Most people don't think about fixing a credit report mistake until it prevents them from getting credit, insurance, or maybe even a job.
If you've been turned down because of information in your credit report, the company that rejected your application must give you the name, address, and telephone number of the credit bureau that supplied the information they based their decision on. Armed with this information, you contact the credit bureau within 60 days of receiving a denial notice and they will send your credit report to you for free.
When you get your credit report, very carefully check over all the information. First, make sure that all the information really belong to you. Sometimes information that belongs to someone with the same name as yours get recorded on your credit file. Also check the address information to make sure that it is correct.
Next, check the account information section to make sure that all the accounts really belong to you. If you find accounts that you didn't open, you may have become a victim of identity theft and need to investigate the matter. Another thing to check for is accounts that you know were paid off, but are still showing a balance on your credit report. You have the right to contest any incorrect reporting of credit information.
It's important to note that if the information on your credit report is accurate, the credit bureaus are not required to remove it until at least seven years after it was first reported, but this varies. The length of time negative information can stay on your credit report is governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Here is the time frame that various information can stay on your credit report:
Unfortunately, you can't do anything about accurate negative information other than to wait for it to age-off your credit report. Thankfully, negative information on your credit report will affect your credit score less as more time goes by. For example, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy that was filed last year will look worse that a bankruptcy filing from 6 years ago.
The first step to take in fixing a credit report mistake is to contact the credit bureau that furnished the information. You have the option of starting the process online, by phone, or through the mail. You can access the information on mailing addresses, phone numbers, and the online dispute process by clicking on the links for Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
Online - The online dispute process is fairly easy and straight-forward. You will need to establish an account with the credit bureau where you will be disputing the error. This is generally done when you start the dispute process. You'll need to furnish information to establish your identity, such as your full name, social security number, date of birth, and address. Next you'll be given the option to indicate why you are disputing the information on your credit report. After you review everything to make sure it's correct, you can then submit your dispute. From there, the credit bureau will keep you updated via email on the status of your dispute. You can also check the progress of the dispute through the credit bureau's online dispute portal.
Through the mail - If you are uncomfortable disputing the error online, you can dispute the information through the mail. Send a written letter to the credit bureau asking them to investigate the disputed items. Enclose copies (not originals) of any supporting documents that support your claims. If during the credit bureau's investigation, they cannot verify the disputed information, then it must be removed from your credit file.
You will need to include various identifying information for the credit bureau to verify your identity. This information includes:
Be sure that you only send copies of the information (as the paperwork will not be returned to you). Below is a sample dispute letter from the FTC website that you can use when disputing credit bureau reports:
Your City, State, Zip Code
Name of Credit Reporting Agency
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. The items I dispute are also encircled on the attached copy of the report I received. (Identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.)
This item is (inaccurate or incomplete) because (describe what is inaccurate or incomplete and why). I am requesting that the item be deleted (or request another specific change) to correct the information.
Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation, such as payment records, court documents) supporting my position. Please reinvestigate this (these) matter(s) and (delete or correct) the disputed item(s) as soon as possible.
Sincerely, Your name
Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing)
The credit bureau must investigate the disputed information (within 30 to 45 days), unless they consider your request frivolous. This can happen if you submit incorrect or incomplete information, if you repeatedly dispute the same information numerous times without new proof, or if you try to claim everything in your credit file is incorrect without proof.
For valid disputes, the credit bureau must forward all relevant information that you provided about the dispute to the company that supplied the information to the credit bureau in the first place. The original company must then investigate the dispute and report their results back to the credit bureau. If the original company finds that the disputed information is incorrect, they must notify all three credit bureaus to update the information in your file.
Once the investigation is complete, the credit bureau must give you the results via email or in writing. The possibly outcomes for disputing an error will be one of the following:
The credit bureau will also furnish a free copy of your report if the disputed items are corrected. Upon your request, the credit bureau must also send correction notices to anyone who received your credit report in the past six months (this extends to two years for anyone who requested your file for employment purposes).
Sometimes, your efforts in fixing a credit report mistake doesn't resolve your dispute. You can then request that the credit bureaus include a summary of any items that you still dispute and an explanation of the reasons why in your credit file.
For more information about credit reports, check out the following articles: