This page provides legal information only. It is not intended to replace advice from a lawyer or other professional, such as a credit counsellor.
Q - What is a consumer reporting agency?
Consumer reporting agencies collect information about a person’s credit and payment history. Consumer reporting agencies are also called credit reporting agencies, or credit bureaus. The two main credit reporting agencies in Canada are Equifax and TransUnion . Credit reporting agencies must be licensed by Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations to operate here, and must follow the rules in Nova Scotia’s Consumer Reporting Act.
Q - What is a credit report?
A credit report summarizes your credit history. It includes information about your borrowing and repayment history, whether you have filed for bankruptcy, or have collection activities or judgments against you. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada gives more information about credit reports and credit scores, and building a good credit history, at www.fcac-acfc.gc.ca
Q - What is a credit report used for?
Prospective creditors, landlords, insurance companies, employers, may use this information to decide whether you are a good or bad credit risk. For example, you may be asked to agree to have a consumer reporting agency give a credit report about you when you apply to:
- borrow money
- hook up power
- get a credit card
- rent an apartment
- get insurance
- get a job.
If a prospective creditor, landlord, insurance company or employer denies you a benefit or increases the cost of benefit to you based on your credit report, they must notify you immediately of the denial or increase in cost.
Q - Who can get a credit report about me?
In most cases you must consent in writing to have your credit report given out. But there are exceptions:
- A credit reporting agency may give out your credit report without your consent if a court orders it;
- A governmental body may access information in your credit file (see below); and
- If you have applied for a loan and the lender did not get your written consent to check your credit, the lender may still contact the credit reporting agency in order to approve your loan. In this case the lender must let you know in writing that they will check your credit, and must give you the name and address of the credit reporting agency within 10 days of requesting the credit check. This same rule applies to a potential employer, landlord, insurer or other authorized recipient of a credit report.
Other than the exceptions listed here, no other person is authorized to obtain the information held by a credit reporting agency without your written consent, and a credit reporting agency is not allowed to sell, lease or give the information contained in your file other than to another credit reporting agency.
Q - Can the government access information in my credit file?
Yes. Any provincial or federal government department may obtain your name, address, former addresses, and place or former places of employment from a consumer reporting agency. In addition, the collection services division of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations may obtain personal information such as your address, former address, places or former places of employment, and social insurance number, in order to aid in collecting a debt or fine owing to the Nova Scotia government.
Q - Can I refuse to give permission for a lender to check my credit history?
Yes. But the lender may refuse to give you a loan or credit without that information.
Q - What information might a credit reporting agency have about me?
Your credit file may contain information about your:
- identity, including your social insurance number and date of birth
- residence dependents
- marital status
- borrowing and repayment history
- assets and liabilities
- credit worthiness
- character & reputation
- health, physical or personal characteristics
- mode of living.
Information in your credit file must be in writing, and be fair and accurate. You have a right to have any inaccuracies in your credit file corrected.
Q - Do I have the right to see my credit file?
Yes, you have a right to see your credit file. The reporting agency must also have someone available to explain your file to you. If you wish to see your file, you can make an appointment to do so in person at the credit reporting agency’s office. You may also request a copy of your credit file by mail, or online. It is free to get your credit file in person or by mail, but there is usually a fee to get it online. You must provide identification to view or get a copy of your credit file.
Q - Do I have to waive or release any legal rights in order to see the information in my file?
No. A credit reporting agency cannot demand that you waive any legal rights in order to see your credit file.
Q - What if information in my file is wrong?
If you find incorrect information in your file, you may file a protest or complaint with the credit reporting agency. The agency must immediately verify the information – for example, by obtaining proof of the debt from the creditor. If the information cannot be verified, the agency must remove the inaccurate information from your file.
If the information is accurate, the reporting agency must record your protest in the file and tell you, and anyone who got your credit report in the past 60 days, what action was taken. You are allowed to put a short note in your file explaining the circumstances of a debt, judgment, late payment, etc.
Alternatively, if you are dissatisfied by the decision of a credit reporting agency regarding your protest or complaint, you can appeal to Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
Q - How can I make a complaint about a credit reporting agency?
If you feel you have been treated unfairly by a credit reporting agency you can make a complaint to Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations at 1 800 670 4357 or 424-5200, or go to www.gov.ns.ca/snsmr.
Q - How long does an unpaid debt stay on my credit record?
For most unpaid debts the time limit is 6 years; however this time period can change depending on the type of debt. In most cases a creditor must sue within 6 years in order to get a judgment from the court and extend the life of the unpaid debt. However, this time period could extend as far as 20 years depending on the circumstances. If you have not been sued and the time limit is up, then the credit reporting agency cannot report information about that debt.
Q - How long does a bankruptcy stay on my credit record?
A bankruptcy stays on your credit record for 6 years from the date you are discharged, unless you have been bankrupt more than once.
Q - If I was charged with or convicted of an offence, will it be mentioned in the file?
Information about any offences where the charges were stayed, dismissed, set aside, or withdrawn cannot be reported. Information about criminal or summary offence convictions may be reported for up to 7 years from the date of conviction, or 7 years from the date you completed your sentence if you went to prison for the offence. Criminal convictions cannot be reported if you are pardoned for the offence.
Q - Can my file include information from outside Canada?
No. All of the information in the file must come from within Canada. Foreign sources are not allowed.
Q - What can I do if I paid a debt, but my credit report says I still owe money to that creditor?
It is possible you may owe interest or other fees to the creditor. It is also possible that the credit report was made before the reporting agency was notified of the payment. You can contact the original creditor to see if this is the case. If not, you can apply to the credit reporting agency to have the debt removed from your file.
Q - Can I improve my credit?
Yes. There are several ways to improve your credit score, including
- pay all bills on time;
- avoid going over your credit limit;
- making fewer applications for credit;
- obtaining your credit report and reviewing it to ensure all information is accurate.
However, be wary of companies who say they will “repair” your credit. If the information contained in your credit report is true and accurate, no company can change the information, nor can they do anything more than you could do by simply reviewing your report and protesting any inaccurate information directly to the credit reporting agency.
Q - Where can I get more information?
- Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations licenses credit reporting agencies, and deals with consumer complaints. Contact them at (902) 424-5200 (in Halifax) or toll-free at 1-800-670-4357, or online at www.gov.ns.ca/snsmr/ or by mail at:
Public Enquiries - Service Nova Scotia & Municipal Relations
Mail Room, 8 South, Maritime Centre 1505 Barrington Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 3K5
- A credit counselling agency. Credit counsellors can help you in a number of ways, such as a debt management plan, budgeting, wise credit use, how to build a good credit history, and general money management. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada - fcac-acfc.gc.ca - has a fact sheet about how to find a credit counselling service.
- Financial Consumer Agency of Canada – comprehensive consumer information about credit reports, credit scores, and building a good credit history. Visit www.fcac-acfc. gc.ca or call 1 866-461-3222.