Credit Report in the United States
Credit Report as defined by Nolo’s Encyclopedia of Everyday Law (p. 437-455): An account of your credit history, prepared by a credit bureau.
The situation is different for companies and individuals.
Companies: For companies, get a D&B Business Information Report and/or an Experian report. D&B Reports are often the best information available, but they can be expensive. They are available through the D&B Small Business Credit Solutions site and other vendors (see “Dun & Bradstreet Reports” below). Experian (formerly TRW) Reports are available for cheap through SmartBusinessReports.com and other vendors (see “Experian”). Skyminder sells credit reports from a wide range of vendors covering just about all countries.
Individuals: The public is generally prohibited from getting credit reports on individuals by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 USC 1681 et. seq.; the complete amended act is posted by the Legal Information Institute). There are several exceptions, found at USC Section 1681b (Section 604 of the Act). Law librarians who are asked to get credit reports may want to copy this section and show it to the requesting attorney to see if any of the exceptions apply. For more information, see “Fair Credit Reporting Act.”
If an exception does apply, some firms already have a system for obtaining credit reports (e.g., for pre-employment screening or check the solvency of potential clients). If so, that is probably your easiest and cheapest way to get the reports. Alternatively, you can place an order with a company that retrieves reports. I have been told that the credit bureaus no longer permit vendors to sell reports directly to law firms (other than collection firms). However, CheckMate will draft a summary of the report including the substantive information, once they receive a written explanation of your permissible use. Alternatively some companies that will not work through a law firm, such as Accurate Information Services, will still sell reports directly to businesses with a permissible purpose; you can refer your client to work with them directly. .
In theory, you can get also credit reports directly from the three big credit bureaus: Equifax (800-685-1111), Trans Union (800-916-8800) and Experian (see below). This will work fine if you are requesting your own credit report. If you are asking for a report on someone else, it is almost impossible to work with the credit bureaus directly (unless you are a bank, landlord, etc.), and you are better off paying an intermediary, if you can find one.
Finally, you may be able to get some information about a person’s credit situation by searching public records for indications of assets and liabilities – such as liens, bankruptcies, home ownerships, etc. – from TLO, KnowX.com, Accurint, Lexis or another public records database vendor.
Another alternative: Some Web sites and private investigators will get you credit reports on individuals. I don’t know how they do it, and I don’t know if it’s legal, but the practice is not uncommon.
If you want to get a copy of your own credit report, you should be able to get it free onAnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. If it isn’t, contact Equifax (800-685-1111), Experian (866-200-6020) and/or Transunion (800-916-8800) directly, or use one of the services discussed above. For more information, check each company’s Web site.
Credit Scores: A credit score is a number that represents the creditworthiness of a company or individual. The numbers are calculated by private companies. Fair Isaac Corporation produces the well known FICO score. They do a special version called FACTA, BEACON for Experian (see below).
D&B (formerly the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation) produces many kinds of company reports, but the most popular among legal researchers are the Business Information Reports (BIRs) on individual companies and the Family Linkages Reports on corporate affiliations.
Business Information Reports: BIRs provide extensive information on companies — including debt rating, liabilities, payment history, officers, shareholders, and a lot of additional information often not available elsewhere.
Note: D&B doesn’t do reports for all companies. If necessary, you can ask D&B to do up a report, which takes about two weeks. There are considerable additional charges if you want a report done up in a rush.
Note: If a D&B report says it will not rate the company because of its “unbalanced” assessment of the company’s financial statement, it means the company is either (a) highly leveraged or (b) has a negative net worth.
Family Linkages Reports: D&B uses its extensive company data to produce very good reports on corporate affiliations. While many business relationships are not disclosed anywhere, I believe the Family Linkages Reports are the best reports available.
Family Linkages Reports are available from the same vendors discussed above in the “Business Information Reports” section. These Reports can be costly, so check with the vendor about the price before purchasing.
Experian is one of the 3 big agencies that publish credit reports for individuals, as well as businesses. Experian changed its name from TRW in 1997, and some people still refer to these reports as “TRWs.”
Experian business reports are sold for cheap through SmartBusinessReports.com. They are also available from SkyMinder, KnowX.com, Westlaw (EXPERIAN-REPORTS) and Lexis (BUSRPT), but they’re generally more expensive and may have less information.
Fair Credit Reporting Act
Liability for Wrongfully Furnishing or Obtaining a Credit Report Under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act
This section discusses generally the subject of Liability for Wrongfully Furnishing or Obtaining a Credit Report Under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, how to determine the facts essential to Liability for Wrongfully Furnishing or Obtaining a Credit Report Under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, and, to some extent, how to prove it in litigation and defense. Related topics are also addressed.