If you've been turned down for a bank account, you can get your Chexsystems report, see what's on it, and dispute any information that's wrong. It's free, and there's a chance you might be able to have some negative information removed, or at the least, have your own version of what happened included on your report. Otherwise, once your name is on Chexsystems' list for writing bad checks, not paying bank fees, or other problems, it stays there for five years, and most banks will use the information against you when you apply for an account.

To get your Chexsystems report, the simplest way is to go to the company's website, consumerdebit.com, and go to the tab, "Order Consumer Report." Once you place your request, they'll mail you a copy of your report in five business days.

Go over it carefully. If there's anything more than five years old, it shouldn't be on there. Make sure any account that's paid in full is marked paid, and that all the bank account numbers, dates and amounts are right. If you see a mistake, you can demand an investigation, and Chexsystems has to listen.

Write a letter that lists the wrong information and what it should say, with a brief explanation about why it's wrong and what proof you have. Enclose a copy of your proof, such as a bank statement, cancelled check, or whatever evidence you have to show it's wrong. Keep a copy of everything and send the letter by certified mail to:

ChexSystems Inc.
7805 Hudson Road, Suite 100
Woodbury, MN 55125

By law, Chexsystems is required to get in touch with the bank which gave them the information originally and request an investigation, then reply back to you in 30 days. If the bank doesn't respond, or if the bank can't verify the information, the report will be removed.

If the bank sends evidence that satisfies Chexsystems, they won't remove the item, but you can at least include a statement on your report, clarifying the item from your point of view. You have the legal right to request the inclusion of a statement of 100 words or less. You can explain the facts, but you're not allowed to say the name of a business or other person in the statement. You can't swear, either. (They actually specify that. They must have a few angry consumers!)

Write up the statement and send it in a letter to the same address as above. Say that you want it included as a consumer statement, and specify which item in your report that it refers to. It should be a brief, clear summary from your viewpoint, which will be available for a banker to read the next time they pull your Chexsystems report.

Even if you dispute information that's wrong or questionable, and even if you add a consumer statement, banks that use Chexsystems may still not allow you to have an account based on your report. If so, there's still hope. Not all banks use Chexsystems, so some won't even see your report if you want to open a checking or savings account with them. Using a bank that's outside of Chexsystems may be your best hope, until your information naturally ages off your report in five years.