What Is an Adverse Action Letter?

Man Reviewing Payments at Home

Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Getting turned down for something because of your credit can be a frustrating experience, especially if your financial situation depends on it. If you've been denied credit, a loan, a job or even insurance coverage because of something on your credit report, you'll receive an adverse action letter explaining why.

This letter, required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, provides you with information about why you were denied, some helpful resources and an idea of what you can do to improve your credit situation.

What Is Included in an Adverse Action Letter?

According to federal law, an adverse action notice can be made orally, electronically or in writing. In many cases, you can expect to receive a letter in the mail within seven to 10 business days of the denial.

Regardless of how the company provides the notice, however, it's required to include the following information:

  • Your credit score, if it was used to make the decision, along with the date the score was created and the range of possible credit scores based on the model used to generate your score.
  • The name, address and phone number of the credit reporting agency (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax) that supplied the credit report used in the decision.
  • Reasons for the denial (there can be up to five).
  • Notice of your right to a free copy of your credit report within 60 days of the credit bureau, and how to get that copy.
  • Notice of your right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information provided by the credit reporting agency.

With this information, you'll have an understanding of not only where your credit history stands, but also which areas of your credit file that need to be addressed.

Why Did I Receive an Adverse Action Notice?

There are several reasons why you may be denied credit. While some of them aren't related to your credit report—for example, not meeting minimum income or age requirements or an incomplete application—you won't receive an adverse action notice unless the denial was due to information on your credit report.

Potential reasons include:

  • Credit score doesn't meet the creditor's minimum requirement
  • Too much debt relative to your income
  • Not enough credit history
  • Late payments
  • Too many recent credit applications
  • High credit utilization ratio
  • Too much existing credit with the lender
  • Bankruptcy, short sale or foreclosure
  • Charge-off or collection accounts

Companies are required to list four of the key factors that are adversely affecting your credit score. If one of the key factors is the number of hard inquiries on your credit report, they must list that as well.

Next Steps After Receiving an Adverse Action Notice

An adverse action letter can share some general information about why you've been denied credit, but it's a good idea to check at least one of your credit reports to get the full story behind your credit score.

While credit reporting agencies do not take part in making lending decisions, you'll receive information about the bureau that provided the credit file used to assess your credit. The adverse action letter will also explain your right to get a free copy of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus within 60 days of receiving the notice. Additionally, you can sign up to view your Experian credit report for free once a month and get a free copy of your report from each bureau every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com.

It's also a good idea to check your credit score, which may be a little different from the one listed on your adverse action letter. This is because there are several different scoring models out there, and some information can vary with each credit bureau.

That said, the primary factors that influence your FICO® Score include:

  • Payment history
  • Amounts owed
  • Length of credit history
  • Credit mix
  • New credit

As you review your credit score and report, look for information that's potentially inaccurate or even fraudulent. You'll have the option to dispute this information directly with the credit reporting agencies online, by phone or by mail.

Once you've submitted your dispute, the credit bureau will work to resolve the issue, including gathering information from the creditor that furnished the information. Once the investigation is complete, which typically occurs within 30 days, one of three things can happen:

  • The inaccurate information will be corrected.
  • The inaccurate or fraudulent information will be updated or removed.
  • The information will be verified as accurate and stay on your report.

How to Improve Credit and Reduce the Chance of Future Denial

If your application for credit was denied for a specific reason, pay attention to that factor going forward and be sure to remedy it before you reapply. Denials based on your credit score or lack of credit history are addressable if you work on building your credit score.

This process can take time, but it can improve your chances of getting approved for credit in the future. Be sure to:

  • Pay your bills on time. If you're behind on any of your payments, work on getting current as quickly as possible. Then make it a goal to pay on time every month going forward. While you can't erase the negative influence of past-due payments, positive payment history going forward can help reduce the sting.
  • Pay down credit cards. How much you owe is an important factor in your credit score, especially when it comes to credit cards. Some experts recommend keeping your card balances below 30% of your available credit, but the lower, the better.
  • Avoid unnecessary credit applications. Credit inquiries don't have a significant impact on your credit score on their own, but if you apply for credit multiple times in a short period, it can have a compounding effect. So try to avoid applying for credit unless you absolutely need it.
  • Get credit for utility and phone payments. If you make your utility and phone payments on time, Experian Boost®ø can allow you to add that information to your credit file and reap the benefits with your credit score. Simply connect your bank accounts and identify the payments you want to have added to your Experian credit file, and you'll see an updated FICO® Score immediately.

Also, keep in mind that while it's important to work on improving your credit, that doesn't necessarily mean you can't get approved for credit in the meantime.

There are some lenders that specialize in working with people with less-than-stellar credit. While their interest rates and other features may not be as favorable as prime lenders, they may still be able to get you the credit you need. Consider these options only if you absolutely need credit now, and can't wait to work on your credit situation.

If, however, you do have some time to improve your credit score, focus on that now, and it could save you a lot of money in interest in the long run.

Avoid Applying Again Until You Can Assess the Situation

Getting denied credit can feel like a personal attack, and you may be tempted to apply again immediately with a different lender. Until you know why you were denied, though, you could end up getting denied again and have an unnecessary hard inquiry added to your credit report.

So unless you need credit immediately, wait until you receive the adverse action letter in the mail so you have an understanding of the situation and know which steps you need to take to reduce the chance of getting denied again in the future.