Many people assume that their credit report is inherently accurate because it is such an important part of their financial records. However, as many as 1 in 4 consumers have found errors on their credit reports that may impact their credit scores. Errors can occur surprisingly easily on your credit history. It may be that your handwriting was hard to read on a loan application, that a lender mixed up account information, or that you were a victim of identity theft. With so many ways an error can occur, it is incredibly important to check your annual free credit score for accuracy periodically ― not just when you need a loan.
However, due to a lack of understanding of credit, it can be difficult to determine what factors may affect your credit score and recognize when you need to dispute your credit report. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself on how your credit score is calculated and become familiar with your own credit history. Once you’re familiar with your score, if you do find an error in your credit report there is thankfully a way to dispute the inaccuracy.
Following these steps, you may be able to win your credit dispute and get your finances back on the right track:
1. Gather Evidence
As the major credit bureaus will need to evaluate the validity of your claim, you must first collect your supporting documents to prove that there is an error in your credit report. The documents you provide will vary depending on what kind of error is present on your report. For example, If the error is due to identity theft, you should provide evidence of a police report or Federal Trade Commission identity theft complaint. If the error is due to misreporting of loan or credit line information, you may need to provide credit card statements or loan documents.
Credit bureaus usually receive 8 million disputes a year, and must verify the claim of every dispute. Because of this volume, they may not have a lot of time to review and sort out the evidence of your claim. That’s why it is important that you do your best to submit complete and clear evidence of errors. It doesn’t hurt to be more thorough than you think you’ll need to be. It may also help to include a copy of your credit report with the errors circled.
2. Contact The Credit Bureau
After you have gathered your evidence, you should file a dispute with at least one credit bureau. There are three main credit bureaus that loan servicers and consumers rely on for credit reports: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Your credit score may vary depending on the agency, as not every event is reported to all three bureaus. You may find that you only need to dispute an error on one report, or two reports of the three. All credit bureaus offer some form of online dispute process, which may be an easier option than the more traditional methods of contacting the agencies. However, it is important to carefully read the online agreements as you file your dispute, as they may include arbitration agreements like Transunion’s arbitration clause that could keep you from going to court in the future if it becomes necessary.
Because of this, you may want to consider submitting a dispute letter or call the bureau to begin the process and receive more information. Here is the contact information for each credit reporting agency so you can begin your dispute if needed:
- Phone: 866-200-6020
- Mail: Experian’s National Consumer Assistance Center, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
- Phone: 866-349-5191
- Mail: Equifax, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
- Phone: 800-916-8800
- Mail: TransUnion LLC, Consumer Dispute Center, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016.
When mailing a letter to the credit bureau, what you need to provide will vary. Here is a general template for a credit dispute letter that you may find helpful when drafting your own dispute letter. Talk to a financial advisor before sending off your letter if you’re unsure if you included everything you need.
Credit Dispute Template
- Report confirmation number (Equifax)
- Current address
- Addresses of the past two years (Experian)
- Proof of address (Experian)
- Social security number
Dear [Credit Bureau], I am writing to request an investigation of the following information that appears on my [Credit Bureau] consumer report:
- Account number
- Dates associated
- Copy of credit report
- All evidence you are including
After you submit your credit report dispute, the agencies have up to 30 days to review and either address or dismiss the issue. As the process involves multiple steps and communication across organizations, some agencies tell you to expect the process to take up to 45 days to hear back on the outcome of your dispute. If you disagree with the results of the investigation, you also have the option to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
3. Contact the Lender
To ensure the errors are resolved at the source, it may also be a good idea to contact the lender or creditor who supplied the incorrect information to the bureaus. This may be your credit card company, bank, or loan provider. The required documentation will be similar to what you sent to the credit reporting agencies.
Keep in mind that you may not want to only contact the lender. This is because under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you must file with a reporting agency in order to have the option of suing the furnisher to correct the information. In situations where a credit bureau is misreporting your identity or name, it may not necessary to contact your lenders, as this error usually originates with the credit agency.
4. Keep Up With The Dispute
Depending on how you filed the dispute, the credit reporting agencies are required to provide you with the results of their investigation via the online portal or by certified mail within one to two months. During the time that an item on your credit report is under dispute, it will be temporarily removed from your credit report. After they have finished their assessment, the bureau is also required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report if it has now changed.
You may have to submit multiple disputes in order for the errors to be removed. While this can be time-consuming, it is important to continue to dispute incorrect information on your report that negatively impacts your credit score. You also have the option to ask the reporting agency to include information summarizing the dispute on your credit report so future lenders can see your claims and assess them for themselves. If all else fails, you can contact a lawyer to help you resolve the dispute by suing the agency or loan furnisher.
Once your credit report is corrected, it is essential that you ensure your credit score also returns to normal. Going forward, it may be a good idea to check your credit report yearly to make sure your score continues to accurately reflect your credit history.
Things To Look Out For
Filing a dispute with a credit reporting agency can be a complicated and nuanced process. You should look into the steps and requirements as thoroughly as possible before filing a claim. For more assistance, contact a financial advisor who can help you through the correct filing procedures. There are a few common mistakes that you should look out for:
Compile your evidence carefully. Providing incomplete or inaccurate evidence can cause the bureaus to reject your claim and extend the process. Online forms make it easy to be brief with your explanation. Even if you feel your claim is obvious, you should be more thorough than you think you need to be. This ensures not only a greater chance of success, but that you are able to prove in court that you gave the bureau enough information.
Be aware of which debts you can dispute. You cannot dispute accurate information on your credit report, no matter how unfair you feel it may be. The only exception to this is if the accurate information should have disappeared and has not. Negative credit data should only be on your credit report for seven years, and bankruptcies for ten. You can file a dispute to have correct information removed if it has been longer than these time periods.
Understand that your credit score may not always go up afterward. In situations where you are simply disputing identity information like your name and address, your credit score will not be affected. In some cases, if an account you closed a while ago still appears open and you want it to be removed, this may lower your credit score, as the average age of accounts will decrease.
Discovering an error on your credit report can be distressing, especially if the information affects your credit score. Thankfully, a letter to a credit bureau can solve the issue relatively easily. It’s important to put effort into maintaining your good credit as a greater understanding of your credit history you can ensure your future financial success.