, enacted October 26, 1970, entitled An Act to amend the Federal Deposit Insurance Act to require insured banks to maintain certain records, to require that certain transactions in United States currency be reported to the Department of the Treasury, and for other purposes. It was written as an amendment to add a title VI to the Consumer Credit Protection Act, Pub.L. 90–321, 82 Stat. 146, enacted June 29, 1968.

Consumer reporting agencies[edit]

Consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) are entities that collect and disseminate information about consumers to be used for credit evaluation and certain other purposes, including employment. Credit bureaus, a type of consumer reporting agency, hold a consumer's credit report in their databases. CRAs have a number of responsibilities under FCRA, including the following:

  1. Provide a consumer with information about him or her in the agency's files and to take steps to verify the accuracy of information disputed by a consumer. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), an amendment to the FCRA passed in 2003, consumers are able to receive one free credit report per year.[3] The free report can be requested by telephone, mail, or through the government-authorized website, annualcreditreport.com.[4]
  2. If negative information is removed as a result of a consumer's dispute, it may not be reinserted without notifying the consumer within five days, in writing.
  3. CRAs may not retain negative information for an excessive period. The FCRA describes how long negative information, such as late payments, bankruptcies, tax liens or judgments may stay on a consumer's credit report—typically seven years from the date of the delinquency. The exceptions: bankruptcies (10 years) and tax liens (seven years from the time they are paid).

The three big CRAs—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—do not interact with information furnishers directly as a result of consumer disputes. They use a system called E-Oscar.[5] In some areas of the country, however, there are other credit bureaus.

Nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies[edit]

In addition to the three big CRAs, the FCRA also classifies dozens of other information technology companies as "nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies" that produce individual consumer reports used to make credit determinations.[6] Under Section 603 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the term "nationwide specialty consumer reporting agency" means a consumer reporting agency that compiles and maintains files on consumers on a nationwide basis relating to:

  1. medical records or payments;
  2. residential or tenant history;
  3. check writing history;

Because these nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies sell consumer credit report files, they are required to provide annual disclosures of their report files to any consumer who requests disclosure.[7] A partial list of companies classified as nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies under FCRA includes: Telecheck, ChoicePoint, Acxiom, Integrated Screening Partners, Innovis, the Insurance Services Office, Tenant Data Services, LexisNexis, Retail Equation, Central Credit, Teletrack, the Medical Information Bureau aka, United Health Group (Ingenix Division), and Milliman.[8]

Although the major CRAs Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are required by law to provide a central source website for consumers to request their reports, the nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies are not required to provide a centralized online source for disclosure. The FCRA Section 612 merely requires nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies to establish a streamlined process for consumers to request consumer reports, which shall include, at a minimum, the establishment by each such agency of a toll-free telephone number for such consumer disclosure requests.[6]


A creditor, as defined by the FCRA, is a company that furnishes information to consumer reporting agencies. Typically, these are creditors, with which a consumer has some sort of credit agreement (such as credit card companies, auto finance companies and mortgage banking institutions).

Other examples of information furnishers are collection agencies (third-party collectors), state or municipal courts reporting a judgment of some kind, past and present employers and bonders. Lenders have an important role to play in ensuring credit reports are accurate. Under the FCRA, these information furnishers may only report a consumer's credit report under the following guidelines:[9]

  1. They must provide complete and accurate information to the credit reporting agencies.
  2. The duty to investigate disputed information from consumers falls on Creditor, and they must correct an error, or explain why the credit report is correct within 30 days of receipt of notice of a dispute.
  3. They must inform consumers about negative information which is in the process of or has already been placed on a consumer's credit report within one month.

(This notice doesn't have to be sent as a separate notice, but may be placed on a consumer's monthly statement. If sent as part as the monthly statement, it needs to be conspicuous, but need not be in bold type. Required wording (developed by the US Federal Treasury Department):

Notice before negative information is reported: We may report information about your account to credit bureaus. Late payments, missed payments, or other defaults on your account may be reflected in your credit report.

Notice after negative information is reported: We have told a credit bureau about a late payment, missed payment or other default on your account. This information may be reflected in your credit report.

National security letters[edit]

The FCRA authorizes (15 U.S.C. §§ 1681u1681v) so-called national security letters and criminalizes speech regarding them.

1681u was added by section 601 of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 (Pub.L. 104–93); 1681v was added by section 358 of the USA Patriot Act. Their use was expanded by section 505 of the USA Patriot Act.

Information users[edit]

Users of the information for credit, insurance, or employment purposes (including background checks) have the following responsibilities under the FCRA:

  1. They must notify the consumer when an adverse action is taken on the basis of such reports.
  2. Users must identify the company that provided the report, so that the accuracy and completeness of the report may be verified or contested by the consumer.


