Consumer's Guide to Credit Reporting in Wisconsin
Credit Reporting Companies
If you have ever applied for a loan, a charge account, or insurance, information about your personal
finances has probably been collected by a credit reporting company (also called a consumer
reporting agency). Credit reporting companies are businesses that provide information about a
consumer's credit history. Credit reports include information on your payment history on past bills,
unpaid debts, bankruptcy, lawsuits filed on debts, and arrests. The customers of credit reporting
companies include banks, loan companies, and retailers that extend credit. A business or person
requesting a credit report from a reporting company must have a legitimate business reason in order
to obtain the information that the company has in its file. Consumers also have a right to find out
what information is in their file and to make sure that the information is accurate and up to date.
Credit reporting companies may also provide investigative reports on persons applying for a job or
insurance to an employer or insurance company. These reports may include not only credit
information, but also information about a person's lifestyle, habits, and reputation, and the
information may come from interviews with the person's neighbors and acquaintances. A person
must be notified when an investigative report has been requested and has a right to find out what
information is contained in the report.
Finding Out the Reasons for a Denial of Credit
Whenever a creditor denies an application for credit, the consumer has a right to find out the reason
for the denial. The creditor must give specific reasons so that the consumer knows the exact reason
for the denial and can determine whether it was based on accurate information. If the denial was
based on information from a credit reporting company, the creditor must give the name and address
of the company. If the information was not from a credit reporting company, the creditor must
explain the nature of the information that led to the denial of credit.
If credit is denied, it is a good idea to obtain information from the creditor before contacting a credit
reporting company so that you know exactly why it was denied and also know which credit
reporting company provided the information. It may be easier to deal directly with the creditor to
correct any errors. However, it is also important to contact the credit reporting company that
provided the inaccurate information and correct its records so that the problem does not reoccur in
Locating Credit Reporting Companies
If credit has been denied because of information obtained from a credit reporting company, a
creditor must tell the consumer the name and address of the company. If you decide to review your
credit report just to make sure that it is accurate, you will need to check with all credit reporting
companies. There are three nationwide credit reporting companies: 1) Equifax, which can be
reached at (800) 685-1111 or www.equifax.com; 2) Experian, which can be reached at (888)
EXPERIAN or www.experian.com; and 3) Trans Union, which can be reached at (800) 916-8800 or
www.transunion.com. Other local or regional credit reporting companies are usually listed in the
Yellow Pages under "Credit Reporting Companies," "Credit Rating," or "Credit." Even if the first
company you contact has a report, you should still check with the others, since several companies
may have a file on your credit history.
Reviewing Your Credit Record
You have a right to find out what information is in your credit report and where the information
came from (the only exception is for any medical information that may be in your report as a result
of an investigative report). The company will require you to provide identification so that the
information is not given to persons who have no authority to receive it. You can review the
information in person or over the telephone (if you have already provided identification in person or
by mail). You also have a right to find out who the report has been sent to in the past year (or two
years for reports on job applicants sent to employers).
If a consumer asks for the information in a credit report within 60 days of a denial of credit, the
company must provide the information for free. At other times, the consumer still has a right to the
information, but the company may charge a reasonable fee (usually $9.50 to $20). The three
nationwide credit reporting companies discussed earlier must provide consumers with a free copy of
their reports once every twelve (12) months, if a consumer requests them. Call (877) 322-8228 or
visit www.annualcreditreport.com to order the free reports.
Correcting Your Credit Report
If you discover that a credit reporting company has incorrect or out of date information in your file,
you can ask to have your file corrected. You should provide specific information about the things in
the report that you believe are inaccurate. You may have to contact a creditor and ask it to confirm
that a debt that is reported as unpaid has since been brought up to date or paid off. Once you
provide information showing that the credit report is inaccurate, the credit reporting company must
reinvestigate your case to make sure that the information in your file is correct. If your file is
corrected, the company must send the updated report to anyone who has received your report in the
past six months (or two years for the reports of job applicants that were sent to an employer).
If the credit reporting company does not agree to change your report, you have a right to submit a
summary of what you believe is incorrect in the report. The company can require that the summary
be no more than 100 words. Because of the limit on length, it is very important to stick to the
disputed items and include only the most important information that supports your belief that the
report is inaccurate. The summary will be included in your report when it is sent to creditors and
will also be sent free of charge to any recent recipient of your report if requested within 60 days of a
denial of credit. After 60 days, you can ask that your summary be sent to prior recipients, but the
credit reporting company can require you to pay a reasonable fee.
There are limits on the length of time that unfavorable information can be included in your credit
report. Information about a bankruptcy can be reported for ten years. Information about a lawsuit
or judgment can stay in a report for as long as the statute of limitations on the claim or judgment or
for seven years, whichever is longer. Any other unfavorable information can be reported for seven
years. However, there is no time limit on reporting unfavorable information if a report is requested
in connection to a job application where the salary is $75,000 or more, in connection to an
application for $150,000 or more in life insurance, or in connection to an extension of credit of
$150,000 or more.
Penalties for Violating Credit Reporting Requirements
If a credit reporting company violates the credit reporting law, a consumer can sue and collect actual
damages and attorney's fees. If the violation was willful rather than negligent, a court can also
award the consumer punitive damages. If someone uses false pretenses to obtain a report, or if a
credit reporting company discloses information from your file to someone who has no authority to
obtain it, you may also be entitled to damages.
Contact an attorney or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for more information. The FTC can be
reached at (877) FTC-HELP or www.ftc.gov.
Credit Repair Organizations
There are also businesses that offer to help you correct or improve your credit rating. While some of
these businesses are honest, others do little or nothing for consumers. You should be able to correct
any problems yourself in no more time than it would take a correction service to do it for you. You
have the right to get all information in your credit report just by asking, and only you will know
which information is correct and which is incorrect.
If you do decide to use a credit repair organization, it must give you a copy of the “Consumer Credit
File Rights under State and Federal Law” before you sign a contract. It must also give you a written
contract that explains your rights and obligations. No services shall be performed until three days
after you sign the contract, and you are free to cancel the contract, without penalty, within those
If there is unfavorable information in your report that is accurate, a credit reporting company may
keep the information in your report for the allowed time period, and there is nothing that you or a
correction service can do to require a company to remove it.
The above is intended to provide general information only and is not a substitute for thorough and specific advice on an
individual case. Depending on the complexity of your legal problem, you may need to consult an attorney for advice or
This was prepared by the staff of Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc. on behalf of low-income clients and was funded by the
Legal Services Corporation, Washington, D.C., 20005. Any opinions contained herein are those of the authors and should
not be construed as those of the Legal Services Corporation.
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©August 2006 Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc.