Errors on your credit report are dispiritingly common. In a recent study
by Consumer Reports that asked volunteers to verify their credit reports, 34% found at least one error. And these errors were most often debts incorrectly attributed to them, payments misreported as late or missed or incorrect personal information (like a wrong address).
Errors like these can seriously impact your credit score and tarnish your credit report for up to seven years. And a lower credit score can jack up the rate you pay for car insurance, the interest rate on a loan or credit card and even prevent you from buying a home. As such, it’s important to stay on top of your credit report and dispute any mistakes that could affect your credit score. Here’s how to do it.
Start by reviewing your credit report
To get started, you’ll need to review your credit reports to catch any errors. There are three main credit bureaus, each with its own report: Experian, Equifax and Transunion. You’ll need to obtain a credit report from all three, since they all collect information in their own way.
To access your reports, make sure you have your Social Security number ready and follow the steps described on the website. You’ll be able to view or download them directly from the site so you can read them over carefully for errors.
Common errors that can impact your credit score
Reviewing your credit report can help you monitor for identity theft and uncover items that could be lowering your score. However, not all errors on your report affect your credit score. Some items, such as an outdated phone number, aren’t worth the trouble of disputing.
Items that could lower your credit score and are worth disputing include:
Credit accounts you don’t recognize
Incorrect account statuses, such as a bill reported as delinquent or an account in collections when you’ve always paid on time
Derogatory marks that are older than seven years
Addresses you don’t recognize
An ex-spouse who is listed on a current account
Incorrect balances or credit limits
If you identify any of these errors, disputing them could be the next step in getting them removed from your report so you can start seeing an increase in your credit score.
Gather documentation for your dispute
If you find errors on your credit report, the more supporting evidence you have, the better your odds of getting the errors dismissed. You’ll need to submit a letter explaining why you believe the information on your report is an error and provide evidence. Besides the explanation, you may need to supply a copy of your driver’s license or your passport to verify your identity.
File your dispute
Filing a dispute is free and won’t damage your score. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, once you file a dispute with a credit reporting agency, that agency must update the account to show it’s in dispute. You may see “XB” next to the entry, which indicates the item is disputed and under investigation. A disputed item cannot hurt your credit score while it’s under investigation. If it’s cleared in your favor, you’ll see an improvement to your FICO over time. Otherwise, the score will dip down again to reflect the negative mark.
When putting together a dispute letter to the credit agency, ask it to correct or remove the inaccurate information. Include the following points:
Credit report ID number
Your full name
Date of birth
Proof of identity, such as a copy of your driver’s license
Name of company and address for the incorrect item
A copy of the incorrect item(s) on the report
Explanation of why the item is incorrect
A list of additional supporting documents attached
Copies of the supporting documents showing why the item is incorrect, such as a copy of the canceled payment check that shows the paid date
To dispute an item, follow the steps for the specific credit reporting agency:
By phone: (800) 864-2978
Mail: Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30374
By phone: (888) 397-3742
Mail: Experian P.O. Box 4500 Allen, TX 75013
If there are errors on more than one report, repeat the same process for each credit bureau, requesting that it correct or remove the erroneous information.
Reach out to your account provider
You can also contact the account provider, such as the credit card company, lender or utility company, that initiated the negative or incorrect mark on your credit report. Notifying it of the dispute can help the process move along more quickly, especially if the item is incorrect. It’s best to put everything in writing so you can track your efforts. Refer to this sample letter as an example of what to write.
How long does the dispute process take?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit bureaus to investigate and resolve a dispute within 30 days, although some investigations could take up to 45 days. Filing a report online is the fastest way to initiate a dispute.
Reviewing your dispute resolution
Once the investigation is complete, you should receive the results in writing. If the bureau confirms there was an error on your report, it will remove or correct the information and provide an updated copy of your credit report for free.
Watch out for credit repair scams
Filing a dispute isn’t a complicated process. Disputes are free and the credit reporting agencies must follow strict federal regulations for your protection. However, there are credit repair companies that prey on people by promising to remove derogatory information and charge high fees to do so. These companies do not have any more power to make changes to your credit report than you could, for free.
That said, if you prefer to hire a credit repair company to handle disputes on your behalf, we recommend thoroughly vetting the company before paying them a dime.
What if a mark on my credit report is negative but accurate?
If a mark on your credit report is accurate, a credit bureau cannot remove it. You could try contacting the company that issued it, requesting that it remove the mark as a courtesy. For instance, if you made one late payment and have years of on-time payments, a credit card company might be willing to look past this error. However, companies aren’t obligated to delete factual information.
How long will a derogatory mark stay on my credit report?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits derogatory marks on your credit report to seven years. If there are marks on your credit report older than seven years, you can dispute them to have them removed.
Will disputes hurt my credit score?
Disputes will not hurt your credit score. In fact, they may temporarily improve it since the Fair Credit Reporting Act mandates that items under investigation can’t hurt your credit. However, if the disputed item is accurate, you will likely see a dip when the negative item is reflected again.
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