Your credit report is used by lenders, landlords, employers, and many other companies to help them determine if you’re trustworthy and you know how to manage your money. Unfortunately, sometimes your report contains inaccurate information that could hurt your credit score or otherwise make you look like an unreliable borrower.
It’s important to find these mistakes and have any errors removed. It’s easy to get a free copy of your credit report and to take action if there are problems. You’re entitled to a free report one time each year from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S. You can easily obtain your report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
If you pull one report from each agency every couple of months, you can keep tabs on what’s happening with your credit and quickly catch any errors that are introduced. It’s as simple as inputting some basic information to confirm your identity and picking which report you want.
But what happens if you pull your report and actually find an error? Here are the key steps you’ll need to take.
1. Alert the credit bureau
The easiest way to handle errors on your credit report is to contact the credit reporting agency directly. The credit reporting agency will then take action to alert the company that posted the info and investigate whether or not the information should be removed from your credit report.
You can submit a dispute online, through the mail, or via phone with the credit reporting agency that has reported inaccurate data. Here’s the info you need to contact the agencies:
|Agency||Online Disputes||Address||Phone Number|
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
|Experian recommends calling the number listed on your credit report|
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Filing your dispute online is the quickest and easiest approach, but Experian also provides a PDF form you can print and fill out if you’d prefer to submit your dispute by mail. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a sample dispute letter you can submit to the credit reporting agencies if you’re not sure what to say when alleging that information is inaccurate.
When you submit a claim, you will need to provide some basic information, including:
- Your full name, address, and Social Security number
- Details about what you’re disputing. For example, perhaps you never actually sent a payment late that was reported as tardy, or there is an account listed on your report that isn’t yours
- Information about the company you believe is reporting the inaccurate information
You may also wish to include supporting documentation, such as cashed checks showing a payment was made or a copy of an identity theft complaint made to police if accounts were opened in your name without authorization.
You can also contact the financial company that you believe is reporting inaccurate information. While this isn’t necessary since the credit reporting agencies contact the company for you, it’s another method you can pursue to try to get the incorrect info removed as soon as possible.
In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends alerting the company and even provides a sample letter you can use to do so. You can send the letter to the address the credit provider lists on your credit report, ask the provider for the correct address, or send your letter to any business address you can find for that provider.
After receiving your dispute, the provider has to update the credit reporting agency, either to remove inaccuracies or to let the agency know the information is being disputed.
2. Wait up to 30 days for more details
Once you’ve submitted your dispute, the credit reporting agency conducts an investigation. This includes reaching out to the company reporting the disputed information as well as looking at your supporting documentation. The credit reporting agency could reach out to you to get more info as well, so be sure you provide your preferred contact information.
Investigations are typically completed within 30 days. However, a credit reporting agency does not have to conduct an investigation at all if it considers your dispute to be frivolous.
After 30 days have passed, you must be notified in writing of the decision made by the credit reporting agency. If more than this amount of time has passed, you should contact the agency to follow up.
3. Review the results
If the credit reporting agency or company reporting the inaccuracy agrees the information isn’t correct, it must be deleted from your report.
You’re entitled to another free copy of your credit report at this time. And, if you ask, the credit reporting agency also has to send notification of the correction to anyone who got a copy of your report in the past six months. If your report was used for employment purposes any time in the past two years, you also have the right to request the credit reporting agencies send an updated copy.
If the company claims the information is accurate and the credit reporting agency doesn’t disagree after conducting an investigation, the information can stay on your credit report — but you have the right to include a statement of dispute in your credit file. You can also ask the reporting agency to send out the dispute notification to those who received your report recently, but you may have to pay for this service.
If any item is changed or deleted as a result of a dispute, the credit reporting agency is barred by law from putting the disputed info back into your credit file unless the company providing the info verifies it’s accurate and complete.
4. Check your other credit reports
If there’s a mistake on one credit report, chances are good it’s also on the reports from the other two credit reporting agencies. Disputing the inaccuracy with one agency doesn’t necessarily mean the information will always be corrected by the other two.
Check your credit report with each of the three reporting agencies and initiate a dispute process with each if the mistake shows up on multiple reports. After all, you never know which credit reporting bureau employers or potential creditors will obtain your report from.
Mistakes on your credit report can do damage to your credit score and affect your ability to borrow money, get a job, or rent an apartment. Since getting errors corrected can take time, it’s important not to wait until your credit is about to be checked to ensure there are no mistakes.
Keep regular tabs on your credit so you’ll always know when something wrong is posted in your file and can move to get the inaccuracy deleted before it costs you.