Fast Answers to Your Most Pressing Debt Collection and Credit Reporting Questions
Can a collection company call multiple times per day? Can a creditor really increase your interest rate if you cannot pay your bills? If you have a question about debt collection, credit reporting, or any other issues related to consumer law, our FAQ section might provide the answer you need right now. If it doesn't, contact us using the contact form or the toll-free number and we'll answer it for you within 24 hours!
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How often do credit reports change?
There are a couple of reasons I can see for asking that question. The first is that you are a diligent consumer who wants to know the instant an error appears on your report so you can correct it right away. The second is that you have fixed something bad and want to know when your report will reflect that. Either way, you should understand that credit reports can change in the blink of an eye, but don’t expect to be able to fix something instantly. Let’s take a closer look.
There Is No Actual “Report” Until a Request Is Made
If you’re of a certain age, you probably have a vision of rows of file cabinets at each of the three credit reporting agencies (CRAs) with everyone’s paper credit report stored away until it is requested. The younger among us might realize that’s impossible and instead picture the same thing but in digital form stored on hard drives. You would both be wrong. The CRAs have information about you from every lender you’ve ever dealt with (and some that you have not dealt with) stored in databases. When someone (including you) requests a credit report, the CRAs access those databases, pull all the information about you together and create a credit report on the spot. Credit scores are calculated in the same way. So the reality is that your credit report and credit score only reflect your credit history at that exact moment in time. For example, if a late payment is reported by a lender right after your report was compiled for a loan application that requester won’t see the blemish, but someone who requests a report the next day will.
Allow Time to Fix Mistakes
While your report could change literally from one second to the next, it doesn’t mean that when you submit proof of an error in your credit history to a CRA, they will fix as quickly. CRAs have 30 days to investigate a reported error and additional time after that to correct it if they agree that it is an error. If you are planning to buy a house or a new car, be sure to check your credit reports a good four to six months before applying for a loan to allow time to fix any errors. If you are indeed that diligent consumer, you may want to routinely check your credit report with each of the three agencies a couple of times a year.
What If the CRA Doesn’t Fix a Mistake?
CRAs are required by federal law to investigate a dispute and to correct any information that is proven to be false. If they fail to do this in a timely manner, you may have a claim for damages. Contact me online at the Cardoza Law Corporation or call my office directly at 855.982.2400 to find out how to do this. I will help you take the necessary steps and will not charge you a cent. If I think there you have cause for damages, we can discuss next steps.
An identity thief used my credit card. Do I have to pay the charges?
In this modern age of technology, there are countless ways for a thief to run up debt in your name. Without actually taking your credit card out of your wallet—although he could do that too!—a thief can charge thousands of dollars in your name and get away scot-free. When this happens, what rights do you have? Do you really have to pay the credit card bill when you’re not responsible for the charges? Fortunately, no—you don’t. But you must be vigilant and take several steps to exercise these protections.
What the Fair Credit Billing Act Says
Enacted in 1974, the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) protects consumers from a variety of unfair billing practices by creditors, including giving you a right to dispute charges on your credit card. In order to identify unauthorized charges, you must be careful about reviewing your bill each month. If you find charges on your bill that you believe were made by an identity thief, you should take the following steps:
- For an unauthorized charge over $50, you have 60 days from the day you receive your credit card statement to dispute the charge in writing with your credit card issuer.
- The credit card issuer has 30 days to acknowledge receipt of the complaint and two billing cycles to investigate, during which time the issuer cannot attempt to collect payment, charge interest on the purchase, or report you to the credit bureaus.
- If the issuer finds the charge to be invalid, they must correct the error and refund any fees that resulted from it. If they find the charges to be valid, they must inform you of their findings. You then have ten days to challenge their findings.
If your credit card issuer fails to take the required actions, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, and you may also be able to sue the creditor for violation of the FCBA. If you win, you may be awarded damages, plus twice the amount of any finance charge. The court also may order the creditor to pay your attorney's fees and costs.
