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You may think that your credit reports perfectly reflect an accurate picture of your credit history. But that might not always be true.
Mistakes and inaccuracies appear on credit reports more often than many people believe. Some mistakes may be minor, like misspellings of names, addresses, or other personal information. Other mistakes, such as incorrect payment history or the addition of credit accounts that don’t belong to you, could be much more significant.
Credit bureaus are legally obligated to investigate when you dispute the accuracy of an item on your credit report. However, if you’re not checking your credit regularly, sometimes inaccurate information can go unnoticed for years. In the meantime, those credit reporting mistakes could have a very damaging impact upon your credit scores, whether you realize they’re on your reports or not.
In 2012 an FTC study found that about 25% of consumers had an error on one of their credit reports, and 5% were paying higher interest rates because of those mistakes. The study also found that about 10% of consumers who found errors and disputed them wound up with better credit scores, making them more eligible for better loan terms.
It’s definitely worth your time to get your credit reports and take a look at their contents. In fact, you should make a habit of reviewing your three credit reports several times per year. If you find any mistakes, you can take some pretty simple steps to correct them.
You have three credit reports, one from each of the consumer credit bureaus (also known as credit reporting agencies) — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Under federal law, you can check free credit reports from all three major bureaus once every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Wondering how? Learn all about Monitoring Your Credit Reports here.
Some credit report errors to look out for include:
If you find any fraudulent activity on your credit reports, you should probably place credit freezes and/or fraud alerts on your three reports. You can also place credit locks on your three reports, but this is different from a credit freeze, which the government requires the bureaus to offer free of charge.
If you spot an error in a credit report, you should follow the steps below to file a formal dispute with the credit reporting company. The dispute process is completely free. Under the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureau must investigate the error and update you with the results of its investigation within 30 days (as long as they don’t see the request as frivolous). Keep in mind that if the error is on all three of your credit reports, you’ll need to submit a separate request to each credit bureau involved.
While the item on your credit report is being investigated, the information that’s in dispute will be treated differently by scoring models like FICO. Basically, the payment history and balance on the account will be temporarily ignored, so that the potentially incorrect information can’t hurt your credit scores until the credit bureau determines whether or not the item needs to be deleted from your report.
When you want to challenge the accuracy of an item on your credit reports, your best bet is to send in a dispute via certified mail to each credit bureau involved (explained below). Be sure to provide all of the information the credit reporting agency requires to investigate and deal with the issue.
If a disputed item on your credit report is corrected, you can request that the credit reporting agency send a corrected report to any creditor that has received the report within the past six months. You can also ask for a copy of the updated report to be sent to any employers that have received the report within the last two years.
Take a quick look at our Q&A videos on some different kinds of disputes, and then learn how to file a dispute with each credit reporting agency.
As an alternative to disputing errors, you can also force the credit bureaus to verify any particular account that shows up on your credit reports using a 609 dispute letter. If it’s unverifiable they’ll have to remove it.
Once you find an error, check to see which credit bureau created the report. Then, you can mail a certified letter (return receipt requested) asking the credit bureau to correct the mistake or delete the offending account from your credit report. Remember, if the error is on all three of your credit reports, you’ll need to send a dispute to all three credit bureaus:
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Although you can also submit credit disputes online, we don’t recommend doing so because the “reasons” you’re allowed to give are pre-populated. Online disputes make it hard to tell your side of the story, so we recommend sending disputes by certified mail instead.
It will take some time for your request to be processed.
For disputes about accounts, the credit bureau will need to contact the source of that information, known as the “data furnisher.” Then that data furnisher will investigate the information, and the whole process may take as long as a month.-
If the data furnisher doesn’t respond in time or can’t verify the request, the disputed information will be removed from your credit report. However, if the information is verified, the disputed information will remain on your credit report.
If you’re unsatisfied with the result of your dispute, you have a few options available:
Once the investigation is complete, you’ll receive an update with the results. If your dispute is successful and your credit report changes, you’ll get a free copy of your credit report in its updated state.
If you’ve removed or altered a significant negative item, you may see a corresponding increase in your credit scores soon after (as long as everything else on your report stays the same).
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