Despite $18.6 Million Jury Award, Fixing Credit Report Still a DIY Job

We follow the issue of mistakes in credit reports pretty closely because they’re such an important part of getting a home loan. So we were intrigued to see a jury recently give one of the credit bureaus 18.6 million reasons to stop ignoring consumers who want credit report errors fixed.

The jury awarded $18.6 million to Julie Miller, an Oregon woman whose rather common name led to her credit information getting mixed in with another Julie Miller’s not-so-great credit information.

Miller did what we suggest you do to fix credit errors. Those tactics worked and two of the credit reporting companies corrected their mistakes, but a third – Equifax – didn’t fix the errors.

After eight attempts in two years to get Equifax to correct her credit report, Miller sued, claiming that not only was her credit information wrong, but that the company violated her privacy by sharing her private financial information with companies that asked for information about the other Julie Miller.

Miller isn’t alone in her frustration with the credit reporting companies. Nearly a quarter of Americans say they’ve had credit report problems.

If the DIY tactics we suggest don’t get your credit report corrected, you can ask the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau to step in. Last October, the Bureau started tackling consumers’ complaints about credit reporting.

Your state attorney general is another advocate you can turn to if you have problems getting your credit report corrected.

Given the whopping size of Miller’s award, suing over credit report mistakes may look like a good option. The $18.6 million award included $180,000 in compensatory damages for Miller’s losses and $18.4 million in punitive damages. However, legal bloggers predict a punitive damages award that’s 100 times the actual loss won’t survive the appeal Equifax is certain to file.

Even if it’s upheld on appeal, $18.6 million probably isn’t a lot of money to a company like Equifax, which had revenues of more than $2 billion in 2012. But we sure hope it’s a wake-up call to all the credit reporting companies that ignoring consumers can cost you.

Whatever happens with this case, your best bet is to do what you can to improve your credit score and use to check your credit reports for free three times a year, so when errors do happen you can jump on them right away.