How a California Consumer Attorney Can Help
While it takes some effort, you can usually remedy these situations with your credit card issuer on your own. However, if the issuer is refusing to cooperate, you may want to consult an attorney for advice. Contact the Cardoza Law Corporation by filling out online form or call Mike Cardoza at 855.982.2400. I will get back to you as soon as I can to let you know what your next steps should be. You do not have to stand for mistreatment by creditors when you are the victim of identity theft!
What does it mean to “re-age” old debt on your credit report?
There are a lot of times when it would be nice to be able to turn back the clock. Who wouldn’t want to relive a great day or look seven years younger with a snap of the fingers? However, when it comes to negative information on your credit report, you certainly don’t want to go back in time. You want that debt to age off as quickly as possible, so when old debt is suddenly “re-aged,” you need to know how to undo it. What does that mean? Let’s take a look.
Negative Information on Your Credit Report Has an Expiration Date
You made a mistake—defaulted on a loan, failed to pay off a credit card, declared bankruptcy. How long is this mistake going to haunt you? Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), most negative information can only stay on your credit report for seven years. Bankruptcy discharges remain for ten years. While this is still a long time to have a black mark on your report, at least you know it won’t be on there forever. Once it is removed, your credit score will go up and you can start to rebuild your credit.
How Debt Is “Re-Aged”
Re-aging debt basically means that the seven-year countdown clock has been restarted. The clock is supposed to start on the date the debt becomes delinquent and should run for exactly seven years. At that point, information about the debt should be removed from all of your credit reports. This should happen automatically. When it doesn’t happen, it’s usually because a debt collector reported the wrong date of delinquency to the credit reporting agency. Often, the debt collector will report the date they took over collection of the debt, which could be years after the date of delinquency.
What You Can Do About it
The credit reporting agency (CRA) has no way of knowing that they have been given the wrong information about a delinquent debt on your credit report. They are simply reporting what they have been told. However, if you dispute the information by informing them that they have the wrong date of delinquency, the CRA must investigate your claim. Unfortunately, in most cases, they will get verification from the debt collector that the date is correct. This is because many debt buyers don’t have the original paperwork on the debt and can’t prove anything one way or another. If the CRA accepts their response and does not remove the old debt, you will have to file a dispute with the debt collector and force them to provide proof of the date of delinquency.
When You May Be Entitled to Damages
If you are struggling to get re-aged debt off your credit report, contact the Cardoza Law Corporation for guidance. You have rights under federal law and may be entitled to damages if the credit reporting agency and the debt collection agency are not respecting these rights. We can tell you what you need to do and, if we can help you win damages, we will! Contact us online or call the office directly at 855.982.2400 and let's see how we can help!
Should I place a fraud alert on my credit report?
When your personal financial information has been compromised, you will want to do something to protect yourself. But what should you do? One easy step you can take is to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
What Is a Fraud Alert?
A fraud alert is simply a note on each of your credit reports—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—stating that you may have been a victim of identity theft. When a creditor or lender requests your credit reports to verify an application, they will see the alert and will be required to contact you directly to verify your identity. If the person applying for credit with your information is not you, the fraud alert will prevent them from being able to use your identity.
When You Should Issue a Fraud Alert
You don’t have to know for sure that you are the victim of identity theft in order to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Some reasons you might want to take this step include:
- Your wallet or purse was stolen
- Your Social Security card is missing
- Your house has been robbed and financial documents are missing
- You have been informed that you may have been a victim of a data breach
With a fraud alert in place, you will be contacted before credit is approved, giving you an extra measure of protection if someone does indeed have access to your personal financial information. You only need to contact one of the three credit reporting agencies (CRA) and that agency will inform the other two. The alert will stay on your reports for a year and can be renewed after that if necessary.
When You Might Need a Credit Identity Theft Attorney
When your identity has been stolen, you may have false information on your credit reports. When you inform the CRAs about the theft, they have to take swift action. If they don’t, you may be able to sue for damages. The identity thief might also take loans out in your name and you could be harassed by debt collectors. Again, once you tell them about the theft, they have to stop contacting you. If they don’t, you can take legal action. In either of those situations, a California consumer attorney can help you protect your rights under federal law. If you are in one of these situations, please contact me online or call my office directly at 855.982.2400 and I will be in touch with you as soon as possible.
How can identity theft affect my credit score?
