When a Father's Debts Appear on a Son's Credit Report

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Mark CappelNov 20, 2009
A son's credit report shows a father's derogatory items. How to fix errors on a credit report.

When my husband printed his credit report from all three credit bureaus, he noticed that they think that he's also his dad. He and his dad share the same name with different middle names. Two of the credit bureaus also reported two judgments and two other collections that we are not aware of. One of them is called Monroe Recovery Group and we can't figure out who this is. We know that his dad has had financial struggles and has been delinquent on a couple credit cards. So we know that those two judgments are most likely his dad's and was reported mistakenly as my husbands. They've been on his record for about 4 years and he wasn't aware of it. There were no letters sent to my husband so he never worried about his credit. Now who's at fault for this? The credit bureaus? Or the collection agencies? What should we do? A friend suggested getting a lawyer and suing the credit bureaus for not verifying information before ruining someone's credit. I mean c'mon they have different SSNs and different DOBs, so how can they make such mistake????????? Please advise! Thank you! I'd also appreciate if you can provide any information on who we should contact regarding this and how we should take action. We live in Michigan.

As you realize, credit reports are often inaccurate. The General Accounting Office reports that of the 52 million free credit reports requested of the credit reporting agencies (commonly called "credit bureaus") through AnnualCreditReport.com, 25% of those reports resulted in a dispute. Of those disputes, only 25% were verified as accurate.

The fact that a father’s delinquent accounts appear on a son’s credit report is not surprising. The two have similar names, probably lived for years at the same address, and likely frequent the same retailers and bank. I have seen this situation several times with children named after a parent.

It is easy to see how this mistake is made by the credit bureaus. When they receive information from a creditor, they attempt to identify the debtor by first looking at the name, then the address, social security number, and date of birth, in that order. Depending on the information supplied by the creditor, the bureaus may not have all of this data to review. Since the father and son’s name match, the creditor will next look at the address. If the address listed by the creditor matches one of the current or former addresses appearing on a son’s credit report, then the bureau will dump the father’s information on a son’s credit report, in some cases even if the SSN and DOB do not match.

In fact, the bureaus may even add a father’s SSN and DOB to a son’s credit reports. This may sound strange, but I have seen credit reports with three and four different Social Security numbers listed as belonging to a single consumer, which is supposed to be impossible. A father’s accounts may appear on a son’s credit reports because, in addition to a shared name, the credit bureaus have associated a father’s DOB and SSN with the son’s credit report. If you share a name with another family member, look at the SSNs appearing on your credit report — one may not be yours.

Fixing Credit Report Errors

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to fix the problem of a father’s derogatory credit items appearing on a son’s credit report (or vice-versa). The consumer must dispute the incorrect listings, which is a very important step to resolving this situation. There is no foolproof way to prevent a credit bureau from reporting a father’s accounts from appearing on a son’s credit report (or vice-versa).

However, you may be able to work with the credit bureaus to try to stop derogatory items from being repeatedly placed on credit reports. First, obtain a copy of your report from each of the three major U.S. credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You can obtain a free copy of your reports once every 12 months by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

Review your reports to see if another family member’s Social Security number, date of birth, or address appear on your reports. If they are, contact each of the bureaus listing the inaccurate information, explain your predicament, and ask them to correct your credit file. By law, the credit bureaus must work with you to remove incorrect personal information from a credit report. Having another family member’s information removed from a credit file should reduce the likelihood of that person’s financial problems from negatively affecting your credit rating in the future.

Consider placing a consumer statement on your credit report that explains the situation and states which specific accounts appearing on your credit report belong to another family member. While a statement will not necessarily improve your credit score or help you obtaining a loan, it will be seen by anyone who pulls a copy of your credit report. In some cases, these statements can cause lenders to take a closer look at a consumer’s credit worthiness when making lending decisions, which should help you given your otherwise good credit history. You can read more about placing a consumer statement on your credit report.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

Study the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act to understand your legal rights in the matter. If the credit bureaus do not comply with the FCRA, you may have a cause of action to file a lawsuit against Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax.

Federal law (US Code Title 15, §1681c) controls the behavior of credit reporting agencies (CRAs). The specific law is called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Under FCRA §605 (a) and (b), an account in collection will appear on a consumer’s credit report for up to 7½ years. To determine when an account will be removed by the CRAs (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian and others), add 7 years to the date of first delinquency. The date of first delinquency is shown in credit reports. Subsequent activity, such as resolving the debt or one debt collector selling the debt to another collector, is irrelevant to the 7-year rule.

