The only thing worse than finding an error on your credit report is going through the process of having it corrected.
Fortunately, learning how to dispute a credit report error isn’t as complicated as you might think. If it’s a genuine mistake–and not just a negative listing you wish could be removed –you will probably see results.
In fact, according to a 2013 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study, four out of five consumers who filed disputes experienced some modification to their credit reports.
Here’s how to dispute a credit report error with your credit bureau in 10 easy steps.
1. Look over your credit reports
Whether you just saw them a couple of months ago or it’s been well over a year, it’s a good idea to take a fresh look at your credit reports before submitting your dispute.
You can request your credit reports for free every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.
You can also request a free copy of your credit reports within 60 days of being turned down for credit. However, that only applies to the credit bureau the creditor used to make its lending decision.
Or, you can purchase your credit reports at any time from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.
Keep in mind your credit reports are updated all the time. So when you’re ready to learn how to dispute a credit report and start the process, it’s important to be sure you’re looking at the same information the credit bureaus will be referencing.
2. Make note of errors
Some mistakes might just jump out at you when you’re disputing credit reports, while others may require a closer look.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), some of the most common credit reporting errors include identity errors, incorrect reporting of account status, data management and processing errors, and balance errors.
So as you are going through your credit reports, ask yourself:
- Are your name, address, and phone number correct?
- Do all of the accounts you see belong to you?
- Are any accounts showing open that are actually closed?
- Are there any delinquent payments on accounts you’ve always paid on time?
- Are there any dates that don’t match up with when you opened the account, made your last payment, or the first time you were late?
- Are there any multiple listings for the same account?
- Are there any debts listed on your reports that should have fallen off by now?
- Has any information that was previously corrected reappeared on your reports?
- Do any accounts show incorrect balances or credit limits?
3. Write a dispute letter for each error
Get right to the point in your letter and be sure to include the following:
- General information like the date, your name, address, phone number, social security number, and the name and address of the credit reporting bureau
- State that you are writing to dispute an inaccurate listing and asking that it be removed or corrected
- Account name and account number of the listing you are disputing
- What about the credit report listing is inaccurate
- Why you believe the listing to be inaccurate, providing a thorough explanation and citing any supporting documentation you are including with the letter
Another way to learn how to dispute a credit report accurately is by using the FTC’s sample letter as a guideline.
4. Include supporting documentation
Start with a copy of the credit report that reflects the inaccurate listing. Then circle the listing for their reference.
Beyond that, the documentation you include will depend on the situation.
For instance, if the report says you paid late one month that you know you paid on time, include a copy of a bank statement that shows the date the payment clearing your account.
5. Make copies for your records
Before dropping it in the mail, make copies of your dispute letters for your files.
Do the same with documentation, but keep the originals and send them the copies. We all know things can get lost in the mail, so keeping the originals will give you peace of mind when you mail any documentation.
6. Send a separate dispute letter to each credit bureau
The same error may not appear on credit reports from all three credit bureaus.
So check all three carefully and send a dispute letter to each that applies. Trust me, it doesn’t hurt to double check what each credit bureau has listed on file for you.
7. Send via regular certified mail with return receipt requested
All three credit reporting bureaus offer an online process for disputing listings.
However, you are better served going the snail mail route to be sure you can provide as much information as necessary to prove your case. Send your disputes via regular certified mail with a return receipt requested.
Upon receipt, the return request postcard will be mailed back to you, providing you proof that the document was received and on what date.
8. Expect a response within 30 days of receipt of your dispute
By law, the credit reporting bureaus have 30 days to respond to your dispute.
One exception would be if you send in additional information during the 30-day period. In that case, the credit bureau has up to 45 days to respond to you.
If you do not hear from them during this timeframe, send a follow-up letter referencing your previous correspondence.
9. If the credit bureau does not correct the error
You can send a dispute letter directly to the data furnisher, which is the creditor that provided the inaccurate information.
If this does not lead to a correction of the listing, you can submit a complaint to the CFPB.
10. Keep an eye out
No errors on your credit reports? Fantastic! Keep an eye on them, though. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t.
Remember that 2013 FTC study I mentioned earlier? It also found that one in four consumers identified errors on their credit reports that might affect their scores.
Learn how to dispute a credit report error now so you’ll know just what to do if and when they show up.
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