Your bank, car dealer, future landlord: all these people and businesses can ask you for permission to see your credit report. Why? To see whether you pay your bills on time.
Content of Credit Reports and How Long They Last
A "credit report" is a document with various information about your financial situation. It identifies you, says what money you owe and says whether you pay your debts.
A credit report contains this information:
- personal information: name, current address, former addresses, date of birth, social insurance number, etc.
- credit information: credit cards, credit lines, loans and mortgages, debts you've been unable to pay, etc.
- banking information: bank accounts, cheques returned for lack of funds, etc.
- public information: bankruptcies, court decisions, lawsuits taken against you, etc.
- additional information: for example, a note that you were the victim of identity theft or any other information that could help in understanding your report
- information about people or institutions who looked at the report
Legally, there is no minimum or maximum amount of time this information is kept in a credit report. However, there are certain common practices. A credit bureau normally keeps information about your credit for six years as of the time the last time information is entered into the report.
However, certain information can be kept longer. For example, an indication of a second bankruptcy can stay in your report for up to 14 years.
Creation and Use of Credit Reports
In Canada, the main credit bureaus are Equifax and TransUnion. These companies look after collecting, updating and making available to their customers information about the state of your personal finances. Customers of credit bureaus pay a fee to access the reports of people they are thinking of giving credit to.
These customers include the following:
- caisses populaires
- finance companies
- leasing companies
- credit card companies
- providers of services
- retailers (merchants)
Businesses and banking institutions give information to credit bureaus. However, they must get your authorization before doing this. This authorization often forms part of the contract you signed with them.
For example, your credit card company might inform the credit bureau about the frequency of and delays in your payments. A merchant who sold you your home entertainment system on credit might also notify the credit bureau that you did not make your last payment.
Authorization Not Required in Some Situations
Organizations that have personal information about you, such as financial information, can send it to certain people without your permission. For example, they can send it to a debt collection agency, their lawyers, a commissioner or the police.
Who Has Access to Your Credit Report
You have to apply for access in writing to the credit bureau with which you want to do business. The credit bureau must answer your request within 30 days.
The credit bureau has the right to a "reasonable charge" to make a copy of and to send the information. It must tell you the amount in advance.
On the other hand, if you want to read your report online or get a detailed analysis of the information in it from the credit bureau, the credit bureau can charge a fee according to its rates.
Usually, a person or business who wants to look at your credit report (often called a "credit check") must get your permission.
For example, every time you fill out a loan application at a bank, you are asked to give permission. Also, if you want to rent an apartment from a landlord, the landlord might ask for permission to look at your credit report. This might mean that you have to provide certain information that will identify you.
You are not required to allow someone to look at your credit report. Of course, if you refuse, the institution or business that wants to look at it, they don't have to do business with you.
If you are refused products or services because you did not want to give access to your credit report given the nature of the products or service, you can file a complaint with the Commission d'accès à l'information.
Correction of Information in a Credit Report
You have the right to ask for wrong or out-of-date information in your credit report to be corrected or removed. This could be, for example, because you think that reference to a court decision that ordered you to pay money is no longer relevant because you've paid it in full, and you have proof to support this. A request for a correction must be made in writing.
- First, contact the credit bureau to find out the procedure for asking for a correction.
- The credit bureau can ask you to fill out its own correction request form and return it by mail. You can attach a copy of any relevant document. Using the company's own form ensures that you don't forget any information it considers necessary to process your request.
- By sending your form by registered mail, you'll have proof of the date the credit bureau received your request.
The credit bureau has 30 days from the date it receives the request to respond. It will often take the opportunity to check with the company that provided the information to see whether an error was made.
If the company says that the information in your report is correct, but you do not agree, you can submit a short explanation to the credit bureau, and the credit bureau will include it in your credit report.
Your Request Is Ignored or Refused: Solutions
If you do not get a response within 30 days or if the company refuses to make the corrections, you can file an "application for the examination of a disagreement" with the Commission d'accès à l'information (CAI).
You must file this application within 30 days of the refusal of your correction request by the credit bureau or the expiry of the time it had to respond to it. The Commission d'accès à l'information will determine whether your correction request is justified and order any necessary corrections.
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.