If you’re asking the question, you already know how important your credit score is. This key piece of information determines whether you can buy a house, lease a new car, and get a decent interest rate. So when all of this is jeopardized by an identity thief, you need to know how to fix it fast.
How an Identity Thief Can Lower Your Credit Score
First, the basics. When a thief gets ahold of personal information like your Social Security number, bank accounts, credit card accounts, and more, he or she can use it to open lines of credit in your name. Of course, the thief has no intention of PAYING those debts, so they sit unpaid in your name and on your credit reports. You may not even know they’re there unless you check your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports often. Based on some of the components FICO uses for calculating your score, here are some of the ways identity theft can affect your score:
Poor Payment History
Even a single missed payment can drop your credit score, so the longer a bogus account sits on your credit report, the more damage it will cause. If a thief empties out your checking account and auto payments to legitimate creditors or utilities are missed, that can have an effect as well.
It’s never good for your credit cards to be maxed out, but a thief won’t hesitate to do it and you’ll pay the price in a lower score if you don’t catch it quickly.
Multiple Credit Cards In Your Name
If a thief gets multiple credit cards in your name, it can shorten the length of your credit history, lowering your score.
Too Many Credit Card Applications
Even after a thief begins to be rejected for new credit cards in your name, the fact that he is even applying for them can lower your score because the credit reporting agencies ding you for what they call hard inquiries.
These effects should be temporary if you realize your identity has been stolen and take steps to undo the damage.
How to Recover From Credit Identity Theft
I explained how to clear up debt in an earlier article, but in a nutshell, you will need to contact the credit reporting agencies and inform them that the accounts on your report are not yours. You will also need to contact the creditors who hold the accounts. Debt collectors may begin to contact you and harass you about the debt. In some of these cases, you may be able to take legal action against these agencies if they fail to take the bogus accounts out of your name. You do not have to suffer through this process alone! Contact me online or call my office directly at 855.982.2400 to find out if I can help you get out of this frustrating mess.
What are the most common types of credit identity theft in California?
When an identity thief steals your personal information, he or she usually has a plan for what they are going to do with it. Most commonly, the goal is to either steal money from you or use your identity to get goods and services that the thief won’t have to pay for because he can’t be caught.
How Can An Identity Thief Steal Your Information?
There are a variety of ways he can accomplish these goals, including the following:
Taking Over Your Existing Accounts
In the old days, a thief would simply steal your wallet and use your credit cards until the cards were declined. Today, thieves go for broke by stealing the passwords or PINs for your credit card or bank accounts and taking them over by changing your address and ordering replacement credit or debit cards. Because your cards are not missing, you may not realize it’s happening for months.
Opening New Accounts In Your Name
If a thief gets ahold of your Social Security Number (SSN) or other sensitive information, she can order credit cards and take out loans in your name, which, of course, she will never have to pay because it’s not really her borrowing the money—it’s you! Unless you see these accounts on one of your credit reports, you will have no idea you are racking up debt.
Filing A Tax Return In Your Name
With your SSN, a thief can also file your tax return. You might think he’d be doing you a favor, but if he reroutes your tax refund into his own pocket, it’s not such a bonus. You could also end up in trouble with the IRS.
If Creditors Don’t Help You Fix it, You Can Sue Them
There’s no way around it—having your identity stolen and having debt piled up in your name is a major inconvenience, to say the least. You will have a tough road ahead getting the damage cleaned up, but you should not have to deal with a debt collector hounding you or a credit reporting agency (CRA) refusing to remove false information from your credit reports. In fact, the law backs you up on this. If you are being contacted about debt resulting from identity theft or a CRA will not remove false information from your credit reports, you can take legal action and possibly even win damages.
Contact a California Consumer Attorney to Learn More
Tell me about your case, and I will not waste any time letting you know if I can help. I will send you information about how to get the false information removed and if we can file suit against an agency for damages, we will. The best part is, you won’t owe me a dime unless we win damages, so you have nothing to lose by contacting me. Contact me online or call my office directly at 855.982.2400 and let me know what happened to you today.
How does California law protect victims of identity theft?
