Since your credit report directly affects your credit score and can potentially identify fraud, it’s super important that you check it at least annually to make sure that everything is as it should be. (Preferably, you’re pulling one report from each of the 3 major credit bureaus every few months.)
As much as we would like to think otherwise, there’s a very real possibility that your credit report contains some kind of inaccuracy or error. In fact, a Federal Trade Commission report found that as many as 1 in 5 consumer credit reports contained errors. Twenty percent might not sound too worrisome until you consider that credit reporting bureaus track some 220 million people – that means 4.4 million people have at least one error on their report. Thankfully, there’s a straightforward process that you can follow in case you need to correct a problem on yours.
Finding an error
This is going to sound obvious but you’ll first need to find an error before it can be corrected. Sometimes it’s important to state the obvious though. It’s easy to be complacent about certain tasks that we know we need to do but don’t especially want to do.
Do yourself a solid and make sure you’re not just skimming your report for things like late payments. Instead, really take a minute to double check that each section of your report is complete and accurate. That means there is no extra information that doesn’t pertain to you; names, addresses, and such are spelled properly; no ex-spouse information is included; payment amounts are right; and unpaid debts older than 7 years no longer appear.
If you find an error on one report, the first thing you’ll want to do is pull your other reports and check those for the same error as well. If you’ve already used up your free reports via AnnualCreditReport.com, you can request an additional report directly from each credit bureau for a nominal price – around $15.
How to correct errors on your credit report
Gather your documents
Make sure that you track the dispute process from start to finish. That means that you need to gather and make copies of any documents that you use showing either 1) the error itself and 2) how you know it is an error.
Depending on what you’re disputing, this will include the credit report itself, as well as credit card or bank statements, receipts, etc. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for the credit bureau to validate your dispute. The more information you can provide, the easier it will be for them to find in your favor.
For example, if your report is incorrectly showing a late payment, find the bank statement that shows the payment was made on time. Circle it so the evidence you’re providing is clear and unmistakable.
Contact the reporting bureau
Next, you’ll notify the credit bureau(s) about the error. You should do so in writing, telling them exactly what information you believe is incorrect. You can draft a letter of your own or you can use this sample letter from the FTC. Mail it as a certified letter with return receipt requested so you can document that what you sent was actually received.
The credit bureaus don’t communicate with each other so if you have one or more errors on one or more reports, you’ll need to send a dispute letter to each of the relevant credit bureaus that are reporting misinformation.
You’ll want to include the following in your letter:
- Your full name, address and phone number
- Each item in your report that you’re disputing, clearly identified (i.e. by account number)
- A statement about why you’re disputing the error
- A request for the error to be removed or corrected
In addition, you should include in your mailing:
- A copy of the credit report showing the error
- Copies of any evidence that supports your claim
Again, keep copies of everything that you send and anything that you receive. Here are the addresses to use:
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Contact your creditor
Next, reach out to the company that made the reporting mistake. The credit bureau will be contacting them as part of the investigation process, but you should also notify them directly that you’ve opened a dispute. If it’s a mistake that is straighforward and easy to prove, you may be able to simply can request that they furnish the correct information to the credit bureau – you may or may not get quicker results this way but it doesn’t hurt to try.
If you contact them by phone, make sure to keep documentation. Alternatively, you can contact them by official mail – here’s an example template from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Wait for the results
Credit companies are required by law to investigate items in dispute within 30 days (with very few exceptions). During this time they share any information you gave them about the error with your creditor, lender, etc. Then the creditor has to investigate the error – they’ll review the information and report back to the credit bureau with their findings.
If your creditor agrees that the disputed information is inaccurate, they’ll notify all three credit bureaus so your reports can be updated.
Once the investigation is finished, the credit bureau will give you the results in writing. If the dispute results in changes to your report, they’ll also provide you a free copy of your updated report.
If the errors on your report prevented you from acquiring credit, securing a lease, gaining employment, etc., you can request that the credit bureaus send a free, updated report to anyone that received your report in the last six months. For employment purposes, this is extended to 2 years.
If you’re not satisfied
If an investigation doesn’t correct or resolve your dispute, you can ask for a statement of the dispute to be put in your file and included in future credit reports. Although this won’t help your credit score directly if it’s being affected, it will provide additional information to lenders and creditors which may be useful.
If you disagree with the credit bureau’s findings and the results are damaging to your credit, you may want to consider pursuing additional action against either the bureau or creditor with the help of a lawyer.
Questions? Advice to share? Let me know in the comments!