One in four American consumers has discovered inaccurate information in their credit files. If you’re among these millions of people, there’s a good chance you’ve fallen victim to a mixed credit report.
Mixed credit reports are a common issue that most often affects people with personal information similar to others. This might include those who:
- Are named after a family member (e.g., John Doe, Jr., and John Doe, III).
- Have a common surname (e.g., Smith).
- Have a name with several possible spellings (e.g., Caitlin, Caitlyn, Katelyn).
- Share a birthday (e.g., twins or triplets).
- Have a Social Security number similar to someone else’s (e.g., an immigrant who applied for Social Security at the same time as other family members).
If someone else’s credit information shows up on your report, it could unfairly impact your own credit. It might be harder to buy a home, lease a vehicle, obtain a credit card or even get a job.
The good news is that everyone is entitled to a clean, accurate credit report through the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). If you’ve experienced a credit file mix-up, seek to solve it as soon as possible so you can recover quickly.
But how exactly do you fix a mixed credit report? Let’s walk through the steps from start to finish.
Discovering a credit report mix-up
You should periodically check your credit file to sniff out any information on your record that belongs to someone else. You can do this easily at www.annualcreditreport.com.
If you don’t proactively look for credit irregularities, you risk letting the problem persist for much longer. You might eventually find out your credit report has been mixed up by other means, including:
- Being rejected for a new credit account.
- Learning your credit score is unusually low.
- Receiving a collection letter, lawsuit or a bill for something you never authorized.
- Being notified of an irregularity in your credit report by a credit monitoring company (e.g., Credit Karma).
Mixed credit reports can cause severe financial issues, so start resolving the problem immediately after you discover it.
Diagnosing the problem
First, find out just how much of your credit info was mixed with someone else’s.
Maybe there’s only one or two false reports on your account; maybe there are a dozen or more. Whatever the case, you’ll want to analyze your credit report as closely as possible to identify all misinformation.
You may have difficulties diagnosing the problem because credit bureaus use a different algorithm when reporting information to potential lenders than when you request your report directly from the credit bureau. Because of this, it is also important to obtain a copy of the credit report used by your potential lender.
Credit reports are complex, hard-to-read documents. Unless you’re well-versed in reading credit files, bring your copy to a lawyer who can analyze it. They’ll help you determine whether there’s a collection account, judgment or tax lien belonging to someone with similar information to yours. (Or they might discover your credit has been affected by something even more serious, like identity theft.)
You and your attorney should note all inaccuracies in your credit report so you can report the problem thoroughly.
Sending a dispute letter
You’ll need to send a dispute letter to notify the credit reporting agency that your file was confused with someone else’s.
Dispute letters should include:
- Any information that shows you aren’t liable for false accounts on your report. Are these accounts with creditors you haven’t communicated with before? Can you confirm whether they belong to someone in your family?
- Background information that contradicts information in the false accounts. Were you too young to receive credit when the account was established? Did you live somewhere other than the location where the account was established?
- An explicit request to remove the false information from your credit report.
If you’re lucky, the credit reporting agency will get back to you in 30 days or so and scrub any misinformation from your file. However, agencies will often decline to remove harmful information from a credit report. If that happens, you can send another dispute letter, especially if you have uncovered additional information regarding the mix-up.
Taking legal action
Should the credit reporting agency decline to act on any of your letters, you can file a lawsuit against the credit reporting agency.
How long does it take to reach a resolution for a mixed credit file? Well, that depends on where you live and how quickly your local courts move. The courts in the places where our firm practices (Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and Hawaii) are relatively fast. So, if you file a lawsuit in one of these jurisdictions, you might expect a resolution within a year.
After resolving the case, you should emerge with a clean, accurate credit file.
Moving on from a mixed credit report
Hopefully, once the credit reporting agency has fixed the problem, you won’t have to deal with another mixed report.
But you should always be prepared for it to happen again – especially if you share similar personal information with somebody else. (Even if you don’t, you can never completely avoid having your credit report mixed with someone else’s.)
Set a reminder to check your credit report at least once a year so you can identify suspicious or out-of-place activity. This will give you a leg up on credit file mix-ups, other credit reporting errors and even identity theft. Make sure anyone with whom you share a name, birthday or other similar personal information knows to do the same.
And don’t panic if you plan to name your next child after yourself or a family member. Just remember to keep a careful, active eye on your credit.
Let us help you.
At Kelly Guzzo, PLC, we’ve helped hundreds of clients receive large settlements after their credit reports were mixed up.
We’re here to help if your credit file was mixed with someone else’s. If you schedule a free consultation, we’ll walk you through any errors in your credit report and help you determine your next steps. And you don’t have to worry even more about your finances when you turn to us: You only pay if we obtain a settlement on your behalf.