Recent reports by the Federal Trade Commission indicate that one in four Americans have found at least one major error on one of their credit reports. While these errors are fairly common, many don’t know that you have a right to dispute the inaccuracies.
Below, we highlight steps you can take to clear up any inaccuracies that might be present in your credit report.
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Order Your Free Credit Reports
Your credit report contains information about where you live, your bill paying habits, and your criminal record. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you review your credit report periodically, and it’s not hard to see why.
The information these reports contain affect whether or not you qualify for loans, and the interest rates at which you will have to pay back these loans. As such, it’s important that you double check that the information is accurate, complete, and up-to-date before applying for loans for major purchases. It’s also the safest way to ensure that your identity is secure and that nobody has been using your social security number or personal information to make purchases.
Because of the important and sensitive nature of credit reports, an amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that each of the nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) provide a free copy of your credit report at least every 12 months.
To order your free credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Recognize Mistakes on Your Credit Report
If you find that you might have an error on your credit report, you must first contact the credit bureau that is showing inaccurate and erroneous information. Credit bureaus must investigate your claim within 30 days of your dispute, unless they deem the suit to be frivolous.
When disputing information you believe to be inaccurate, you’ll want to include a letter that includes your complete name and address, identify the items in your report that you believe to be inaccurate, clearly explain why you dispute the information, and request a deletion or correction.
Below, we highlight some of the common errors that come up when reviewing your credit file.
Personal Information Errors
Personal information errors can include anything from listing the wrong name, phone number, and address on your report. You might also notice that you have what is known as a “mixed file,” where an account belonging to another person with the same (or similar) name as yours has “mixed” with yours, providing lenders with inaccurate information. You might also look for any inaccuracies resulting from identity theft.
If you’ve recently closed an account, such as a credit card, or completed a loan payment, you’ll want to check to see that those changes have been recorded. You might also be listed as the owner of an account for which you are only an authorized user. There could also be inaccuracies for accounts that are reported as late or delinquent, or include inaccuracies of payment schedules, dates that accounts opened, and the timeline in which payments were made.
Identity Theft and Fraudulent Accounts
When ordering your credit report, it’s essential that you determine whether or not you’ve been the victim of identity theft. If identity thieves have access to your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, and receive medical treatment using your health insurance. They will also be able to file taxes and receive returns, and in the most extreme cases, they could give authorities your name and personal information in the event of an arrest.
The Federal Trade Commission has highlighted a number of ways that you can tell that someone has stolen your identity. Those include:
- Withdrawals from your bank account that you’re unable to explain
- You’re no longer receiving your bills or other mail
- Merchants refuse to serve you on a consistent basis
- You’re receiving calls from debt collectors about debts or purchases that you didn’t make
- You receive payment requests from medical providers for services you didn’t authorize or use
- You’re rejected for medical services because your health record shows you’ve maxed out your benefits
- The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed under your name
- You receive warning that your personal information may have been compromised via data breach
File Your Dispute With the Right Credit Bureau
If you believe you’ve found inaccuracies in your credit report, it’s important that you send the information to the correct credit bureau. You might notice in your yearly credit report that information might be correct at one bureau, but incorrect at others.
Each of the three major credit bureaus have their individual process for handling disputes. If you notice errors in your report, at Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax, visit their respective websites for more information on how to handle your claim. We’ve also provided letter templates you can use to contact the bureaus.
Once this is completed, the credit reporting company will investigate your claim and report back to you.
“Credit reporting companies must investigate the items in question — usually within 30 days — unless they consider your dispute frivolous,” according to the FTC. “They also must forward all the relevant data you provide about the inaccuracy to the organization that provided the information. After the information provider receives notice of a dispute from the credit reporting company, it must investigate, review the relevant information, and report the results back to the credit reporting company. If the information provider finds the disputed information is inaccurate, it must notify all three nationwide credit reporting companies so they can correct the information in your file.”
Follow Up on Your Dispute
Credit reporting agencies, by law, are required to investigate all reports as though they are legitimate claims, according to The Fair Credit Reporting Act. However, many disputes are handled by the automated e-Oscar system, which may be slow to respond if your dispute doesn’t fit neatly into its parameters. If this is the case, it’s best to contact the crediting agency directly, either by phone, web, or mail. Do this only if you have not heard back from the bureau within 30-45 days after the time of your original dispute.
If you’re sending a letter to follow up, be sure to include language that indicates that failure to comply with federal regulations is a serious violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the FTC reviews those violations.
Also be sure to keep and maintain detailed records of all of your correspondences with crediting agencies, should an investigation be warranted.
Review Your Updated Credit Report
Once your investigation is completed, the credit company must give you results of the investigation in writing, and must also include a free copy of your new report if there have been any changes to your credit report. This will not count as your annual free report.
If you have had an item changed, the credit reporting company cannot put the disputed information back into your file unless the provider verifies that the information is indeed accurate.
Consider Working With a Credit Repair Company
Credit repair agencies work with your credit reporters to provide you with a holistic and fair representation of your credit score. Repair agencies will help you to find disputing information, information that is incorrect or out-of-date, or information that is incorrectly reported. In essence, they help guide you through the process of mending your credit score, and help to ensure that information is accurate.
Be cautious when choosing a credit repair company, as there are a number of scams you should be aware of.
As detailed in our credit repair guide, “Companies that offer “new credit identity” or something similar are scams. Your credit score will stay with you no matter what. If someone reaches out to you and says they can give you a fresh score or wipe your history clean, that’s simply not true and likely includes identity theft. In addition, companies that offer overnight fixes to your credit score are scams as well. Improving your credit score takes time and hard work, no one can dramatically improve your score quickly.”
If you’re looking for help throughout the process, however, finding a reputable credit repair company may be a smart route to take.
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