Money: Complaints and Credit Reports: You have rights

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Adjusting to life in a new country involves far more than just getting used to a different climate, customs and cuisine. As a newcomer, you also have to learn to deal with unfamiliar institutions and systems. For example, banking practices and procedures may be different here, and the concept of a credit history may be new to you. Yet, setting up banking arrangements and building a positive credit history, which form the basis of a credit report, are important steps in starting your new life in Canada.

A good place to begin researching these and other financial topics is the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). As an agency of the Government of Canada, FCAC offers free, objective publications, tip sheets and other resources to help consumers make informed choices about their personal finances. Let’s take a closer look at what to do if you run into difficulty at a bank or other federally regulated financial institution, or discover mistakes in your credit report.

Trouble at the counter? You can complain.

Banks are regulated by the federal government, making them subject to certain laws. For example, by law, banks are required to allow anyone to open an account if they can produce proper identification as listed in our publication Opening a Personal Bank Account. The process is normally simple and trouble free. Yet, problems and issues do arise occasionally. If you have trouble opening an account, even with the proper identification, contact FCAC. We ensure that banks comply with consumer protection laws such as the right to open an account. If you run into difficulty conducting any other banking business, you have the right to make a complaint and receive a response.

Canadian Newcomer – May/June 2011 27 You can bring your complaint to the bank by following these steps.

Step 1: Start by trying to resolve the issue at your local branch. Ask for help from the manager or a customer service representative.

Step 2: If the matter cannot be resolved locally, ask that it be referred to a senior staff member or an internal ombudsman.

Step 3: If you are still unsatisfied, request a review by a third party. Generally, the matter will be brought to the attention of the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI).

If the bank does not respond in a timely manner, you can make a complaint directly with FCAC. For more information, consult the FCAC tip sheet, How to Make a Complaint. A complaint-handling process search tool is also available on FCAC’s website. Simply enter the name of your bank and details about its complaint process will pop up.

Your credit history matters – a lot

It’s important to build an accurate credit history. In Canada, two credit rating companies track the credit histories of consumers. Lenders, such as banks and credit card companies, can request this information, which is then packaged in a credit report. They will use the credit report to help determine how reliable you are likely to be at repaying loans and credit balances. Any mistakes in your credit report could affect your chances of getting the best loan terms, or getting a loan at all.

If you already have a credit history in another country, you may be able to have the information recognized in Canada. To do so, obtain a copy of your credit report from the other country and take it to your bank.

One of the easiest ways to begin building a credit history in Canada is to apply for a loan or a credit card and repay the loan in full and on time. The bank or credit card issuer will send information about your transactions to at least one of the two credit rating companies.

More information on credit reports, loans and credit cards is available on FCAC’s website at fcac.gc.ca.

Don’t let mistakes affect your credit history It’s wise to review your credit report about once a year. You can order a free copy by mail. If you notice a mistake, contact your financial institution and ask them to correct it. You can also put a note in your report saying the item is in dispute. If your financial institution disagrees with you or fails to take action for any other reason, use the complaint handling process outlined above.

If you notice unfamiliar activity in your credit report, such as signs that someone else is using your identity, contact the police as well as the financial institution that provided the information. You can also ask the credit reporting agencies to put a “fraud alert” on your file.

Establishing and maintaining a good relationship with your bank and a positive credit history are two steps that will help you achieve a successful settlement in Canada. FCAC provides its information on financial products and services to consumers free of charge. Information is available online at fcac.gc.ca and in print. To order publications, call 1-866-461-3222.

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