You may think that your credit reports perfectly reflect your financial history, but that might not always be true.
Mistakes and errors occasionally appear on credit reports, and they include misspellings of names, the addition of accounts that don’t belong to you, or missing accounts that should be there.
Credit bureaus are legally obligated to try to correct errors when they find them, but sometimes they can go unnoticed for years. Depending on how severe they are, these mistakes can cause a little or a lot of damage to your credit scores.
There are some conflicting reports, but 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 20% of consumers who found errors and disputed them wound up with a better credit score, making them more eligible for better loan terms.
So it’s definitely worth your time to get your credit reports and take a look at their contents. If you find any mistakes or omissions you can take some pretty simple steps to correct them.
Checking Up on your Credit Report
You have three credit reports, one from each of the credit bureaus (also known as credit reporting agencies): Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can check all of your reports for free once per year from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Some errors to look out for include:
- Name misspellings, often when family members share similar names
- Duplicate accounts
- Incorrect accounts
- Fraudulent accounts, especially if you’ve been a victim of identity theft
- Information or accounts from an ex-spouse
- Incorrect payment status
- Outdated information, like negative accounts over seven years old
- More than one “delinquent” date on accounts in collections
Correcting Errors in Your Reports
If you spot an error in a credit report, you should follow the steps below to file a formal dispute with the credit bureau. This is completely free. Under the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureau must investigate the error and resolve the situation within 30 days (as long as they don’t see the request as frivolous).
Information on a credit report that’s being disputed won’t be included in calculations of credit scores.
To make sure the situation is resolved as quickly as possible, report the problem using the online dispute reporting form (explained below). Be sure to provide all of the information the agency requires to investigate and deal with the issue.
Once your credit report has been 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, and 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.
Q&A Video: Removing Incorrect Collection Accounts from your Credit Reports
Q&A Video: How Do I Add a Correct Item to my Credit Reports?
Step 1: Filing a Dispute with a Credit Bureau
Once you find an error, check to see which credit bureau created the report. Then, go to its online dispute service and follow the directions to get started.
Step 2: Waiting for Results
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. So don’t always expect a quick response, although each bureau will let you check the status of your request at any time.
If the data furnisher doesn’t respond or can’t verify the request, the disputed information will be removed from your credit report. If the information is verified, the disputed information will remain.
If you’re unsatisfied with the result of your dispute, you have a few options available:
- Contact the data furnisher directly and try to get them to change the information.
- Submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- Submit an explanatory statement of up to 100 words, which will be attached to the account in question (but this won’t help your credit score).
Once the investigation is complete, you’ll receive a report of the results. If your dispute is successful and your credit report changes, you’ll be able to see an updated copy of your report for free.
If you’ve removed or altered a significant negative item, you should see a corresponding increase in your credit score soon after.