American consumers who have any form of credit also usually have a credit report. Because personal credit information is so important in our society, Congress decided it must be protected. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was enacted to ensure credit information is accurately collected and consumers’ privacy rights are preserved. If your FCRA rights have been violated, you only have a certain amount of time to pursue legal action according to the FCRA Statute of Limitations.
Whether you are applying for a bank account, an apartment rental, a new credit card or increased spending limit, certain types of employment, or a personal loan, your credit report may be the deciding factor in your success. During the pandemic, American families experienced greater financial challenges so accurate credit reporting has become increasingly important.
A September 2021 survey showed 42% of adult consumers with credit cards increased their debt load since the pandemic began in March 2020. While an October 2021 report from the Wall Street Journal revealed that 27% of Americans applied for more credit in the prior 12 months. According to the Federal Reserve, credit card companies sent out more card offers, and some lowered their credit score requirements in the third quarter of 2021 to entice new cardholders. During the same time frame, 11% of those surveyed applied for credit limit increases on existing credit cards.
Since your credit report contains information from creditors, banks, loan companies, former landlords, employers, and other sources (collectively known as “information furnishers”) there are many opportunities for reporting errors. Your credit report might have problems such as:
If you find an error in your credit report, you should report it to the Credit Reporting Agency (CRA) as soon as possible. For more detailed information about how to dispute a credit report error, read about these 3 Things You Should do if Your Credit Report is Wrong.
Once you report an error, the CRA must reasonably investigate your dispute and contact the business or person that furnished the inaccurate debt information. Your FCRA rights may be violated if:
Not all errors become FCRA violations. However, if you cannot resolve your credit report issues directly with the agency or creditor, you should consider consulting with an FCRA litigation attorney quickly because you have a limited amount of time (known as a statute of limitations) to bring a lawsuit to protect your rights.
This is where things get tricky. Finding a credit report problem can be easy if you review your credit reports regularly (which you can do every 12 months for free at AnnualCreditReport.com). However, sometimes, you might not learn about a problem until you are denied credit for some reason or contacted by a debt collector to pay a debt you didn’t incur.
If you try to clear up an FCRA problem and the credit bureau or original creditor refuses to comply with the FCRA, you may need to file a lawsuit to enforce your rights. Like all federal laws, you must bring legal action before the FCRA statute of limitations expires. It’s important to know how much time you have to file a lawsuit and how to calculate the limitations period.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act statute of limitations allows a consumer to file a lawsuit to enforce the FCRA regardless of how much money is at stake. Your lawsuit must be filed within:
Whichever is earlier.
If you miss this filing window, your case can be dismissed.
So, there are potentially two different starting dates to consider—the date you discovered the violation and the date the violation actually occurred.
In most cases, your time to file claims against the CRA or the information furnisher does not start running when you first discover a credit report error. Usually, you must file a dispute with the credit bureau, and then it has 30 days to perform an investigation. The CRA must also provide written notice of its findings within five business days of completing the investigation. If the CRA does not investigate, or if the investigation is not done in a reasonable manner, or it isn’t completed within 30 days of your dispute, the CRA has violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
As part of its investigation, the credit bureau is required to contact the information furnisher, provide your dispute to the furnished, and ask it to investigate the accuracy of the information provided to the bureau. If the furnisher fails to do a proper investigation, that is also a violation of the FCRA.
Because CRAs and information furnishers are allowed 30 days to investigate, an FCRA violation based on a CRA’s failure to conduct a reasonable investigation cannot occur until at least 30 days from your dispute because there is no way to know whether the investigation was reasonable until it is completed. Some courts have declared the violation can’t occur until 35 days after your dispute since the CRA and/or furnisher has that amount of time to investigate and report back.
There are two situations where the limitations clock can be reset—through a re-dispute by the consumer or if inaccurate information that was previously corrected is reported again. If you ask for a re-investigation of inaccurate information, the CRA or furnisher’s obligations are generally the same as with an initial dispute. They have 30 days to investigate and five more days to report their findings. Your re-dispute restarts the statute of limitations clock.
Also, if you dispute an error and it is corrected, but the inaccurate information is later reported again, the limitations clock is restarted to when you dispute the second reporting. Also, if new inaccurate information is reported, the clock restarts when you dispute the new error.
It’s important to note that the five-year date is a last-chance filing deadline established under the Statute of Repose. The Statute of Repose is similar to a statute of limitations—it creates a legal deadline for filing claims and ends your rights if you miss the deadline. Filing deadlines are critical and confusing. An experienced FCRA lawyer can assess your situation and your legal rights.
You clearly don’t want to wait until the last possible day to bring legal action if you are facing FCRA violations. As a consumer, you should review your credit reports regularly, dispute any errors or unauthorized accounts immediately, and act as soon as possible if your credit report is not corrected.
FCRA Section 1681o specifically establishes civil liability (money awards) for FCRA violations based on negligent noncompliance. Any person who fails to comply with FCRA requirements related to a consumer can be held liable for:
If the FCRA violations are willful or show a pattern of bad conduct, the court may also award punitive damages.
The FCRA Statute of Limitations can be confusing. Before you file a lawsuit, it is important in most cases to first dispute the problem with the credit reporting agency. While it is usually not a bad idea to also contact the information furnisher (for example, the credit card company or other creditor reporting the information to the bureaus), it is the dispute to the CRA’s that triggers many of the FCRA’s most important consumer protections.
Also, depending on your circumstances, you may have legal rights under other consumer protection laws so the FCRA statute of limitations may not be the only deadline that applies to your case.
If you have reached an impasse with the credit agency or the creditor that reported inaccurate information, reach out to the experienced team at the Financial Justice Initiative to schedule a free case consultation right away. Don’t risk missing your opportunity to clear your credit and recover the damages you deserve. Call (855) 929-1051 or complete this simple online form today.