Although we’d all like to think that our credit reports and credit scores are accurate, mistakes happen more often than you’d imagine. Unfortunately, this incorrect information in your credit report can negatively impact your credit score and your overall financial health. If you think there may be incorrect information in your credit report, it’s important to dispute it as soon as possible. In this article, we show you how to deal with credit report errors, from identifying mistakes to navigating the credit report dispute process.
Written by Natasha Wiebusch, J.D..
Updated August 16, 2021
Although we’d all like to think that our credit reports and credit scores are accurate, mistakes happen more often than you’d imagine. This is the case even though reporting inaccurate information about your credit is illegal. Unfortunately, this incorrect information in your credit report can negatively impact your credit score and your overall financial health.
If you think there may be incorrect information in your credit report, it’s important to dispute it as soon as possible. In this article, we show you how to deal with credit report errors, from identifying mistakes to navigating the credit report dispute process.
First Things First: Check Your Credit Reports.
A credit report shows your current credit and your credit history, including any money you’ve borrowed and credit cards you have. These reports are compiled by one of three credit reporting companies—also called credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies. The information in the reports is used to calculate your credit score. Unfortunately, credit reporting companies sometimes make errors in compiling credit reports, which leads to negative consequences.
Most people aren’t aware that their credit report contains errors. But you can’t know what may need fixing until you check your own credit report. If you do realize there’s an error in your credit report, it’s important to understand what you can do to fix it.
How to Get Your Free Credit Report
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to get a free copy of yourcredit report from each credit reporting company once every 12 months. So, to check for any errors, order your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can request your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. You’ll want to order all three because not all lenders report their credit information to every agency. So the information each credit bureau has in your credit file may not be exactly the same.
Some common credit file errors include…
Incorrect identity information: For example, they may misspell your name, use an incorrect name, or get your date of birth wrong. Errors in your contact information may also exist, such as an old address or incorrect phone number.
Incorrect Social Security number (SSN): Your Social Security number is used to identify you to the federal government. It’s also used by creditors to identify you in any application process. If your Social Security number is listed incorrectly, chances are, there will be other mistakes in your report.
Errors caused by identity theft: If you’ve become a victim of identity theft, your credit report will have errors caused by accounts opened by the perpetrator of the theft.
Someone else’s information: You might have credit information in your credit file that belongs to someone else. This type of error is common when your name is similar to someone else’s.
Closed accounts: A closed account may be reported as still open. For example, a credit bureau may report that you still owe money on a loan that you have in fact paid off.
Duplicates: A debt could be erroneously listed more than once or listed with different creditors or debt collectors.
Incorrect balances or credit limits: A credit bureau may report a higher balance than what you actually owe. Or they may list one of your credit limits lower than what you actually have.
These mistakes can have serious negative consequences for your credit score. If you find any of these mistakes, it’s important to know how todispute them so that you can have them removed from your credit report.
If You Find Errors, Dispute Them Immediately.
Keeping your credit report accurate is important because your credit score impacts your ability to take out loans, including a mortgage. However, lenders aren’t the only ones that use your credit information. Credit reporting agencies sell the information in your credit file to entities like employers, utility companies, and insurers, among others. These entities ask for your credit report so that they can verify your identity and your creditworthiness. So, these inaccuracies can have more of an effect on you than just higher interest rates on loans and credit cards. Disputing errors to make sure your report is accurate is one way toimprove your credit score.
Disputing Errors With the Credit Bureaus
If you find inaccurate information in your report, start the dispute process immediately. All three credit reporting agencies accept disputes online via their online dispute forms. But it’s better to initiate a dispute by mail. Online forms can lead you to agree to arbitration, which will prevent you from suing the credit bureau if you discover your rights have been violated. If you decide to file a dispute by mail, you can get sample dispute sample letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or the credit bureau websites.
