<h2>Your credit report after bankruptcy</h2>
Getting back to good credit is one of the three big reasons to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. (The other two are so your creditors can’t call you and so they can’t garnish you.) Unfortunately, probably half the people who go through bankruptcy don’t get their credit report fixed.
How should your credit report look? In 1990, the Federal Trade Commission issued a staff commentary explaining what the credit bureaus had to do to meet the requirement that people’s credit reports be complete and accurate. (UPDATE: When the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau took over this area from the FTC, the FTC deleted their commentary.)
The Federal Trade Commission staff said three things.
First, that a debt discharged in bankruptcy should show a zero balance. ( “A consumer report may include an account that was discharged in bankruptcy (as well as the bankruptcy itself), as long as it reports a zero balance due to reflect the fact that the consumer is no longer liable for the discharged debt.” )
Second, that a debt discharged in bankruptcy should show a discharged in bankruptcy status. (“Similarly, a consumer reporting agency may include delinquencies on debts discharged in bankruptcy in consumer reports, but must accurately note the status of the debt (e.g., discharged …”)
Third, that the credit bureaus need to stay on top the the creditors to make sure they send in the required updates–specifically to update past due accounts that are then included in bankruptcy. (“A consumer reporting agency must employ reasonable procedures to keep its file current on past due accounts (e.g., by requiring its creditors to notify the credit bureau when a previously past due account has been paid or discharged in bankruptcy…”)
In spite of these three requirements, spelled out by the Federal Trade Commission, probably half the people who are discharged in a chapter 7 bankruptcy still have errors on their credit report. It’s better than it was ten years ago, when probably seven out of ten people came out of bankruptcy with these kinds of errors. But it still stinks.
The problem now is largely practices that were legalized by a class action lawsuit in California that was supposed to fix the problem. This is the Terri White class action and it didn’t help much. To settle the law suit, the credit bureaus agreed to stop things that had already been stopped. And they were allowed to ignore smaller problems that are getting more and more common, now that they have an official ok.
The big problem, that had mostly stopped, was putting after bankruptcy “charge offs”–meaning you owe the money but aren’t paying–instead of “discharge,” meaning you don’t owe it any more.
Ten years ago, several major credit card issuers always reported charge off instead of discharge. First USA, Bank One and Fleet were the worst, and the credit bureaus did nothing about it.
A handful of law firms around the country started suing them. James L Manchee in Texas, http://www.mancheelawfirm.com/, Kathy Cruz in Arkansas, http://cruzlaw.com/ and Charles Juntikka, in New York City http://www.cjalaw.com/ . Jason Krumbein, http://www.krumbeinlaw.com/, and myself here in Virginia.
All three of those brands were taken over in big mergers. First USA and Bank One became part of Chase. Fleet was gobbled up by Bank of America. The new owners of those credit card lines didn’t want the hassle. By the time of judge in the Terri White case told the credit bureaus they needed to fix that problem, it had pretty much been fixed.
New problems were created. The credit bureaus are not required to update accounts that have been sold. HSBC, when they get notice of a bankruptcy, always “sells” their accounts. (Who is buying bankruptcy accounts?) Then they say–both HSBC and the credit bureaus–that they don’t have to show the account was discharged in the bankruptcy. It just stays as a zombie account on your credit report. You’ll notice this is the opposite of what the FTC said (although never enforced)–the the credit bureaus were supposed be sure the creditors told them when a past due account had been discharged in the bankruptcy.
The same rule applied to “minor” derogatories. If the credit card is only 90 days past due, they can leave it as past due and never show the bankruptcy.
Even worse. They can leave the bad credit sitting on your credit report if your account is closed. More and more we are seeing bank and credit card companies just “close” your account when they get notice of the bankruptcy–and just park it on your credit, ignoring the fact that it was discharged by the bankruptcy.
What’s the lesson of all this. When your bankruptcy is over, your credit report will probably not be right. Unless you or your lawyers, check it, disputes it, and sues to protect your rights, it will look like some of your debts were missed by the bankruptcy.
That will drag down your credit score; and cause problems with future lenders, possible employers, and security clearance agents, who will want to know why this or that debt was not taken care of.
The bankruptcy is not really over until the credit report is right.