I am a college educated, white collar worker who lost 90% of my income since 2002 due to corporate mass layoffs. The strain of affording my singlewide trailer was unanticipated, but I discovered an even more unexpected enemy, my credit report. The Society for Human Resource Management says almost half of employers do credit checks on employees before hiring them not because they’re verifying your name and address, but because they want to know if you pay your bills. To many employers, adverse accounts mean you’re more likely to steal or be a security risk on as little context as, “Bank So-n-So: $150, charged off.” I myself had been inoculated into thinking bad credit is merely a consequence of irresponsible money management and therefore a credit report is a summary of a person’s character. But when job lay-offs are in the tens of thousands, creating more job seekers than jobs, car repossession and credit card defaults are not a result of bad choices. And what about identity theft? What about when a telephone vendor kept my name associated with a closed account but allowed the number to receive collect calls anyway? What about when a debt collector took my money and never paid the original creditor? The big three credit bureaus do not require vendors to prove a debt claim before they post it to your credit report. Such listings can only be disputed after they appear on your credit, after they defame your character. I got cow towed into a self-feeding debacle: pay up or be denied job, car, and apartment. My lawyer said, “File bankruptcy,” but due to my job, I couldn’t. So I educated myself. I read the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act and discovered I could fix my credit without a lawyer, debt management or credit repair company. FDCPA section 809, Validation of Debts, states that any debt collector must furnish competent account verification to the debtor within 30 days of his/her request. While the account is in dispute, the collector may not attempt any form of collection. According to the FCRA, if the collector cannot produce the requested verification, the listing must be removed. Surprisingly, many companies cannot comply with requests for debt validation. Original creditors rarely keep records past 1 or 2 years, meaning neither they, nor their assignees, can produce the legal documentation supporting a credit report listing. Even if you feel your debt was legally incurred, it’s best practice to demand debt validation so you know for sure they have calculated your interest, fees, and other surprises correctly. Chances are the debt will be eliminated from your reports all together. I have eliminated six of nine adverse listings on my report worth over twenty thousand dollars at the cost of a few thirty-nine cent stamps. The Law has given you a chance to fight back. So fight. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.