Identity theft is such an insidious crime that it is often impossible to catch and prosecute the perpetrator. So where does this leave victims who are hoping for some kind of justice? While you’ll probably never see the criminal prosecuted, there are laws in place in California that help you control the damage he caused and recover from the financial fallout. Enacted in 2017, the California Identity Theft Resolution Act helps victims resolve credit identity theft problems more quickly.
What the Law Requires of Debt Collectors
While not the only problem caused by identity theft, one of the common ways identity thieves steal from you is to take out lines of credit or open credit cards in your name. The thieves obviously don’t pay these debts so they become your debts. Part of the process of recovering from identity theft is informing creditors of the theft and getting the debts taken out of your name. Under California law, debt collectors must do the following:
- Start a review of the disputed debt within 10 business days of receiving your statement and a police report
- Notify the credit reporting agencies that certain accounts are under dispute
- Inform you of their determination within 10 days of concluding their review
- If they determine that the debt was caused by identity theft, they must notify the original creditor of its intention to stop attempting collection within 10 days
- Order the credit reporting agencies to remove the adverse information from your credit reports within 10 days
The time limits imposed by the act are essential for allowing you to get on with your life more quickly after your identity has been stolen.
What You Can Do if a Debt Collection Agency Does Not Cooperate
If a debt collector fails to take these actions within the required time period and continues to try to collect from you, you may be able to take legal action against them. When you work with a California consumer attorney, you can expect one or more of the following remedies:
- A statement from the creditor declaring that you are under no obligation to them for the fraudulent claim
- An order prohibiting the creditor from further attempts to collect on the claim
- Attorney fees, other costs, and any appropriate damages as determined by the court
If you are struggling with an identity theft nightmare, fill out our contact form and we will get back to you as soon as possible to discuss your options.
Should I place a freeze on my credit file?
It feels like massive data breaches are happening all the time. When it happens, you probably hear newscasters advising people who may be affected to place a freeze on their credit files. What does this mean and should you do it? We explain here.
What Does a Credit Freeze Do?
The first thing to understand is that freezing your credit is not a guarantee that your identity will be protected. When you place a freeze on your credit report, the credit reporting agency (CRA) will not release your credit information to a third party without your permission. Because creditors check credit reports before issuing a loan or credit card, anyone trying to do so in your name will be stopped. You will have to place the freeze with each of the three CRAs—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—separately. After that, you can expect the following:
- The CRAs will lock down your reports so that no new creditor or other party can get access to them without getting a PIN from you.
- Your current creditors will continue to have access.
- If you want to open a new line of credit, apply for a mortgage or car loan, or need to have a background check conducted, you will have to lift the freeze for the parties who need access to your report.
- Credit freezes are free and will stay in place until you remove them.
Placing a credit freeze may give you some peace of mind if your identity has been stolen—or if your personal data, including your Social Security number, have been compromised—but it can’t stop a thief altogether and it may be more trouble than it’s worth.
"Mike was kind, compassionate, knowledgeable and took an interest in learning the facts of my case before he made an assessment. He was willing to take the time to listen with an open mind. It was clear he enjoys helping people and he was very thoughtful when recommending the best approach for me. As you search for people to help you with your case, I would urge you to call Mike now! He also has a fantastic support team and great tools to help ease the struggle when you need to be heard."
The Downside of a Credit Freeze
A credit freeze will create a lot of work for you, so you want to make sure it’s the right action to take if your personal information has been stolen. Every time someone needs to access your credit report—including you—a PIN will have to be provided. If you are in the process of buying a car, moving, applying to school, or job hunting, you will be handing out a lot of PINs. A credit freeze will not prevent someone from using your credit card number to make purchases, which is the most widespread type of theft. Unless someone got ahold of your Social Security number and has filed a tax return or is opening new accounts in your name, a credit freeze may not be the right move to make.
Credit Report Problems Due to Identity Theft? Call Me!
Credit freeze or not, if you have incorrect and damaging information on your credit reports caused by identity theft and the CRAs are not cooperating in helping you clean up the report, contact me. They are breaking the law and may owe you damages, as well as being required to fix your reports and your credit score. Not sure what to do after being the victim of identity theft? Contact me online or call my office directly at 855.982.2400. I’ll help you understand your options.
