Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), credit bureaus are required to maintain accurate information about a consumer's financial history and to disclose only accurate information in the consumer's credit report.
When a credit reporter provides information from two or more individuals in a single consumer's credit report, the resulting ‘mixed' credit report file violates the FCRA because it contains information that isn't applicable or attributable to the consumer whose credit viability is represented by the report.
In older cases, a mixed file could result from human error during filing of paper documents in physical folders. When hard files were digitized, mixing errors would likely have been carried over into the digital file or might even have been created by the mixing of documents or information during the digitization process. If such an error was never identified and corrected, it could conceivably, if erroneously, sit on a consumer credit report indefinitely.
More commonly, mixed credit reports result from identity mixups. Some identity mistakes occur due to simple, yet consequential, typographical-type errors, including:
- Single or multiple digit errors or transpositions in a consumer's social security number or alternative tax ID.
- Misuse of title, such as adding ‘Jr.' to a name or using ‘Jr.' where ‘Sr.' is the accurate title.
- Misstatement of generation, such as using ‘II' at the end of a name where ‘III' is accurate.
- Misspelling of a first or last name, such as assigning a debt for ‘Jon Smith' to ‘John Smith'.
While typographical errors are not terribly uncommon, they are—in an infallible universe—preventable. Even when a mixed report results from a single-digit SSN typo, odds are that the reported debt fairly belongs to the consumer having the intended SSN.
In other cases, however, mixed credit reports can result when a creditor or credit reporter essentially guesses at the correct consumer when assigning a debt. This practice can be harmless when the assignment happens to be correct or when there is only one reasonable guess, such as when the debtor has a unique name and is known to live in a sparsely populated area.
Harm (i.e., a mixed report) is more likely to occur when the debtor has a common name and/or lives in a densely populated region. For example, if a court judgment is entered against a Mr. John Smith in San Francisco and little else is known about the particular debtor's identity, reasonable odds exist that the debt will be assigned to a different John Smith residing in San Francisco.
A mixed credit report does not always result in a negatively impacted credit score. For example, an active account in good standing might actually boost the score of a consumer who doesn't have much credit history (e.g., a young adult). Even such a benign incident of mixing, however, creates the possibility of negative credit treatment down the road, such as if the misassigned account goes from ‘current' to ‘delinquent'. A mixed report should always be reported to the reporting agency—i.e., TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian—as report mixing violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and is required by law to be corrected.