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You Have the Right: 5 Credit Rights Consumers Should Know

The credit industry has a few major players: from credit card issuers to lenders to credit bureaus. Knowing your credit rights empowers you to take control of your credit and handle any issues efficiently. A few major laws that affect your credit life include: the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Truth in Lending Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Here are five important rights granted to you by those laws.

1. The right to know what's in your credit file.

Credit reports help financial businesses make more informed lending decisions. Your credit details aren't a secret—the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to request your credit report. That includes your reports from major credit bureaus as well as smaller, specialized credit reporting agencies.

Previously, we've been allowed to access a free credit report every 12 months from each of the credit bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this annual access has been expanded to a weekly free credit report through April 2021.

Outside of your free credit reports, you can purchase your credit bureau reports along with your FICO® Score through myFICO.com.

2. The right to an accurate, timely credit report.

The FCRA acknowledges the need for accurate consumer credit information for the banking system to work smoothly. And so, the law gives consumers the right to have inaccurate, incomplete, and outdated information removed from their credit reports. Outdated information could be bad debts that are more than seven years old or bankruptcies that are more than seven or 10 years old, depending on the type of bankruptcy.

If you spot errors or old information on your credit report, you can dispute it with the credit bureau reporting the error. After investigating your dispute, the credit bureau will either update your credit report or send a letter explaining that the creditor verified the information. You could follow up with a dispute to the company who provided the information if your credit bureau dispute was unsuccessful.

3. The right to have third-party collection agencies report only validated debts.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act primarily guides how third-party collection agencies should contact consumers but also prevents collectors from reporting unverified debts.

You're allowed to request debt validation from third-party collection agencies to verify the debt is yours, the amount is correct, and the collector has the right to collect it. Debt collectors who don't provide proof after you've requested validation aren't allowed to collect on those debts any further or report them to a credit bureau.

4. The right to know how much your credit costs.

The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) aims to ensure that consumers are treated fairly and are informed about the cost of financial products. Under the TILA, lenders and credit card issuers must layout credit card costs in a way that's easy to understand, before you agree to a credit card or loan.

Note that the TILA doesn't cap the amount of interest that can be charged, however, some state laws do limit interest on certain financial products. The law does require creditors to list cost details, like interest rate and grace period, on each billing statement. Additionally, your credit card issuer must make your card agreement available upon request.

5. The right to equal credit access.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was designed to ensure that consumers have equal access to credit. More specifically, the law restricts lenders and credit card issuers from using certain information to qualify you for a loan. This includes: race, color, religion, marital status, whether you receive public assistance, and age (however, note that age is considered when you're legally too young to sign a contract). Using only financial information to approve applicants helps prevent discrimination.

If you believe your rights have been violated and you can't handle it with the company directly, you can involve the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help reach a resolution.

LaToya Irby

LaToya Irby is a financial writer with over 14 years of experience. She's been quoted and published as a credit expert in several major publications including USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, TheBalance.com, and The Chicago Tribune.