Credit reports include errors

the plastic effectUrban Legend Number 20:  I have several credit cards. I always pay off my balance at the end of the month. I have never made a late payment or missed a payment, and I have a good job. I have never obtained a copy of my credit reports or my credit scores. I wanted to move into a new apartment and my lease application was denied. The denial of my apartment lease application has absolutely nothing to do with my credit score or what is on my credit reports.

The Reality:  False.

Although there may be many other reasons that your lease application was denied, the denial may be the direct result of errors on your credit reports that have affected your credit score.

As was discussed in the What is a Credit Report? section, a large number of credit reports include errors.

Polly’s Pearls of Wisdom:  How often do errors occur? More often than you might think. While credit reporting companies claim that most of their reports do not have errors, a 2004 study by The Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) found that nearly 79% of all credit reports contained at least one type of error.[i]

More recently, the Columbus Dispatch conducted a year-long investigation (published in 2012) into credit report errors and examined nearly 30,000 customer complaints with the FTC, finding an error rate of about 30%[ii]. The complaints were over errors ranging from incorrect personal information to completely inaccurate debt information. Some credit reports even had the consumers listed as deceased when they were very much alive!

Both creditors and the credit reporting bureaus are responsible for accepting and reporting a huge amount of data. As much as they try to be accurate, mistakes happen. It is up to you to catch and correct those mistakes on your own credit report, and even then, you must be persistent. In more than half of the complaints investigated by the Columbus Dispatch, consumers reported that the major credit reporting companies could not be convinced to correct the errors on their credit reports.

Fortunately, recent changes have given consumers more options for dealing with credit report errors. The Washington Post reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) now accepts complaints about credit reporting companies, and is investigating errors in reports as well as improper use of reports and the struggles that some people have even getting their reports.[iii]

If you request your credit report and see errors on it, first try to get the errors resolved with the credit reporting company by going through their complaint process (see What is a Credit Report? section). If that fails, contact the CFPB either by going online to (, or by calling toll-free (855)411-2372. You can also fax complaints to (855)237-2392, or mail them to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, P.O. Box 4503, Iowa City, Iowa, 52244.

Plastic Reactions:

  • Are you afraid to look at your three credit bureau reports?                                 
  • Are you avoiding facing reality?
  • What emotions did you feel when you found out that errors on your credit reports caused your application for an apartment lease to be denied?
  • Will the denial change your behavior with respect to your credit score and credit reports?
  • Will this denial action impact how you handle your credit reports in the future?
  • Do you now know what to do if you find an error in your credit report?
  • Are you willing to assign your credit health to a computer program instead of taking responsibility yourself?


[i] Urban Legend – 20:  National Association of State PIRGs. 2012. “Mistakes Do Happen: A Look at Errors in Consumer Credit Reports” (June 2004) (‌sites/pirg/files/reports/MistakesDoHappen2004-1.pdf).

[ii]Urban Legend – 20:  Riepenhoff, Jill and Mike Wagner. “Dispatch Investigation — Credit Scars: Credit-reporting agencies’ failure to address damaging errors plaguing thousands of Americans prompts call for swift action,” Columbus Dispatch (May 6, 2012). 2012. (

 [iii] Urban Legend – 20:  Singletary, Michelle. “Can’t fix error in your credit report? Call Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” Washington Post (October 23, 2012). 2012. (‌economy/cant-fix-error-in-your-credit-report-call-consumer-financial-protection-bureau/2012/10/23/‌09a28898-1d4b-11e2-9cd5-b55c38388962_story.html).

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The Arizona Daily Independent has received permission to reprint portions of a timely new book “The Plastic Effect” focused on the urban myths of credit cards and their usage written by Polly A. Bauer, CPCS and Stephen Lesavich, PhD, JD. Future issues of the ADI will feature “Polly’s Pearls” included in each Urban Legend Myth. “The Plastic Effect” is Copyright by Coconut Avenue, Inc. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or duplication is permitted without written permission of Coconut Avenue, Inc.

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