What should I do if I see an error on my credit report?
If you are rebuilding or closely monitoring your credit, the odds are good that you will, at some point, find a mistake on your credit report. Believe it or not, errors on credit reports are not all that uncommon, and it’s one of the main reasons everyone should review the reports generated by each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at least once a year.
The most common errors to watch for include:
- Account-related errors, such as late payments that are more than seven years old, credit card accounts that don’t belong to you, or accounts that were closed by you but are instead listed as closed by the provider. (The reason each account was closed affects its impact on your credit score.)
- Derogatory mark errors, such as collection accounts that were paid off still showing up as unpaid with a balance, paid tax liens that are more than seven years old, or accounts that were discharged in bankruptcy still showing up as active accounts with open balances.
- Personal information errors, including the wrong name, addresses you’ve never lived in (or used as a mailing address), or incorrect employment history.
Missing information is not considered an “error,” because all creditors are not required to report to all three bureaus every time there is a change. And when they do, new or updated information can take a few weeks to appear or be corrected as it is processed through the bureau’s systems. However, if you do find what you believe to be an actual error, there are a few steps you should be taking.
1. Notify the Bureau, in Writing, About the Error.
This is known as a “dispute letter,” and you’ll need to send one to each of the bureaus where you find an error — even if the same error appears in all three, you have to notify all three individually. Clearly identify the error and say why you believe the information is incorrect. If you have any supporting documentation, include a copy, but keep the originals.
While this step isn’t required, it can be helpful to include a copy of your credit report as well, with the disputed items circled or highlighted.
Finally, when you mail your dispute letters, make sure you are sending them via certified mail with return receipt requested so you will be notified when each bureau receives the documentation. This will give you documented proof that you sent it — and they received it — should any questions arise.
2. Notify the Provider, Also in Writing, About the Dispute.
When notifying your creditors, you will want to include much of the same information you send to the credit bureaus. In many cases, the bureaus will notify the providers as well, since they are also required, by law, to review the information. And if they find the error was on their end, they are required to send updated information to all three credit bureaus.
It works both ways. If you reach out to the provider first, they are required to notify the bureaus that there is a dispute and they are investigating it. However, it is still better to reach out to both of them yourself, to ensure you have covered every base, rather than rely on the sometimes-imperfect system to do it for you.
When sending your dispute letter to the provider, you’ll again want to use certified mail with return receipt. If the provider has an address listed on your credit report along with the item in question, send it there. If no address is listed, contact them directly and ask where dispute claims should be mailed. If you can’t get ahold of them, or they refuse to provide one, you can send it to any business address listed for that provider.
The Review and Correction Process
It can take up to 30 days for a dispute to work its way through the system, since both the provider and the bureaus need to examine the evidence you provide, and do their own investigation as to the veracity of your claims. Once the investigation is complete, the bureaus are required to send you the results of your claim in writing, and provide you with a new copy of your credit report updated to reflect any changes made as a result of the dispute.
This report does not count against your one free annual copy. It is important to note that, once an item has been changed or deleted, the provider is not allowed to put the information back into your file without proving it is accurate and correct.
Once you have successfully disputed an incorrect item, you can ask the credit bureau to send a “notice of correction” to anyone who had received a copy of your credit report in the past six months. If you had credit reports pulled for employment purposes, you can also have them resend a copy to whichever employers or prospective employers pulled it in the past two years.
If the dispute is not concluded in your favor, and the credit bureau determines that, for whatever reason, the error should remain on your credit report, you can request that a statement of dispute be included in your file and sent with any future reports.
A few additional things to keep in mind:
- Many of the online credit monitoring sites now also offer dispute-resolution services. It might just be copies of form letters you can fill out, but in some instances, it could be more robust assistance with proving your case.
- All three bureaus have online dispute forms you can use to report errors in lieu of sending in a written request. And while this is a great tool for smaller errors that aren’t causing any major problems, if you notice something big — such as a bankruptcy you never filed or thousands of dollars in unpaid bills you never charged — you’ll still want to go the traditional route.
- It doesn’t hurt to try calling your provider before going through the entire dispute process. If you have documentation that proves a charge was incorrect — plane tickets showing you were in another city, for example, or documentation proving you had your identity stolen when the charge was made — try calling the provider directly to see if they can help clear it up. Just remember, they also get calls from people who are trying to get out of paying legitimate charges, so patience and politeness pays. You might find an advocate willing to fix the errors and send corrections to the bureaus without needing to use the formal process.
- Don’t wait to file a dispute. Review your reports as soon as you get them, and if you find an error, begin the dispute process right away.
Correcting problems on your credit report is never a fun process, and depending on the severity of the problem, it can be a stressful endeavor. But since credit reports and the scores they generate have become so crucial for everything from auto loans to employment, it is worth taking the time to ensure yours is accurate and correct.
Have you successfully (or unsuccessfully) navigated the dispute process? Do you have any advice we may have missed? Click the links below to share your story!