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In march 1999, Edward and Sylathia Johnson were elated as they went to Parkway Mortgage Co. in Savannah, Georgia, to apply for financing of a new home. They had just settled on a charming, picturesque home in the Planter’s Common subdivision on the southside of historic Savannah. The couple was bewildered when the loan officer informed them that only a few lenders were willing to underwrite the loan, and only for 80%, because of Edward’s low credit rating.
“I went to meet with the loan officer as a result of that conversation. He went over the report with me, attempting to explain what we would need to do in order to bring my husband’s credit ratings up,” recalled Sylathia.
Edward’s credit report reflected that a JC Penney credit card account, opened in 1997, was over the limit and that no one had made a single payment toward it. Likewise, a Capital One VISA account had never received a payment, since its inception in 1998, but carried a balance. Oddly, Edward’s daughter’s name appeared in the reference section of his credit report.
“Edward and I have been married for six and a half years and I have handled all of our bills the entire time,” says Sylathia. “I told the loan officer that those were not his accounts and he suggested that I call the Merchant Credit Bureau in Savannah (used by a mortgage company to make rulings). [The bureau], in turn, referred me to the three main credit bureaus [to investigate] the discrepancies.”
Sylathia sent letters to Experian (formerly TRW), Equifax, and TransUnion. Initially each agency incorrectly told her that the accounts were that of her husband. She then called JC.Penney to further contest the report. After locating the account number in the computer, JC Penney informed her that Edward’s name and Social Security number did not appear on the account. Furthermore, after sending a letter to Capital One, they determined that it was not Edward’s account either. In fact, both companies found that the accounts in question were that of Edward’s daughter, and agreed to correct the inadvertent errors immediately.
“I knew that although my daughter’s name was on the account, she did not try to use my Social Security number. There had to be a mistake,” said Edward. “My daughter and I have the same last name, the same first two initials in our first names, similar Social Security numbers, and she lives at my former address with her mother. They told me that it was a human error. But that human mistake could hang my butt.”
Many consumers assume that whatever appears on their credit report is accurate and precise. After all, your credit report determines whether or not you can purchase a new home or car and how low the interest rate will be. It can also determine whether or not you get that high-profile job in a sensitive career field or the best insurance rate possible. It determines whether or not you get a VISA card with a $300 credit