Under the FCRA, employers are required to follow specific procedures when they use consumer reporting agencies to obtain consumer reports or investigative consumer reports on employees and / or job applicants for "employment purposes." Covered reports can include credit checks, motor vehicle records and driving history and criminal background information, and different types of information.[10] The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued updated FCRA notices that employers and consumer reporting agencies must use when conducting background checks on employees or job applicants. The revised forms, which must be used effective January 1, 2013, are available in Appendices K, M and N at the end of Title 12 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 1022 and are substantively the same as the previously used forms.[11]

Credit report errors[edit]

A large portion of consumer credit reports contain errors. A study released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in June 2004 found that 79% of the consumer credit reports surveyed contained some kind of error or mistake.[12] However, the Government Accountability Office released a study disputing US PIRG numbers.[13] The Federal Reserve Board issued a similar study noting that "the proportion of individuals affected by any single type of data problem appears to be small."[14] In 2007, the Consumer Data Industry Association which represents the credit bureaus testified that less than two percent of 52 million credit reports had data deleted because it was in error.[15] By law, consumers can invoke their rights under the FCRA to review and correct their credit reports.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act ("FACTA") of 2003 has allowed easier access to consumers wishing to view their reports and dispute items. Since 2012, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has published a list of consumer reporting agencies (CRAs). It enables consumers to see which CRAs might be important to them and gives them the contact information of each CRA in the list, so consumers can more easily order their personal consumer reports. Many of the CRAs in the list provide personal reports to consumers for free. The 2015 edition of the list is available on the CFPB's website here.

Civil liability[edit]

For willful noncompliance with FCRA, a consumer may recover the greater of either actual damages or a statutory maximum of $1,000.00, plus possible punitive damages, as well as reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Under 617 of the Act, recovery for a violation of actual damages, plus attorney's fees. Under 618, a consumer may file a civil lawsuit in state or federal court to enforce compliance and the statute of limitations is five years from the date of discovery.

Regulated companies[edit]

The three major U.S.-based consumer credit reporting companies Transunion, Equifax, and Experian are (and were intended to be) the primary entities subject to restrictions under the FCRA.

While database companies like LexisNexis, Westlaw, ChoicePoint, and eFunds (owner of ChexSystems) do not create credit reports per se, they may gather the same types of information and as a result may subject some of their actions to FCRA, e.g. when they provide such information to insurance companies, banks and other entities which may deny services, or favorable rates for services, based on that information.

An excerpt of the 1999 FTC advisory opinion[16] states:

An entity that meets the definitional requirement for a "consumer reporting agency" (CRA) in Section 603(f) of the FCRA is covered by the law even if the only information it collects, maintains, and disseminates is obtained from "public record" sources.

Section 603(f) defines a "consumer reporting agency" as any person "which, for monetary fees, dues, or on a cooperative nonprofit basis, regularly engages in whole or in part in the practice of assembling or evaluating consumer credit information or other information ... for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties ...". In turn, Section 603(d) defines a "consumer report" as the communication of "any information" by a CRA that bears on a consumer's "credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living" that is "used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part" for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing eligibility for credit or insurance to be used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes, employment purposes, or any other purpose authorized under Section 604.

If the commercial service you describe regularly provides information for the purposes set forth in the definition of consumer report in Section 603(d), the agency is a consumer reporting agency and the information it collects from public record sources and maintains in its computerized files is subject to the FCRA.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dlabay, Les R.; Burrow, James L.; Brad, Brad (2009). Intro to Business. Mason, Ohio: South-Western Cengage Learning. p. 471. ISBN 978-0-538-44561-0. 
  2. ^ "Budgeting Tools". Money Management. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  3. ^ "Provisions of New Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act Will Help Reduce Identity Theft and Help Victims Recover: FTC". Ftc.gov. 2011-06-24. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  4. ^ http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports
  5. ^ "Home". E-Oscar. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  6. ^ a b "Text of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. 1681" (PDF). Ftc.gov. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ "Do a Total Background Check on Yourself - Annual Consumer Reporting Agencies". AnnualMedicalReport.com. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  9. ^ "WILLIAMS: Credit agencies are the messengers". Washington Times. 2009-01-19. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  10. ^ Rumbaugh, Eric H.; Jason A. Kunschke; Michael Best & Friedrich LLP (August 8, 2013). "Fair Credit Reporting Act Background Checks Remain a Hot Topic for Employers". The National Law Review. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  11. ^ Cooper, Marion B.; Drinker Biddle; Reath LLP (February 1, 2013). "January 1, 2013: New Fair Credit Reporting Act "FCRA" Forms Required by New Enforcement Agency". TNL Review. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  12. ^ "Mistakes Do Happen: A Look at Errors in Consumer Credit Reports". United States Public Interest Research Group. Archived from the original on 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2006-09-04. 
  13. ^ "Statement for the Record Before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate" (PDF). Gao.gov. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  14. ^ "Credit Report Accuracy and Access to Credit" (PDF). Federalreserve.gov. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  15. ^ "Credit Reports: Consumers’ Ability to Dispute and Change Inaccurate Information" (PDF). 
  16. ^ "FCRA Staff Opinion: Haynes-Sum". Ftc.gov. 2011-06-24. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 

External links[edit]