Credit report errors are far too common. Indeed, studies suggest that as many as 25 percent of credit reports could contain serious errors. The most common errors are identity errors, incorrect account information, and fraudulent accounts. There are certainly many other kinds of errors but these are the most prevalent.
Identity errors occur when the credit bureaus or creditors inadvertently report someone else’s payment history, names, addresses, or other information on your credit reports. Mostly this happens when your name, Social Security Number, or address is similar to someone else. These identity errors are common among family members with the same or similar names.
Incorrect Account Details
Sometimes the lenders, creditors, and debt collectors provide incorrect information about your accounts to the credit bureaus. Other times, the credit bureaus incorrectly process the information provided. These errors could be seriously reducing your credit scores in some cases. For example, an incorrect credit limit or balance could impact your credit utilization ratio. Similarly, if a credit card or other account is showing the opening date incorrectly, the age of that account could lower your score unfairly. In more extreme cases, you could have a fully paid account showing as delinquent which would lower your score.
Fraudulent accounts can be one of the most serious errors in your credit reports. These accounts can drastically impact your credit utilization ratio, average age of your accounts, and can trigger abusive or unfair debt collection actions against you. The emotional impact of identity theft also cannot be overstated. Victims of identity theft often suffer from serious emotional distress due to the invasion of privacy identity theft causes.
Steps to Dispute Credit Report Errors
Step 1. Order Your Free Credit Reports
The first step in disputing credit report errors is to obtain your credit reports. You can get your reports for free once every twelve months from each of the three major bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Be sure to check all three. Each bureau is independent and reports information differently. You cannot assume that an error in one report is also reporting inaccurately in the other two. Check each one to be sure.
You are also entitled to a free report if a company takes adverse action against you based on information in your report. For example, denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment would give you the right to a free report as long as you request this free report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The adverse action notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the credit reporting company so you know which credit bureau reported the information.
If you are unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days, on welfare, or if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft, you are also entitled to a free report.
Step 2. Dispute Credit Report Errors
The next step is to tell the credit bureaus, in writing, what information is reporting inaccurately, why you dispute the information, and what you want the credit bureau to do with the incorrect listing. Do not use a form letter from the Internet. Write your own letter or hire an experienced credit repair attorney to help you. Sample letters from the Internet are helpful to get you started but copying one directly could get your dispute rejected.
If you have documentation to show why the information is reporting inaccurately, include copies with your dispute. This would include copies of your identity theft affidavit, police reports, proof of your identity, proof of your residency, or an entire identity theft report if applicable to your situation. You may also want to include a copy of your report with the incorrect information highlighted to simplify the dispute process.
Be sure to send your dispute letter by certified mail with a “return receipt requested,” so you can document what the credit reporting company received and when they received it. Keep a detailed file including copies of your dispute letters, their enclosures, and any responses you get back from the credit bureaus.
Once the credit bureau receives your dispute, it must conduct an investigation within 30 days, called a “reinvestigation,” unless it deems your dispute to be frivolous. Then it can reject your dispute. Normally, the reinvestigation consists of the bureau contacting the provider of the information and either verifying, deleting, or updating the information as it deems appropriate. The credit bureau will then report the results of the reinvestigation back to you.
Generally, the credit reporting company will give you results in writing and include a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. This free report does not count as your annual free report. If an item is changed or deleted, the credit reporting company cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies that it is accurate and complete. The credit reporting company also must send you written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the information provider.
If you ask, the credit reporting company must send notices of any corrections to anyone who received your report in the past six months. You can also have a corrected copy of your report sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two years for employment purposes.
If an investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute with the credit reporting company, you can ask that a short statement of the dispute be included in your file and in future reports. You also can ask the credit reporting company to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past but you can expect to pay a fee for this service.
Step 3. Dispute Errors Directly with the Information Provider
If the credit bureaus do not respond appropriately to your dispute, you should send a letter directly to the information provider. As before, do so in writing and send the letter certified mail with a return receipt requested. You should also include copies of important documentation to assist their investigation.
If the provider continues to report the item you disputed to a credit reporting company, it must let the credit reporting company know about your dispute. And if the provider finds your information to be inaccurate or incomplete, it must notify the credit reporting agency to either update or delete the item.
If your reports show credit lines that are inaccurate or items are reporting in your name that you did not open you should act immediately. The credit reporting companies and information providers should be responsive to your disputes. Start by obtaining copies of your reports and reviewing them for errors. Next, send dispute letters to the credit reporting agencies and, if needed, to the information providers. Provide them with appropriate documentation to help their reinvestigation efforts and don’t give up if your initial letters are unsuccessful. It sometimes takes multiple dispute attempts to get results. If you are a victim of identity theft, start your dispute efforts by putting a fraud alert on your reports and fill out an identity theft affidavit. Next file a police report and let the credit bureaus and information providers know the account is the result of identity theft. If necessary, hire an experienced identity recovery attorney to assist you. Repairing your credit can be a time-consuming and difficult process. The results of credit reports free from errors, are well worth the effort however. Good credit saves you money. Review your reports for errors and take control of your credit health and financial future.