If you’ve done any reading about credit reports at all, you know it’s important to review yours periodically. One of the primary reasons for this is to catch errors or incidences of fraud as early as possible. Fortunately, such faulty data is seldom irrevocable when you’re capable of disputing entries on your credit report.
Here’s what you need to know.
How to Get Your Credit Report
The federal government has mandated the provision of unfettered access to each of your three credit reports on an annual basis. In response, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion offer them for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.
However, rather than asking for all three simultaneously, most experts recommend getting them one at a time every three to four months. This way you can study your reports several times over the course of a year, which would enable you to catch discrepancies sooner.
What to Look For on Your Report
Outdated or incorrect entries, such as falsely reported late payments, missed payments, or accounts for which you did not apply can bring your credit score down considerably. Similarly, collections accounts listed as open, even though you paid them off — whether through debt relief or some other method — can have a detrimental effect on your ranking as well.
Other issues, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, include:
- Identity errors — including misspellings, faulty addresses or phone numbers
- Accounts belonging to people whose names are similar to yours
- Closed accounts erroneously listed as active
- Reported ownership of an account when you’re only an authorized user
- Mistakenly dated payments
- Multiple listings of a single debt
- Single debts listed to multiple creditors
- Recurrence of bad information post correction
- Incorrect balances
- Incorrect credit limits
How to Dispute Errors
As troubling as these issues can be, the process for resolving them is pretty straightforward. While you will have to address each reporting bureau individually, all offer the capability to do so online — and for free.
The Federal Trade Commission offers a sample dispute letter to help you cover all of the pertinent information. You’ll need to identify the information deemed incorrect on each of the respective reports and supply substantiating materials to support your claim.
Disputes can also be filed by mail:
P.O. Box 4500,
Allen, TX 75013
Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
Should you go this route, use certified mail with tracking and return receipt requested.
Once the Dispute Is Filed
The credit bureaus will contact the reporting entities with a request to review your dispute for accuracy. If the creditor determines a mistake was made, they must in turn report the error to each of the three bureaus and ask it be removed from your file, or corrected as needed. You then have the right to ask the bureaus to contact anyone who has inquired about your creditworthiness over the previous six months and inform them of the mistake.
There are sometimes instances in which a reporting entity will not agree an error was made. You will then have to approach them directly to appeal their finding. You might even need an attorney to do so on your behalf. Their contact information will be listed on your credit report. In the meantime, you can request a statement of dispute be added to that entry to alert subsequent reviewers to ask you about them, rather than dismissing you out of hand because of them.
Disputing entries on your credit report when they are found to be in error is a worthwhile undertaking because of the damage they can do to your credit score. A sullied financial reputation can have a brutally negative impact on the quality of your life. These tips will help you keep your record pristine.