Making sure your account number is listed in the letter. Then you’ll want to dispute each item on your credit report that contains an error. For each disputed item, tell the credit bureau why you believe the information is incorrect. If you have any supporting documents showing that the disputed information is incorrect, make copies of them and include those copies with your dispute letter. Keep the originals of all your supporting documents.
Once you’ve drafted your dispute letter to the credit bureau that made the mistake, you must mail it to the appropriate mailing address:
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Disputing Errors Directly With Creditors
You could also send dispute letters directly to the company that reported the incorrect information to the credit bureau. These companies, called furnishers, include banks, credit card companies, and other lenders. Sending dispute letters directly to the furnishers might save a little time because the credit bureaus are simply going to ask the furnishers to verify their records.
Mail All Disputes Via Certified Mail With Return Receipts
If you are mailing your dispute, send the dispute and supporting documents via certified mail with a return receipt requested to keep track of receipt dates. Keep copies of everything you send to bureaus or furnishers.
Allow the Dispute Investigation Time to Run its Course
Under the FCRA, the credit bureau has 30 days to investigate your dispute and verify the information in your credit file with the furnisher. Then, they must report the results of their investigation back to you within five days of completing it.
Review the Dispute Results
If the credit bureau discovers that the information you’re disputing is in fact inaccurate, then the furnisher must make any corrections, updates, or deletions necessary and inform the credit bureau(s) to update their files as well. If you sent your dispute letter directly to the furnisher, they must also report any results and corrections to you. Ultimately, if the dispute results in a change to your credit file, the credit bureau(s) you disputed to must send you another free copy of your credit report.
On the other hand, if the furnisher upholds that the disputed information was initially correct, it will not be removed from your credit report. Either way, they’re still required to notify you of the findings of the investigation. If you still think the information in your credit report is incorrect, you have the right to add a statement to your credit file explaining your position. This statement will be included any time a lender or other entity makes an inquiry for your credit file.
If Your Dispute Is Deemed “Frivolous”...
Either a credit bureau or a furnisher can conclude that your dispute is frivolous and choose not to investigate it. A frivolous dispute is a dispute that has no evidence supporting it. Your complaint can be deemed frivolous if you’ve disputed the same item numerous times without adding new evidence or other information supporting your claim, if you offer incorrect or inaccurate information in your dispute, or if you simply dispute everything in your credit file with no supporting documentation.
Even if they find the dispute to be frivolous, credit bureaus and furnishers must still notify you within five days of their decision not to investigate, along with the reason they find the dispute frivolous.
Keep Checking Your Credit Information for Accuracy
If you win the dispute, you should receive the results of the investigation from the credit bureau(s) in writing. You should also receive a copy of your credit report. But updates may not appear on your credit file for several months. If you do not see the corrections in the credit report they send you, be sure to continue to follow up and keep checking the report.
If your credit report has changed because of a dispute, you can also request that the credit bureaus send an updated copy of your report to anyone who received your report in the last two years. If, for example, you applied for a mortgage and you were either denied or given a higher interest rate because of your credit score, you can request that your new credit report be sent to that lender.
If an actual error remains on your credit report after disputing it, or if you feel you were treated unfairly by a credit bureau or furnisher, you canfile a complaint with the CFPB. The CFPB is required to forward your complaint to the company you are complaining about. They will typically respond to you within 15 days. Occasionally, items that were removed could show up again. If this happens, you’ll have to contact the credit bureau again. Remain diligent in keeping a watch on your credit file.
It’s illegal for creditors to report incorrect information to the credit bureaus. More importantly, you have the right to dispute this incorrect information and have it removed. Disputing this incorrect information can help you improve your credit score. Even if you have good credit, be vigilant about your credit report. Stay proactive and continue to review your credit report on a regular basis.
Even though there’s a process to remove incorrect information, it’s important to remember that there is no quick or easy way to remove negative information that is accurate from your credit report. If anyone is promising to do that, they’re trying to take advantage of you. Instead of paying someone to try and remove valid information, you can take other steps on your own to repair your credit and improve your credit score.