Someone Else’s Bad Credit Information Can Appear On Your Credit Report When You Have A Very Common Name—What Can You Do About It?

You’ve worked hard to build your credit, you’ve paid your bills on time, and you’ve responsibly increased card limits over time. Finally, it’s time to apply for a car loan, a mortgage, or even a new job and reap the benefits.

But then the representative comes back, and your application has been denied because of your poor credit.

What happened?

It may be a case of mixed files. Mixed files occur when a credit reporting agency or CRA (such as Transunion or Equifax) commingles credit information for more than one individual on a single report. This is not a new problem—it’s been an issue for consumers for at least the past 40 years.

The reason this occurs is that the identification factors the CRAs use don’t always require an exact match. So, if your last name is a very common name, such as Park, Smith, or Cohen, and your first name is also common, you stand a greater chance of this happening. Additionally, if you come from a long line of I, II, III, Jr., or Sr., mixed files may be the culprit as well. Another common error is when two names are similar but have different middle initials, such as Nancy R. Johnson and Nancy M. Johnson.

What Can You Do About It?

There are several ways to address the issue of having a common last name. The first, albeit a bit extreme, is to change your name. This circumvents the issue but isn’t something that most people want to go through. So what else is an option?

Monitor your credit report
The moment to catch these errors is not when you’re applying for credit. Mixed files, especially with common names, can take years to resolve. The best way to avoid the impact during a time of need is to proactively watch for them and address them immediately.

Always use your full legal name
Any time you apply for credit, for insurance, for jobs, make sure you are using your legal name in one form. Alternatives can complicate your credit report and offer more opportunities for errors on the part of the CRAs.

Dispute the information
If you’ve uncovered inaccurate information, you’ll want to dispute it (in writing) without delay with each CRA that has incorrect data. Each agency has its own online submission form.