When it comes to your rights regarding Credit Reporting Agencies, collection agencies and creditors, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act are the two laws that govern. You can go to the FTC website and download these in a PDF if you like. If you can wade through these and understand them, then you will be better qualified in credit law than 98% of the staff of any CRA or collection agency.
If you are not a law junky here are a few strategies for getting derogatory information off your report.
There are basically two approaches to changing or deleting negative information; requesting verification of the accuracy of an item or disputing the validity (not mine) of an item.
The first thing you want to do is review your report for inaccurate spellings of your name and employers plus any old addresses that might show. Send a letter to the CRA asking that these items be removed. You can argue that the addresses are not relevant and that the names and employers are not accurate. The reason you want to remove these items is to remove the possibility of a collection agency using them to validate a debt. Always communicate in writing, preferably certified mail with return receipt requested. While it is more convenient to use the online form offered on the CRA website, you want proof that the communication was received and an electronic confirmation is not as powerful as a green postcard from the post office.
The next step is to review each negative item and determine what, if anything, to do about it. Look at the last date of activity. If this is a really old item and nearing the 7 year Statute of Limitations (SOL) then it may be wise to do nothing and let it roll off.
One of the rights that the law allows you is the opportunity to have an item verified. You can submit a request that an item be verified for accuracy. Include any back up data you have (copies not originals). The CRA must investigate any verification request to prove the debt is yours. This investigation must be accomplished in by the CRA within 30 days. If you are requesting verification of a public record like a bankruptcy or lien, the CRA can make short work of it because of the abundance of public record databases available to them.
If however, you want verification on an item posted by say a collection agency, it’s not so simple for them. If you think about it for a moment, they have millions of files and thousands of validation requests at any given time, how easy can it be. In some cases they may remove the item simply because it is the best business decision to do so. In other cases, if the investigation is not completed in thirty days (aren’t you glad you have that green postcard from the USPO that shows when the letter was delivered), you can demand that it be deleted.
Validation is not saying an item is not correct, it is saying prove to me that it is mine. You can’t request validation on an item posted by an original creditor. You can however, request it on items posted by collection agencies. If you’ve been through the harassing calls of a credit agency you probably discovered that the agency calling changes from time to time. That’s because your account has been sold over and over again. Getting validation that they have a legal right to collect the debt, or that the debt is actually yours, can be difficult and time consuming the further down the food chain the collection agency is.
Here’s an interesting side note. If you have a collection agency calling you now, send them a letter demanding that they validate the debt and their legal right to collect it per the FDCPA (again with the green postcard). They have to stop all collection activity until they respond to you. No calls, no letters. Unlike the CRA there is no time limit on their response to you.
So get your report out and start planning a strategy. Nothing gets done until you do something first.