Last month a jury in Oregon awarded Julie Miller, a consumer, over $18 million in a case where she had sued Equifax over errors on her credit report.
Ms. Miller had what’s referred to as a mixed credit report and was unable to get it corrected despite many attempts.
A mixed credit report is a credit report that contains information belonging to two different consumers with the same name.
What is a mixed credit report?
A mixed credit report is not your garden-variety inaccurate credit report. In fact, a mixed credit report might be the most difficult of all credit problems to get corrected.
Most of the time when something is incorrect on your credit report it’s one item, like a late payment or a balance on a loan or a collection.
Mixed credit reports can result in dozens of accounts, collections, and credit inquiries that don’t actually belong to you.
If you had a late payment or a balance that was incorrect on your credit report, then it’s highly likely that the furnishing party (normally a bank or a collection agency) sent something incorrect to the credit bureaus.
That’s the type of mistake the credit bureaus don’t normally make. Those are fairly easily corrected when you challenge the validity of the item with the credit bureaus.
Why it can’t be fixed.
The mixed file is a different animal altogether.
If the bank or collection agency sent an account to the credit bureaus and the bureaus mistakenly placed it on someone else’s credit report, then that’s not something the bank can fix.
Why can’t they fix it?
The bank can’t fix the error because they’re not sending anything incorrect to the credit bureaus. It’s just being misapplied.
How it happens.
Mixed files normally occur when you have a very common name, like Julie Miller.
They can also occur when you share the exact same name as another family member, like David Smith Sr and David Smith Jr.
In those cases, not only is the name the same, but the address or former address is also likely to be the same if you’re still living at home or have recently moved out.
Point being, you look so similar to another person on paper, then it’s not unheard of for their credit information to end up on your credit reports, and vice versa.
People often ask me, “John, how do I know if my credit report has been mixed with that of another person?”
That’s easy to diagnose.
All you have to do is check your credit report for accounts, inquiries, and public records that don’t actually belong to you.
And, you’ll also want to look for addresses where you’ve never lived and variations of your name that you’ve never used.
If you have these things on your credit reports, then it’s likely that you’ve either been the victim of identity theft or you have a mixed credit report.
The next logical question is, “John, how can I get my mixed credit report un-mixed?”
This is not an easy one because there is no simple answer. Step one is to clearly file a dispute with the credit bureaus and let them know which items do not belong to you.
They’ll verify that fact with the lender/collector and hopefully remove the item from your credit reports and the problem will be solved.
However, if the item showed up on your credit report once, then it’s possible for it to show up again.
This is what’s so maddening about mixed files. Everyone acknowledges that the credit entries don’t belong to you, but they still show up on your credit report.
And, because credit scores can’t tell the difference between accurate and inaccurate credit data, the incorrect entries are going to be considered when calculating your credit score.
The correct way to deal with mixed files would be for the credit bureau to flag or “suppress” the incorrect entry, so even when it’s re-reported by the lender/collection agency it cannot show back up on your credit reports.
The challenge is finding someone willing to take the time to go through possibly dozens of incorrect credit entries, verify the actual ownership of the account with the lender, and then flag each and every one of the incorrect items.
Doing that correctly might have saved Equifax an $18 million jury verdict, plus lawyer’s fees.
John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. The opinions expressed in his articles are his and not of Mint.com or Intuit. Follow John on Twitter.