Fort Lauderdale Credit Reporting & Credit Repair Lawyer
According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in five Americans has an error on their credit report. Though most of these errors are trivial, up to 5% of consumers has an egregious error causing them to be overcharged on insurance, credit card debt, loans, and other financial responsibilities. If you have a concern or would like to dispute your credit report, Sweeney Law, P.A. can assist you, contact our experienced Fort Lauderdale credit reporting & repair lawyer today.
The FCRA: Protecting Consumer Rights
Under the FCRA (Fair Credit Repair Act), you, the consumer, have a right to dispute credit reporting agencies and creditors for incorrect or questionable entries and incomplete, deceptive, or inaccurate information. An error on your credit report could occur due to:
- Inaccurate Public Records: Misreporting of judgment, bankruptcy, or lien information.
- Out-of-date entries: Negative entries on your credit report that have not been removed after seven years. This includes collections, bankruptcies, liens, foreclosures, late payments, repossessions, etc.
- Mixed Files: Your information is combined with another consumer’s who has a similar name or social security number.
- Identity Theft: Misinformation in your file as a result of identity theft.
Though there are other possibilities for error, these are the most common. If you have been a victim of identity theft, it is important to check for credit report damage.
Important Things to Know about the FCRA
The purpose of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is to assure the accuracy and privacy of the information contained in your credit report, so that only accurate information is transmitted to those who make a legitimate request to a credit reporting agency. Despite the best efforts of the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the law, credit errors remain a common problem to this day, nearly 50 years since FCRA was enacted. In fact, about one in four people who check their credit find errors which could negatively impact their credit score.
Brendan Sweeney of Sweeney Law, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale is an experienced consumer law attorney who helps people in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties get their credit reports corrected, or recover compensation when credit errors have caused them financial harm or a lost opportunity. See below for some important things to know about FCRA, and contact Sweeney Law, P.A. for assistance enforcing your rights under the credit reporting law.
Lenders Include More than Just Banks
Credit reporting agencies receive information from many sources. It is not just banks, credit unions or savings and loan associations that send information to credit bureaus. Lenders come in many forms, including:
- The finance department of the dealership where you bought your car
- Credit card companies – When you use your credit card, you are essentially borrowing money to make purchases or take cash advances
- Cell phone providers – When you “buy” a new phone, you are most likely actually financing its purchase through monthly payments over a number of years
- Furniture and appliance stores, when you rent, rent-to-own, or pay off your purchase in a number of installment payments
Your credit gets reported by these lending companies not only when you make your initial purchase, but every time you make a payment (or miss a payment, or make a late payment). This is why it is important to continually monitor your credit report and credit score, whether subscribing to a credit monitoring service or taking advantage of the free credit reports you are entitled to under the law.
Credit reporting agencies get their information from lenders. They rely on the lenders to give them accurate information and don’t double-check to make sure the information is accurate; it is up to you to correct them when they are wrong. Once notified, credit reporting agencies are required to conduct a reasonably thorough investigation of disputes over their reporting.
How Your FICO Score is Calculated
Your credit score, also called a FICO score, is a cumulative measure of your credit. Some activities, such as paying your bills on time or maintaining a low debt-to-credit ratio, can increase your score. Likewise, other activities, such as making late payments, missing payments or having a high amount of debt, can decrease your score. Following are the main components that go into calculating your FICO score:
Payment History – 35% of your score. Late payments and missed payments are bad for your score. Late payments especially are sometimes misreported. Fix inaccurate reports of late payments as soon as you notice them.
Debt to Credit – 30% of your score. This factor looks at how much you owe compared to the total amount of credit extended to you. Owing a lot means you are overextended on credit, which is bad for your score.
Credit History – 15% of your score. Having had credit for a long time is good for your score. If you are a young person and have not amassed a credit history yet, the other factors will play a heavier role in calculating your score.
Types of Credit – 10% of your score. A variety of different types of credit is good. Some types of credit are considered better than others, e.g. a student loan is better than a credit card.