Will filing a dispute with a credit bureau hurt my credit score?
You have followed my—and everybody else’s—advice and checked your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Congratulations! That’s a great first step. The problem is, you have found an error on one or more of them and are reluctant to file a dispute because you’re worried that making waves might affect your credit score. I find that the best antidote to worry is information. Read on to find out how a dispute could affect your score.
The Mysterious Credit Score
One reason people worry about doing something to lower their credit score is that they don’t understand what the score is. It’s a powerful number, but it’s a mystery to many of us. We know that a low credit score can affect our ability to get a loan or rent an apartment and can raise the interest rates we get when we are approved for a loan, but that’s about all we know. Here’s a quick explanation: the credit score you see on your Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion credit report is calculated by applying a formula developed by the credit bureaus to your credit history, which includes your available credit, payment history, credit balances, and other factors. The better your history with credit is, the higher your score will be.
Finding an Error on Your Reports
The reason you should be checking your reports every year is that there are often mistakes and inconsistencies on them. Some mistakes are minor—a previous address is incorrect, or there is a strange phone number listed. But there can also be accounts that are not yours, payments reported as missed when they were paid on time, and old debt that should have been removed. When you see a mistake—whether it is minor or major—you should file a dispute with the credit bureau. Instructions for doing this are on each bureau’s website.
Filing a Dispute Will Not Affect Your Score
Simply informing a bureau that there is a mistake on your report will not affect your score, so this should not dissuade you from filing a report. In fact, it’s important that you get the misinformation corrected or removed so that it doesn’t affect your score down the road. If you are correcting identification or contact information, the change will not affect your score. However, if you successfully get harmful information removed, your score may go up. Really, you have nothing to lose by disputing an error on your report.
When You May Have Cause for Damages
When you file a dispute with a credit bureau, they have a limited amount of time to respond and take action. If you have taken all the required steps to communicate with them and they have failed to respond, you may have cause to sue for damages. If you have reached the end of your rope with a credit bureau, call me to discuss your options. I help Californians exercise their consumer rights.
Can I hire my own lawyer to fight my military housing landlord?
Absolutely! In fact, in order to navigate the complicated state and federal laws that apply to your situation, it is highly recommended that you do hire a non-military attorney to help you get out of your lease without penalty and get the compensation you deserve for your damages. Base legal won’t be able to help you because it is a conflict of interest for them to represent you in suing a military partner, but I can help you.
I served in the Marine Corps after law school, and I have been fighting for servicemembers’ civil rights for over 20 years. I know the military, and I know the laws as they apply in this situation. If you are struggling with mold, rodents, lead paint, or another hazard in base housing, reach out to me to discuss your case.
What I Can Do for You
I’ve heard the story from servicemembers just like you. They are living in hazardous conditions in base housing—breathing in dangerous mold spores, exposing their children to toxic lead paint, or constantly cleaning up rodent droppings—but their Lincoln Military Housing or another private landlord won’t do anything about it. In fact, they are being blamed for being a poor housekeeper. Their personal possessions have been ruined, their children have been harmed, and they can’t afford to move. If you are in the same situation—no matter where you are stationed across the country—contact me about your rights. I may be able to take legal action under one of the following:
Your State’s Tenants’ Rights Laws
Every state has laws addressing breach of contract, warranty of habitability, and constructive eviction that protect renters from the kinds of issues you are facing. If your landlord broke a state law in their treatment of you, I can file suit in your state of residence.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
This federal law protects military members from being evicted without a court order. If you are forced out of your base housing because it has become uninhabitable, I can file suit in federal court under the SCRA.
The bottom line is, you won’t know what your rights are or what can be done to get you out of this nightmare until you talk to a lawyer who is removed from the situation.
Fill Out the Form on This Page
When you fill out the contact form to the right of this article and hit the “Get In Touch” button, your message comes straight to me, and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Include a few words about what’s happening, and I will be prepared with answers for you. Don’t let Balfour, Lincoln, Patrician, or Pinnacle get away with breaking the law. Together, we can hold them accountable and get you the compensation you deserve. You can also call me toll free at 855.982.2400.