Category Archives: The Basics


It’s generally recommended to use CMRR (Certified Mail with Return Receipt) for communicating with credit reporting agencies, collection agencies, and creditors. It provides a trail of when letters were mailed and when they were received. If correctly used, CMRR can be used as evidence in court. Here’s how to send off a letter CMRR:

  1. The first thing you’ll need is a Certified Mail form and a Return Receipt form. These are available free of charge at your local post office or can be ordered free of charge from the USPS web site. A certified mail form looks like this:


    It has a unique tracking number printed three times on the form – once at the far left side, and twice under the barcode.

    A return receipt form looks like this:


    The return receipt form is double-sided and you will need to complete both sides of the form.

  2. When writing your letter to the creditor, collection agency, or credit reporting agency, be sure to reference the tracking number from the Certified Mail form in the header of your letter. Just a brief note near the date that says something along the lines of “Sent via Certified Mail: XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX on March 2, 2008” will do.

    Even though the sending and receiving of the Certified Mail can be tracked through the US Postal Service, referencing the CM tracking number in the body of your letter itself is the only way to prove what the actual contents of the letter were. Be sure to make a photocopy of your letter before you seal the envelope.

  3. Place your letter in the envelope, seal it, and write the delivery and return addresses as normal
  4. Complete the Certified Mail form. It’s very simple. You only have to fill out the bottom right portion where it allows you to print who it is being sent to and the address where it is being sent.

    You will notice that the form is perforated between the two tracking numbers printing under the bar code. Do not tear the form at this perforation. Leave the form complete. The postal clerk will detach the form after they’ve completed their portion of the form and postmarked it for you.

    Attach the CM form to your envelope. The bar code portion of the form is sticky- simple peel off the backing, and fold the form over the top of your envelope. It should be attached at the top, to the right of your return address. A small green sliver will be on the back of the envelope, and the large portion with the barcode will be affixed to the front.

  5. Next up is the Return Receipt form. Start with the back, which simply has a large empty box where you can print your name and address. This will be used to mail the Return Receipt back to you as proof that the letter was delivered.

    On the front side, fill in the name and address of the company or person you are sending the letter to in box #1. In box #2, copy the tracking number from the CM form. In box #3, check the Certified Mail box.

    On the left and right side of the RR form on the side with your name and address, peel off the backing and stick the form over the delivery address on the envelope. When the letter is delivered, whomever received the letter will sign and print their name in the boxes on the upper right. The mail carrier will detach the form from the letter at the perforations, and the green card will be sent back to you.

    Attach the certified mail receipt, the post office receipt, and the return mail receipt to your letter and file it away to be referenced as needed at a future date.

Now you’re all set to start sending out those letters!

The Laws that Govern Credit

There are three laws that concern all the different areas of credit in the US:

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

This is the most important law to be familiar with if you are being contacted by third party collection agencies. It sadly seems that more often than not, the representatives of collection agencies use extreme rudeness and overbearing behavior as a means of collecting debts – and so very often, they slip past rude and overbearing into illegal.

The FDCPA provides standards of behavior for debt collectors and requires them to provide certain information to debtors.

If you are being repeatedly called by a collection agency, ask for an address where you can send them mail. They must provide it to you. You can then sent a “cease and desist” letter requesting that they do not communicate with you by telephone and that all dealings be by mail.

Not only is this a tremendous stress relief, but it’s also an excellent way of documenting all of your communication with the collection agency. Telephone conversations are too difficult to track. But with a pile of letters, you can show a judge anything they’ve sent to you or you’ve sent to them.

You’re also not immediately at the mercy of anyone who calls you and says you owe them a debt. Unfortunately, even if you know that you owe $5,000 to State Bank, you simply cannot trust that the person calling you on the phone claiming to collect on that $5,000 is actually legitamately licensed to do so. Never just hand over your credit card or checking account number over the phone to a debt collector. It could be a scam. Always ask for an address, then send a letter requesting proof that you owe the alleged debt, and that this collection agency is authorized to collect this debt.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

The FCRA ensures that all of us have access to our own credit reports. It regulates who has “permissable purpose” to acquire copies of our credit reports and limits how long information can be reported. Additionally, the FCRA describes how a Credit Reporting Agency must handle disputes.

Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Amendment (FACTA)

FACTA is an amendment to the FCRA passed in 2006 which gives all of us the right to free credit reports from each of the credit reporting agencies each year. Please see my post about free credit reports for more information.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Amendment (FACTA)

Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA)

The FCBA required creditors to bill correctly and completely and is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The law prohibits unauthorized charges against your accounts, charges that list the wrong date or the wrong amount, charges for goods and services that you either did not accept or did not receive as agreed. It also protects you against math errors, and the failure of the creditor to properly record payments or credits for returned items.

Additionally, as long as you notify a creditor of a new or changed address at least 20 days before the end of the billing period, the creditor must send all bills to your correct mailing address.

You’re also protected from having to pay for charges you are disputing. You dispute a charge by asking for an explanation or proof of purchase and claiming an error or requesting clarification of the charge. If the dispute is resolved in the creditor’s favor, you are still required to pay in full.

Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA)

Also important: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

If you have debt resulting from medical bills, then you also need to know about HIPAA.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

What You Should Know About Free Credit Reports

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) was passed in 2003. Among its provisions was the right for consumers to receive one free copy of their annual credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies.

There is only one source of free credit reports: the Annual Credit Report Request Service. This service was created by the three credit reporting agencies to handle consumers’ requests for their free credit reports. You may request your free annual reports through their website, or by telephone or mail.

Phone: (877) 322-8228
Mail: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

There are many other web sites and services claiming to offer free credit reports, but buyer beware. The others are often credit monitoring services that require you to enroll, fork over your credit card information before they provide your three “free” credit reports along with a 30-day free trial of their credit monitoring service that you’ll need to remember to cancel to avoid being charged. Still others are identity theives lying in wait of their next victim. So be a smart maven and use only the Annual Credit Report Request Service if you want your free credit reports.

Why free credit reports might be a bad idea

If you have purchased your credit reports and notice an error, you report that error to the credit reporting agency and by law, they have to resolve your dispute within 30 days.

If you obtained your credit reports for free, the credit reporting agencies are given an extra 15 days, or a total of 45 days, to resolve each dispute. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if your credit report is full of errors, then it can considerably lengthen the time it takes to get all of them resolved. Forty-five days instead of thirty is a 50% increase in the total time it will take to get things straightened out.

Keep that in mind. It might be worth saving the time and trouble by paying out a few bucks to get the reports. For $47.85 (as of today) you can purchase not only your three credit reports, but your real FICO scores based on all three reports from Also note that is the only source for your actual credit scores. Several other companies, including the credit reporting agencies themselves, will claim to sell you your FICO score, but as the calculation method used by FICO is a secret, nobody but FICO can sell you the real number. Smart of them, right?