Frequency of Credit Applications – 10% of your score. How recently and how often you apply for credit can have good or bad effects on your score.
A Low Credit Score has Many Negative Effects
You probably know that having a low credit score can result in being turned down for credit or being forced to pay a higher interest rate on a home mortgage or car loan. It can also have many other negative effects, including:
- Higher credit card interest rates
- Higher insurance premiums
- Turned down for a job, especially one in the finance or credit industry
- Fail a security clearance if you have a government job
These negative consequences have real, measurable financial effects. If your credit score is reported incorrectly and you suffer damage because of it, you may be able to recover compensation for the harm done to you.
Your Rights under the FCRA
You are supposed to receive notice from any entity which reports something negative on your credit, both before and after the report is made.
If you applied for credit and were turned down, you have a right to be told about the source of the negative information which was used in making that decision. You have a right to the name of the agency along with its address and telephone number.
Once you have shown credit information to be inaccurate, inconsistent, or unverifiable, the credit reporting agency has 30 days to correct or delete that information.
Old information, even if it is accurate, should be removed from your credit report. Most information should be removed after seven years. This includes late payments, missed payments, judgments and other negative material. In the case of a bankruptcy, the time frame is seven years for a Chapter 13 but ten years for a Chapter 7.
You have a right to know what is in your file, including a free file disclosure in certain instances. You also have the right to get your credit score, also for free in some circumstances.
Only people or entities with a valid need under the law should have access to your credit report. Employers or prospective employers cannot access your credit report without your consent.
You have the right to have errors corrected by the credit reporting agency, but it’s not easy to get them to do that. At Sweeney Law, P.A., you have the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced consumer law attorney who knows how to get results. We can help you get credit reporting errors fixed, enforce your rights under the law, and obtain compensation when those credit errors have caused you harm.
Your Right to Damages
You have the right to sue those responsible for credit errors in state or federal court, and to recover money damages for the harm those errors have caused. Money damages come in many different forms, and you may be able to recover any form of damages applicable to your situation. Money damages include:
Actual Damages – This is the actual harm caused to you by the credit error. For instance, you may have had to pay a higher interest rate on a loan than you actually qualified for. If so, you can recover the cost of the extra interest you are having to pay. Other examples include being turned down for a job in the finance industry or having a business loan application declined due to credit errors. You can recover for the financial cost of that lost employment or business opportunity. You can recover for the full amount of your actual damages. If your actual damages are less than $1,000, you can choose to receive $1,000 in statutory damages instead.
Emotional Damages – Emotional or “noneconomic” damages are meant to compensate you for emotional harm you suffered, such as stress or anxiety. These conditions can even cause physical harm, such as sleeplessness/insomnia, hypertension (high blood pressure) and even a heart attack. You may be entitled to compensation for emotional damages caused by credit errors.
Punitive Damages – Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for their willful noncompliance to follow the law. The court has discretion to allow any amount of punitive damages that are appropriate. Typically, the bigger the defendant or the more outrageous the conduct, the larger the punitive damages.
Attorney’s Fees and Costs – If you are successful in proving your case, you can have your attorney’s fees and all the costs of the case (filing fees, document production, service of process, depositions, etc.) paid for by the other party. Attorney’s fees and costs are assessed against the other side on top of any amount awarded to you for your damages; they are not taken out of your award as a percentage of your recovery. You keep all the money which was awarded to you.
A Fort Lauderdale Credit Repair Lawyer Can Help
FCRA is a consumer protection law, but it doesn’t always seem that way to consumers. It is hard to understand and is a highly technical, complex and sophisticated area of the law. In fact, not many lawyers practice in this area due to its difficulty. Fort Lauderdale credit & consumer lawyer Brendan Sweeney understands the nuances and complexities of the FCRA and can help you enforce your rights under the law. If you need help fixing your credit report or recovering compensation for harm done to you by credit errors, call Sweeney Law, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale for exceptional service and excellent results.