How Do You Contest Errors On Your Credit Report?
In order to fix errors on your credit report, you’ll have to contact the credit bureau that created the report.
Your credit report is an incredibly important part of your overall financial health. In fact, you might even call it the cornerstone upon which the rest of your finances are built.
And that’s why errors in your credit report can be so troubling. Our own money choices can give us enough headaches without having to deal with stuff that you straight up didn’t do.
Luckily, there’s a process that you can go through to have those errors corrected. Here’s what you need to do.
You have multiple credit reports, and you should be checking all of them.
Your credit report is a record of how you have used credit over the past seven years. (Although some information, like bankruptcies, will stay on your report for longer.) The report includes information on how many loans or credit cards you have, how long you’ve had them for, your outstanding balances, whether you make your payments on time, and any collection notices or legal judgments made against you.
(Your credit report won’t contain information on most bad credit loans or no credit check loans, as many of those lenders do not report information to the credit bureaus. However, if you’ve taken out a payday loan or a title loan and it’s gone to collections, that debt collector most likely will report the unpaid debt. When you do borrow money from a lender, make sure that they report on-time payments to the credit bureaus. Wondering what kind of loans can help build your credit? Spoiler alert: start with installment loans.)
The information compiled in a person’s credit report is used by credit scoring companies—FICO being by far the most important—to create that person’s credit score. If it helps: Think of your credit reports like a math test and your credit score as the grade you receive on that test.
Here’s the funny thing about credit reports: you don’t have just one. You actually have three. There are three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Each one creates their own report. And since they all have different businesses reporting to them, information can vary.
The same holds true for errors. One bureau might have made an error in their report that doesn’t appear on your reports from the others. If you want to keep an eye out for credit report errors, you need to be checking all of your reports.
Here’s the good news: You can get them for free! Under federal law, each credit bureau must provide you with one free copy of your report per year. All you have to do is ask! To get a free copy of your credit report, just visit AnnualCreditReport.com.
In order to dispute any errors, you’ll have to contact the credit bureaus.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), it is the credit reporting agencies that are responsible for correcting any errors in their reports. However, in order to alert them to the error, you’ll have to contact them first. And you’ll need to do so in writing.
Send the credit bureau a letter with your name and your address that clearly states the specific item (or items) that you are disputing. Not sure how to write such a letter? No problem, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a sample letter that you can use.
When sending in your dispute letter, you want to make it easy for the person reading it to understand why this information is false, so you should include documentation. For instance, if it says you have a higher credit card balance than you actually do, send them a copy of your credit card statement with the correct balance highlighted.
Lastly, clearly state that you want the incorrect information removed from the report. Make sure you send the letter via certified mail and request a return receipt. Keep copies of all the letters you and documents you send, plus everything you receive back.
Credit bureaus are usually obligated to conduct an investigation within 30 days. This includes notifying the company that provided them with the incorrect information who then must also conduct their own investigation. If they confirm the error, they must then notify all three credit bureaus of the change.
Once the investigation is complete, the credit bureau will provide you their results in writing. If your dispute was successful, they will also provide you a free copy of your amended credit report. That copy will not count as your free copy for the year.
Similarly, you can also dispute errors with the company or provider that is furnishing the incorrect information to the bureaus. Once you contact them (again, in writing), they must notify the credit bureaus about the dispute. They must also notify them if your dispute leads to a correction.
What type of errors might be in your report?
Pretty much anything on your credit report could be inaccurate, but the good folks at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have created a handy list of common errors that could really screw with your score.
- Errors made to your identity information (wrong name, phone number, address)
- Accounts belonging to another person with the same or a similar name as yours (this mixing of two consumers’ information in a single file is called a mixed file)
- Incorrect accounts resulting from identity theft
Incorrect reporting of account status
- Closed accounts reported as open
- You are reported as the owner of the account, when you are actually just an authorized user
- Accounts that are incorrectly reported as late or delinquent
- Incorrect date of last payment, date opened, or date of first delinquency
- Same debt listed more than once (possibly with different names)
Data management errors
- Reinsertion of incorrect information after it was corrected
- Accounts that appear multiple times with different creditors listed (especially in the case of delinquent accounts or accounts in collections)
- Accounts with an incorrect current balance
- Accounts with an incorrect credit limit
When you are first searching for errors, we recommend that you request copies of all three credit reports. After that, it’s best to request them on a rolling basis. You get three free reports a year (one from each bureau), which means that you can request one every four months.
Checking in on your reports will help you catch and correct future errors much more quickly!
To learn more about your credit score and credit reports, check out these related posts and articles from OppLoans:
- Is Bad Credit Contagious?
- Start Your New Year Out Right: Get a Credit Check!
- Can You Have Bad Credit Even With a Good Income?