By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A new government report from the Federal Trade Commission finds that millions of Americans – one in every four – have mistakes on our credit reports. Some of those errors are serious enough to impact credit scores.

The time to review your credit report is before you get confronted with a red flag. Negative information stays on a credit report for seven years, and bankruptcies for up to ten. That information could influence the interest you pay on everything from credit cards to car loans or whether you get those loans at all.

If you haven’t looked in awhile, your credit report includes: current and previous addresses, credit accounts, any late or skipped payments, if you’ve ever been sued or arrested and bankruptcy filings.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles each consumer to an annual copy of his or her credit report from each of the three big reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.

You should scan your reports for things that could be dragging down your credit score. They include things like open lines of credit that you’re not using or thought you closed, addresses where you’ve never lived or that look suspicious and credit inquiries that you didn’t make.

Consumers are entitled to one FREE credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting firms — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. That means you get 3 reports per year. Regardless of what you hear on those TV commercials, there is only one place where you can truly get your report for FREE, that’s at

If you believe there’s an error in a report, you can submit disputes online at , or You can also submit the dispute by mail or phone; the address or number should be on your credit report.

Once a dispute is received, credit bureaus are required to respond within 30 days. The credit bureau will contact the lender that provided the information that is under dispute. At that point, the lender looks into the matter. If a fix is made, the lender must alert all three credit bureaus of the error.

When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau must provide written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. This report does not count as your free annual report.

Not getting anywhere with the credit bureaus? Try the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency with the authority to write and enforce rules for the credit reporting industry and to monitor the compliance of the three agencies.

The CFPB also accepts complaints from consumers who discover incorrect information on their reports or are having trouble getting mistakes corrected. And consumers can contact the CFPB if they have issues with the improper use of a credit report, problems with credit monitoring and the improper use of a credit report, among other concerns.

The credit reporting agencies have 15 days to respond to the complaints with a plan for fixing the problem; consumers can dispute that response.

The CFPB also takes complaints on credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts and services, consumer loans and private student loans. To file a credit reporting complaint, consumers can do so at or by phone, by calling 1-855-411-CFPB (2372).

The Federal Trade Commission has warned consumers against firms that offer services claiming to improve a person’s credit report for a fee. Such firms can’t do anything that you couldn’t do yourself.

Since credit bureaus are required to check disputed information on a consumer’s credit report within a few weeks, or remove it, a typical tactic of credit repair firms is to spam credit bureaus with such requests in hopes the negative items end up being dropped. But credit experts say that often those items will show up again the next time the credit card company or other creditor issues an update to the credit bureaus.

To read the full report from the Federal Trade Commission visit:

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