Believe it or not, the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) actually make quite the effort to maintain accurate data and to post only correct information on your credit reports. They do this because credit reporting mistakes can be costly — and bad for their image, too. And, mistakes can lead to lower consumer credit scores and difficulties in getting approved for credit.
Credit reporting mistakes can also potentially lead to lawsuits and regulatory problems, both issues the CRAs would rather avoid. Throw in the fact that each CRA wants to be able to advertise to their customers (lenders, insurance companies, and the like) that their data is the most accurate available, and you can see why each CRA is highly motivated to maintain accurate information on consumer credit reports.
Despite their best efforts, credit reporting errors do occur. The Federal Trade Commission estimates there to be some 40 million mistakes present on the credit reports of U.S. consumers. From a credit scoring perspective, some of these mistakes are minor, and some are major. Some credit reporting mistakes are easy to fix, and others can be challenging.
Perhaps the most difficult credit reporting error for a consumer to have corrected is the so-called mixed credit file.
What Is a Mixed Credit File?
A mixed credit file occurs whenever a CRA inadvertently commingles the credit histories of two different individuals into a single report. The result is a credit report that contains information belonging to two different consumers, bundled together as if those two people were the same person.
Thankfully, mixed credit files are rather rare. When they do occur the problem is usually experienced by people with common names (think John Doe, Joe Smith, or David Jones) or to family members with similar names and past or present addresses (think John Doe Jr., Joe Smith III).
Why Are Mixed Credit Files Difficult to Correct?
A mixed credit file is a problem because it can potentially cause complications whenever you’re trying to qualify for financing. Even if the incorrect information showing up on your credit report is positive, the extra indebtedness and extra accounts with balances can cause debt-to-income (DTI) problems or may harm your credit scores.
And if the incorrect accounts on your credit reports are negative, then the results can be even more problematic, because your credit scores could be lower than they otherwise would be.
Most credit reporting errors occur because a data furnisher (e.g., a lender or collection agency) is sending incorrect information to a CRA. In the case of a mixed file, however, the credit reporting errors are actually being caused by the commingling of information, not by any data furnisher. The data furnisher is (likely) sending correct account information to the CRA, but the CRA is putting that correct information on the wrong person’s credit report.
Fixing the Problem
Mixed files can indeed be fixed. In order to fix a mixed file, the CRA needs to remove and suppress from your credit report the accounts that don’t belong to you. The removal fixes the issue immediately. The suppression prevents the incorrect information from accidentally being added back to your credit reports in the future.
If you think you have a mixed credit report, submit a dispute with the corresponding credit bureau, notifying them of the mistake and identifying any information that doesn’t belong to you. If you think you know who that incorrect information does belongs to, such as a family member with a similar name, let them know — Equifax says that can help the process go faster.
The National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP) aimed to solve the issue of mixed credit files. In September 2015, thanks to new NCAP procedures, the CRAs implemented reforms with regard to the handling of “special disputes.” These special disputes include, you guessed it, mixed files.
As part of the NCAP changes, the credit reporting agencies will now escalate special disputes to employees with the training and authority to correct the errors. And, the CRAs will share information with each other when a mixed file has occurred – that should reduce by two-thirds the work consumers need to do to have their credit report fixed.
- How to Dispute Credit Report Errors
- Why You Need to Check Your Credit Report With All Three Credit Bureaus
- How Often Does Your Credit Score Change?
John Ulzheimer is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft. He has written four books on the topic and has been interviewed and quoted thousands of times over the past 10 years. With time spent at Equifax and FICO, Ulzheimer is the only credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has been an expert witness in over 230 credit related lawsuits and has been qualified to testify in both federal and state courts on the topic of consumer credit.