I Want to Dispute an Error on My Credit ReportIf you believe that you’re doing everything possible to improve your financial health, but your credit score still seems lower than it should be, your credit report may contain errors. Studies suggest that up to 25% of credit reports can contain serious errors, such as outdated personal information, mistaken or fraudulent accounts and incorrect account details.
Want those errors corrected? Well, it’s up to you to dispute them, so here’s a handy checklist on how to tackle potential credit report problems.
Review your credit report.
You’re entitled to receive one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you’ve never examined your reports before, you can pull all three at AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the only government-approved site that provides reports for free. (We suggest that you only pull one every four months, so you can regularly check up on your credit throughout the year for free.)
In some cases, you may not find the error on all three credit reports, so inspect each report carefully to find out if this is the case. You only need to dispute the error with the bureau(s) reporting the incorrect information.
In addition, if you have a credit line from a small company, such as a credit union, it’s important to keep in mind that it may not report to all three bureaus. Before you assume that a bureau is incorrectly reporting your credit line, check with your creditor to see which bureau it reports to.
Gather documentation supporting your dispute.
In order to successfully dispute an error with the credit bureaus, you’ll need proper documentation that supports your claim. For instance, if your credit card limit is being incorrectly reported, get proof that your limit is different than the one referenced on your report. Circle or highlight the error on your credit report(s), and make copies of your supporting documentation to send with your dispute letter.
Write your dispute letter.
Write a letter to the bureaus reporting the mistake on your credit report. Not a wordsmith? The FTC has a great sample dispute letter that you can use as a model.
Make copies of everything.
You don’t want to have to repeat the first three steps if the dispute gets lost in the mail, so make copies of the dispute letter you’ve written, the documents you’re using as proof and the page(s) of your credit report with the errors clearly marked. File these documents in a safe place, so you can easily find them later.
Send your letter and enclosures via certified mail.
Although the bureaus accept online disputes, experts recommend disputing errors via postal mail, so you have a paper trail if the problem persists or you need to show a record of your efforts in court. Send your letter, the marked-up credit report and your supporting documentation via certified mail, and request a return receipt, so you’ll have a record that the credit bureau received the package.
Follow up in 30 days.
After the post office notifies you that the credit bureau has received your dispute, set up a calendar reminder to follow up with the bureau if you haven’t heard back after 30 days. Credit bureaus are required by law to investigate your claim, and they will typically do so within that timeframe. The credit bureau should also forward all of the relevant data that you provide about the inaccuracy to the company or organization that provided the information, such as your credit card issuer or a mortgage lender. The information provider will then investigate, and report back to the credit bureau.
If your dispute is successful, the company is required to notify all three credit bureaus, so that they can correct the information in your file. The credit bureau will then have to report the results back to you, and include a free copy of your credit report if there was a change made due to the investigation.
Take appropriate steps if the dispute is unsuccessful.
If your dispute doesn’t work, it may be due to one of the following reasons:
- It was considered “frivolous.” This term can vary by bureau, but in general, credit bureaus might label your dispute as frivolous if you dispute too many items in one letter, if you don’t have proof to support your claim, if you use hardship as the basis for your dispute or if you use the same reasons over and over again when trying to get credit report errors removed. If the credit bureau refuses to investigate for this reason, but you don’t consider it to be frivolous, you can try to dispute again.
- It wasn’t deemed to be erroneous. You can’t remove correct information from your credit report, even if you’d like to do so. You can, however, take steps to rebuild your credit, and subsequently boost your credit score.
- The credit bureau says that it’s not an error, but you have proof otherwise. If this is the case, you can either try to dispute it again or go directly to the furnisher of the line of credit to perform what is called a “direct dispute.” For instance, if the error is a misreported credit limit, you’d submit a new dispute letter to the credit card issuer, using the same disputing process outlined above. Be sure to include your full name and the account number associated with the company in your letter.
Monitor your account for future errors.
Once your reports are finally free of errors, make sure that all of your work doesn’t go to waste! Continually monitor your reports to ensure that they remain error-free by obtaining one free report every four months.
It’s important to stay vigilant about disputing any incorrect information on your credit report because it can have an impact on your credit score and financial health. Good luck!
Jenna Lee covers credit and personal finance for CreditKarma.com, a free credit management website that helps more than 10 million people access their credit scores for free.