Some debts have a reporting period longer than 7 years, including:

  • Tax liens: 10 years if unpaid, or 7 years from the payment date
  • Bankruptcy: 10 years from the date of filing (15 U.S.C. §1681c)
  • Perkins student loans: Until paid in full (20 U.S.C. §1087cc(c)(3))
  • Direct and FFEL loans: 7 years from default or rehabilitation date (20 U.S.C. §1080a(f)(1) and 20 U.S.C. §1087e(a)(1))
  • Judgments: 7 years or the debtor’s state statute of limitations on judgments, whichever is longer

The FCRA 7-year rule is separate from state statutes of limitations for debt issues.

Even if nothing else works, these accounts should fall off of your credit report with the passage of time.

I encourage you to keep a close eye on your credit profile, and to continue working to keep your credit report accurate.

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.




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LLyn, Dec, 2013
I'm trying to join the USCG and my credit report has been rejected due to items that are not mine. Specifically, I have a cousin by marriage with the same name as I, and she owes something in the ball park of 7 grand in defaulted credit and car payments. I'm already heading to my Recruiter this week with a copy of my report, and I intend to go through his and highlight which items are mine and which are hers. But besides this, is there anything else I can do? The credit report I pulled from freecreditreport.com doesn't show these accounts, and chances are the defaulted accounts were opened well before my 18th birthday, so there's no way they're mine.Finally is there any legal action I can take against her? I hate to sound bitter, but I've been dealing with this since I was 16 and she has officially hindered my chances of landing a government job. Is this not defamation of character?
BBill, Dec, 2013
Get a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com. It should be comprehensive. You can file a dispute, to remove the inaccurate information. You can also contact the creditors that are not yours, to get them to acknowledge that you are not the account holder. That may take effort, as it is difficult to get a creditor to discuss another person's account with you. Try asking for a supervisor.

It is not clear to me why you think that your cousin is responsible. It seems to be a case where the error is not her fault, but the problem arose due to you two having the same name. That kind of error occurs. If you think that she actually represented herself as you, in order to open accounts, then you should speak with a lawyer. I believe it would be a criminal fraud issue, not defamation of character.
KKelley, Nov, 2013
I just took my son to a credit union i belong to, they ran his credit, he just turned 18 in June, his credit report is his fathers, they have the same last name, SS #'s are completely different. I looks like my son filed for bankruptcy when he was 15, and he bought and lost a home. The bank suspected fraud and refused to open his account. What can I do? My son is completely devastated.
BBill, Nov, 2013
The bank should tell you which credit bureau they used when they turned down your son for a bank account. Contact that bureau and dispute the inaccurate information on his report. You may also want to check the other bureaus by getting a free report at annnualcreditreport.com and filing a dispute with any bureau that shows this kind of inaccurate information.
NNick D, Oct, 2013
I just got my credit report for the first time in my life, and I found two credit cards I never knew about. I called the bank for one card and found my father added me as a secondary on his card. I was 17 at the time and I am now very frustrated. So what I am wondering is, why I am on those two cards? Did it improve his credit? Can I have my name removed from those cards? Because they do affect my credit!
BBill, Oct, 2013
Your question is simple, but the answer is complicated.

What you're describing is called piggybacking in the credit report and credit score world. Here's the general rule: If the account is strong — no late payments, low credit utilization — the secondary cardholder will see a positive result on their credit score. If the account is weak — late payments and high credit utilization — the secondary cardholder's credit score will be harmed.

Fair Isaac & Co. created the FICO credit scores. The latest version, called FICO 08, allows piggybacking only where the account holders are married. However, how FICO determines who is married, a domestic partner, or just a parent and child with the same address and last name is a mystery. Also, it is not clear how many lenders use FICO 08 or an earlier version of FICO.

My point is, if you apply for a loan from a lender using FICO 08, your score may be lower or higher than a lender across the street that uses an earlier version of FICO.

You asked what to do. The answer to that question depends on the strength or weakness of each account. If the payments are consistently on time and the credit utilization is low, then congratulations. However, if the accounts are weak, then ask your father to call the card issuer(s) and remove your name as the authorized user from the weak account(s).
LLuis, May, 2012
I have my fathers derogatory accounts on my credit report as well. Unfortunately, he passed last August. Does that effect my ability to remove any inaccuracies on my report do to us having the same name?
BBill, May, 2012
You should dispute the items that appear on your credit report that are your father's debts. Explain in your dispute that the accounts are not yours, but were his. The accounts were likely tied to his social security number.

You can also contact the creditors directly. Their contact information should be listed at the back of your credit report. Explain your situation and ask them to contact the bureaus and remove your father's accounts from your records. This process will take some time and effort, but you should be able to get these items removed.
mmichael, Apr, 2012
I have a situation on my credit report where my fathers debts are showing up on my credit report. What can i do to have them removed because it is making my credit score really bad, i am trying to get a place for my family and i cant because of this situation. Please tell me what i have to do to have it removed?
BBill, May, 2012
Your father's debts should not appear on your credit report. Read the Bills.com article about disputing incorrect information on your credit report and follow the steps described.