How To Dispute Credit Report Errors
Like it or not, your credit reports and scores could determine whether you land your next job or qualify for an apartment lease or home mortgage. Some employers may review your reports as part of the hiring process, and landlords and lenders could look them over before agreeing to rent to you or approve you for a home loan. That’s why you need to make sure your credit reports are free of errors that could be dragging your scores down.
The three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — create and sell credit reports for millions of people, and oftentimes there are errors that only you can detect and correct.
Where you can get your credit reports for free
You can find your credit report via the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These companies sell information about your creditworthiness — from bill payment history to the number of credit cards you have open — to employers, lenders and other businesses that then use that data to evaluate your financial reliability.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that you can access your credit report for free once per year from each bureau. The law is also designed to ensure the bureaus only list correct information on your reports.
Now that the nation is dealing with the pandemic, you can access your credit report once per week for free. To access your credit report, head to annualcreditreport.com.
What’s in a credit report?
Your credit report contains a wide array of information. Credit score companies like FICO and VantageScore use your credit report to compose your credit score.
Here is a list of what you will find in your credit report:
- Personal information. Your name, Social Security number, current and previous addresses, phone numbers and date of birth.
- Payment history. Each account on your credit report shows if your payments have been on time or late, and if late, how late (i.e., 60 days or in collections due to nonpayment).
- Account history. Each of your credit accounts (also known as “tradelines”) are included in your credit report. Each account will feature details about the creditor, payment history, its balance and more, and include credit cards and loans.
- Collection accounts and bankruptcies. If you’ve allowed an account to go unpaid and it’s in collections, that information will be listed in your credit report. Bankruptcies will also be listed.
- Your inquiries. Anytime you apply for credit, a “hard inquiry” is made. This happens when a lender pulls your credit report to view your information. These inquiries do impact your credit score. Soft inquiries — like checking your credit report or when a lender checks your credit for marketing purposes — are also listed here, however, soft inquiries do not impact your score.
- Contact information and your rights. You will also see your contact information and all of your rights listed on your credit report.
Common credit report errors to look for
Not all errors are created equal. The errors on your credit report could appear in different sections and may have varying impacts on your credit score. For example, you may want to clear up an incorrect prior address, alias or former employer, but those types of errors won’t impact your credit score at all.
Missing or seemingly incorrect information isn’t always an error. Creditors aren’t required to report your payments to all three credit bureaus and may report payments to one or two of them. Or, they might not report your payments at all. As a result, differences in your reports or lack of information may not be an error.
If you see closed and paid-off accounts on your reports, those aren’t necessarily errors either. Accounts that never had a late payment stay on your credit report for up to 10 years. If there was a late payment or the account was sent to collections, the credit bureaus aren’t required to remove the account until seven years after the first late payment on the account. This can be the case even if the account was closed, you paid off the balance with the original creditor or you paid off the debt with a collection agency.
Here are some credit report errors that you can and cannot dispute:
What you can dispute
- A credit card or loan that was opened in your name without your knowledge.An account that was closed more than 10 years ago (seven years in some cases) and is still on your report.
- An account that has a higher or lower credit limit than it should.
- Incorrect late payments or other inaccurate negative marks on one of your accounts.
- Previously disputed accounts appearing on your credit reports again.
- Incorrect dates on an account, such as the date it was opened, past due or closed.
- Incorrect public records, like a bankruptcy that never happened.
- Multiple open accounts for a single debt.
What you cannot dispute
- Legitimate information, like your current and previous addresses.
- Public records such as bankruptcies (within 10 years from date of filing).
- Accurate information on late payments that have not yet aged out (7 years).
- Closed accounts that are younger than 10 years.
- Accounts currently and previously in collection.
How to dispute credit report errors
Once you’ve located the errors on your credit report, it’s time to dispute them. You’ll provide the information about the error, why you think it’s inaccurate and any documents that verify your claim. Once you submit the dispute, credit report bureaus must investigate it within 30 days. Here are some different ways to dispute credit report errors:
- Contact the furnisher. One way to correct an error is to contact the data furnisher — the lender or business that provided the bureau with the incorrect info. Explain your case and be ready to submit documentation supporting the claim. Ask the furnisher to please update the credit bureau information with the correct information. If the furnisher gives you a hard time or does not comply, you’re better off going through the credit bureaus.
- File online. Each bureau — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion allows you to dispute errors via their websites. You’ll need to create an account with your personal info and then provide any documents that support your claim.
- File via mail. You can also make credit report error claims via mail. You’ll need to include a dispute letter (Use the FTC’s sample to help you get started). You’ll also need to include any documents that support your claim. Make sure the documents are not originals, so that you always have the information on hand should you need to send it again. You should identify the item you’re disputing and any facts that verify the inaccuracy. You will note that you want the information corrected. Send the letter by certified mail with a return receipt requested. This will provide you with proof that the credit bureau received your dispute.
Here are the addresses to send your dispute:
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
What if your dispute isn’t accepted?
If you don’t agree with the resolution of your dispute, you can take additional steps.
- Resubmit a claim. You can refile an error claim with additional information that might ensure a different outcome.
- Add a statement of dispute. You can request that a note detailing why you dispute the claim be added to your credit report. This note will be displayed to anyone viewing your credit report.
- Contact a lawyer. If all else fails and your credit is seriously affected by an error, you could contact a consumer protection attorney to see what steps could be taken to remove the information from your credit report.
Steps to take if you’re a victim of fraud
Here are the steps to take if you notice accounts listed on your credit reports that have been fraudulently opened in your name:
- Contact the company that opened the account and let them know about the fraud. Ask them to freeze or flag that account as fraudulent.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and possibly even freeze your credit.
- Report the incident to the FTC and your local police department.
- Remember to regularly check your credit reports. Doing so will go a long way toward preventing fraud in the future.