When was the last time you took a look at your credit report? Your credit report is an account of your personal financial habits. The better your credit score is, the more financial flexibility and options you will have. The problem is, your credit report might not be a good representation of your financial situation if it has any mistakes that could negatively impact your financial future.
This is the case for 5% of all consumers, according to a Federal Trade Commission study; if you are among those affected, you must not ignore the matter. Some credit report mistakes are harmless, but many can negatively impact your credit. Getting mistakes corrected should be a priority — especially if you are planning on using your credit to get a loan in the near future and need to raise your score fast.
Disputing credit report mistakes can quickly improve your score; however, if your score is lower because of your own mistakes or bad habits, and not because of reporting errors, you may need a more comprehensive plan to repair your credit. Either way, a review of your credit reports is relatively fast and easy to get started on your own and see whether reporting mistakes are weighing down your score.
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How to Investigate for Credit Report Mistakes
If your credit score seems a bit lower than it should be, you should investigate by getting up-to-date credit reports from the three different bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. That way, you can find any inconsistencies or mistakes that could be behind a lower credit score.
One convenient way to request all of your credit reports for free is through AnnualCreditReport.com. By law, you can get one copy per year of your credit report from each bureau for free. If you want additional credit reports, you will have to pay a fee each time you request it from each bureau.
Identifying mistakes requires having a strong understanding of your current financial situation. You need to know all of the lines of credit you have open and closed, what debts you are currently paying off, and all the bills you pay on a regular basis. Further, because all three credit bureaus get their information in different ways, you’ll need to review all three for any potential errors.
Before delving into your credit report, have all of this information ready, including any payment histories, receipts, and notices from each organization you make payments to. With this, you can compare your records with your credit report.
There are some basics to reading your credit report. The first time you go through it, look for common reporting mistakes. These can include multiple listings for a single action, listings that belong to a different person with the same name as you, and just general errors in the report (such as typos or outdated info).
Create a comprehensive list of mistakes as you find them, and include details on the nature of the inaccuracy. Some might include the wrong amount due for a credit card or charges that you didn’t make at all. Being extremely detailed in this process makes your life much easier when you reach out to the bureaus to get the mistakes removed.
Fixing Mistakes on Your Credit Report
Once you have identified all of the mistakes on your credit report, it’s time to go about fixing them. Prioritize the most recent ones, as they’ll have the largest impact on your score. Older errors on a credit report are slightly less important, as they often aren’t weighed as heavily. If you do have mistakes that are close to seven years old, don’t bother with them, as they will drop off on their own at the seven-year mark.
When you file a dispute, the credit bureau will launch an investigation to try and find out the veracity of your dispute. You will have to include details regarding what is inaccurate, why it is inaccurate, and the account number listed on the credit report. You may need to supply additional documentation to support your case, such as statements from lenders and creditors, copies of sent checks, bank statements, or court documents.
Some scenarios will require paperwork — a police report or an FTC Identity Theft Report — such as if the mistakes on your report stem from a stolen identity. In some situations, if you don’t provide the correct information, the dispute will be rejected, forcing you to start over.
With that in mind, as well as a copy of your credit report in hand, you’re ready to file your dispute. Review your options for filing a dispute here.
How to File a Credit Report Dispute Online
The easiest way to dispute mistakes on your credit report is to use each credit bureau’s online dispute system. You can find these below:
- Equifax Disputes;
- Experian Disputes;
- TransUnion Disputes.
How to File a Credit Report Dispute By Mail
If you’d like to mail a dispute form instead of using the online dispute systems discussed above, use the following forms and contact information:
- Equifax – Research Request Form
Send this form to:
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013.
- Experian – Dispute Form
Send this form to:
Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30348.
- TransUnion – Request for Investigation
Send this form to:
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000.
How to File a Credit Report Dispute By Phone
Alternatively, you may also file a dispute over the phone. The phone numbers for the bureaus are:
- Equifax: (800) 685-1111 (ext. 4);
- Experian: (888) 397-3742;
- TransUnion: (800) 916-8800 (ext. 2).
How Long Does It Take to Fix a Credit Report Mistake?
You can complete the steps outlined in just a day if you have the necessary documentation on hand. However, there is still a necessary wait while your dispute is being processed.
It takes about 30 days to hear back from a credit bureau about a dispute. During this time, the credit bureau will reach out to the financial institutions or other companies believed to be the source of the mistake and ask for more information about the apparent error. Then, that information will be looked over closely for errors by both the bureau and the source in question.
If the source doesn’t respond within 30 days or is unable to produce information proving that the dispute isn’t a mistake, then the listing will be dropped from your credit report. If there is some truth to the listing, but it was listed inaccurately, the listing will be updated to more accurately reflect the truth.
If your dispute is rejected, it’s not a done deal; you can continue to dispute mistakes, but try to come more prepared in the future. A dispute can be rejected if you didn’t provide enough detail about the mistake or if you failed to send the correct documents to back up your case.
Confirming the Mistake Has Been Fixed
It’s a good idea after a dispute is settled to reach out to the information sources — all of your lenders and creditors — and try to fix any mistakes. They might still have incorrect information in their records, even after a dispute investigation. This could lead to them continuing to send the wrong info to credit bureaus.
By reaching out and correcting the information source, you can prevent additional mistakes (as well as future headaches) and ensure the boost to your score doesn’t disappear in a month.
If a lot of mistakes have been removed from your credit report, monitor your credit score. If it doesn’t increase, it might be worth getting an updated credit report from each bureau you had disputes with. With an up-to-date report, you can make sure more mistakes aren’t present on your credit report.
Fixing reporting mistakes on your own isn’t always easy, but it is one of the fastest ways to improve your score. Get started now to begin repairing your credit and open new doors going forward.
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