How to Sue a Credit Bureau
Credit bureaus, legally referred to as "consumer reporting agencies," are regulated under federal law in the United States. The primary federal law to protect consumers is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This law allows you to sue a credit bureau in federal court for many disputes, such as the failure to correct inaccuracies in your report.The FCRA also allows you to seek punitive damages for particularly egregious behavior, which can result in a multi-million dollar award.
Filing a Lawsuit
Hire a consumer protection attorney.If you sue a credit bureau, it's guaranteed the credit bureau will have a team of lawyers on their side working to defend them. Look for a consumer protection attorney to help even out the playing field.
- Consumer protection law is complex. Ideally, choose an attorney who has experience representing individuals against credit bureaus. They should have a good track record of victories for their clients.
- Most consumer protection attorneys provide a free initial consultation. Use that opportunity to get their opinion on your case. Interview several attorneys so you can be more confident you're choosing the best one for you.
Choose which court to use.You may be able to sue the credit bureau in either state or federal court. If you're suing under the FCRA, a federal law, you generally would sue in federal court. However, your state may also have consumer protection laws that deal with your dispute.
- Contact your state or local consumer protection agency. Before you can file a lawsuit in state court, find out if there's a state law dealing with your problem. Filing a lawsuit in state court generally is less expensive and less time-consuming than suing in federal court.
- The court needs personal jurisdiction as well, which generally means you must use a court that has power over the credit bureau. Your attorney will help you choose which court to use, based on a number of factors.
File your complaint to initiate your lawsuit.Your complaint is a legal document that introduces you and the credit bureau to the court and explains the dispute. It then describes how the credit bureau's actions have violated the law and outlines your demands.
- You can ask for an amount of money, ask the court to order the credit bureau to complete a certain action, or both.
- For example, if you are disputing an inaccurate entry on your credit report, you may demand through your lawsuit 0,000 in damages and that the inaccurate entry be removed from your credit report.
- The FCRA provides for statutory damages, actual damages, and punitive damages. You typically want to identify these amounts separately.
Have the credit bureau served with the complaint.After you've filed your complaint to the court, you must deliver it to the credit bureau so they have notice that you are suing them. This is done throughservice of process, typically with a sheriff's deputy hand-delivering the court documents to the credit bureau's registered agent.
- Once served, the credit bureau has a brief period of time (typically about 2 weeks) to respond to your lawsuit. They may simply file an answer denying all of your claims. They may also file a motion to dismiss.
Discuss any settlement offers.As many as 95 percent of all civil cases are settled before trial, so odds are your case will not be the exception to that rule. You should expect the credit bureau to send you multiple settlement offers during the pre-trial stage.
- You may even get a settlement offer in response to your complaint. The credit bureau's attorneys know how much time and expense is involved in a trial, and they'll likely attempt to offer enough money to get you to drop your case.
- Whenever the credit bureau makes a settlement offer, your attorney will present the offer to you and provide their advice. The decision of whether to accept or reject the settlement offer is always yours alone.
Work with your attorney to prepare for trial.If you remain intent on taking the case to trial, your attorney will prep you for your day in court. Expect to testify at the trial and answer questions from the credit bureau's attorneys.
- Your attorney will practice questioning with you. Generally, you want to answer questions directly and honestly. Give as little information as possible to answer the question. For example, if you are asked ayesornoquestion, simply answer "yes" or "no" without any elaboration.
Using Mediation or Arbitration
Choose which method of dispute resolution to use.If you're looking for an alternative to suing in state or federal court, you generally have a choice between mediation and arbitration if you want to resolve a dispute with a credit bureau.
- The credit bureau may prefer arbitration to mediation. Arbitration is more similar to a trial, with more formal procedures. The results in arbitration are typically binding. Once the arbitrators make a decision, you may lose your right to go to court if you don't agree with the decision.
- Mediation is a much more casual environment in which a neutral mediator helps you and a representative from the credit bureau come to a compromise or settlement of the dispute.
Consult an attorney.One of the reasons consumers favor mediation and arbitration is that you don't necessarily need an attorney to help you navigate complex court rules and procedures. However, an attorney can still help you build your best arguments and get the best settlement out of the credit bureau.
- Keep in mind that the credit bureau likely will be represented by an attorney during mediation or arbitration. Having an attorney on your side may help you get a fairer deal. An attorney can also lower the intimidation factor.
- If you're looking for an attorney, talk to 2 or 3 before you make your final decision.
Send a demand letter to the credit bureau.Since both mediation and arbitration are voluntary processes, the credit bureau must agree to resolve the dispute using that method. Generally, you'll send a formal letter requesting the method of your choice.
- Set out the facts of your dispute in the letter, and what you want from the credit bureau (in terms of money or action on their part).
- State that you would like to resolve the dispute through mediation or arbitration, and give them a deadline to respond.
- Make a copy of your letter before you mail it, and send it using certified mail with return receipt requested.
File an application with a mediation or arbitration agency.Since you're the one with the complaint or dispute, you typically must file an application to get the ball rolling on mediation or arbitration. Your local courthouse will have information on free and reduced-cost mediation or arbitration services in your area.
- The application typically asks for information similar to what you would include in a complaint you'd file to start a lawsuit. You'll need to provide information about yourself and the credit bureau, as well as facts about the dispute.
- Include any documents directly related to the dispute, such as letters you sent to the credit bureau or letters you received in response. You may also want to attach a copy of your credit report or communications with creditors related to the dispute.
Exchange documents and information.Both mediation and arbitration typically go through a phase of exchanging information, similar to the discovery process before a trial. The process is typically more limited than it would be for a trial, and only deals with written documents or other recorded information.
- You may be able to specify the types of documents or information you want. For example, if you had phone calls to the credit bureau's customer service line and those calls were recorded, you may request copies of those recordings.
Attend your mediation conference or arbitration hearing.Your conference or hearing will typically be scheduled within a couple of months of your application being approved. Bring all of your documents related to the dispute with you, as well as any notes you've made.
- While the procedure is generally less formal than a courtroom trial, you still should dress conservatively, as though you were going to a job interview. Treat everyone with respect and courtesy.
- An arbitration hearing will feel more like a trial. In most cases, you'll address the arbitrators rather than the representative for the credit bureau. If an arbitrator interrupts you to ask a question, pause and answer that question before moving on.
Filing Complaints with Regulatory Agencies
Gather documents you have regarding the dispute.When you file a regulatory complaint, the agency needs basic information about your dispute so they can investigate properly. They may also request evidence of your communications with the credit bureau.
- Make copies of any letters you've sent or received to the credit bureau in regard to your dispute.
- If your dispute involves an inaccurate entry on your credit report, gather evidence that the entry was inaccurate. For example, if an entry on your credit report states you've had 6 late payments on a credit card, but all of your payments have been on time, get copies of your credit card statements and proof of payment.
Contact the office of your state's attorney general.State attorney generals have consumer protection divisions that enforce state consumer protection laws. If your state has its own consumer protection laws that cover your dispute with the credit bureau, the attorney general may get involved.
- Do an online search for "attorney general" with the name of your state to find the website for the office of your state's attorney general. Then look for a tab or link to the consumer protection division.
- On the consumer protection page, you'll typically see a link you can use to file a complaint online. You can also go into the office and submit your complaint in person.
- Generally, the state attorney general's office files consumer protection lawsuits to protect the people of the state as a whole. The office doesn't represent individuals, so this lawsuit is not the same as you filing a lawsuit yourself.
Submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).The CFPB takes complaints about all financial institutions, including credit bureaus. Your complaint identifies you and the credit bureau, and provides facts about your dispute and what you want to happen as a result.
- To start the complaint process, go to and click the button to start a complaint. Once you've submitted your complaint, you'll be able to create an account at CFPB so you can log in and check your complaint's status.
- When the CFPB receives your complaint, it will submit it to the credit bureau for a response. You'll typically hear back within a couple of weeks.
- If you're not satisfied with the credit bureau's response, the CFPB may provide you with a list of options you can pursue, including filing a lawsuit in state or federal court.
Video: "If I sue a credit reporting agency under the FCRA, will it get their attention?"
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