A study done by the Federal Trade Commission found that one in every three credit users had an error in at least one of their credit reports. Those errors can do serious damage to your credit score. They could lead to getting less than optimal terms on a loan or credit card or even getting turned down for credit that you need. You could even run into trouble when hunting for an apartment: landlords check credit scores.
To get any error removed from your credit report you will have to do it on your own. The credit bureaus will not do it themselves.
👉 Credit report errors can come from many sources:
- Some are simple mistakes. A coding error can cause an account with a similar name or Social Security number to end up in your file.
- Some mistakes turn into a “mixed credit file”, in which two or more people have their records combined.
- Some errors even come from malicious identity theft.
Whatever the source of errors on your credit report, the solution is the same. You need to get your credit report, find the errors, and learn how to dispute a credit report entry.
Read on to learn more about the typical errors you’re likely to find in your credit report and how to get them removed.
What Can You Do to Dispute a Credit Report Entry?
Finding and disputing an erroneous credit report entry requires a sequence of steps.
1. Get Your Credit Report
You have three credit reports that you need to worry about, one from each of the three major credit reporting companies: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Each is obligated to provide you with one free credit report every year, which you can request through AnnualCreditReport.com. For more information, read our step-by-step guide to getting your free credit report.
Many people spread their requests out, checking one credit report every four months. If you find an error on your credit report or if you have reason to believe there might be an error on your credit report (like a sudden unexplained drop in your credit score) you may want to request them all at the same time.
☝️ Remember that your credit reports will not be identical. Not all creditors report their data to all three credit reporting companies. It is normal to have some differences.
If you have an “adverse action” taken against you because of your credit score, you can request a free credit report within the next 60 days. That report is not included in your three free annual credit reports. An adverse action may be a denial of an application credit, employment, or insurance, or any other action taken based on your credit score. All three credit reporting companies have web pages for requesting a report based on an adverse action.
💡 Did you know that only 33% of Americans checked their credit reports each year?
📘 Read our full guide on free credit reports for more information on how and where you can get them.
2. Look For Mistakes
Once you have your credit reports you’ll need to check them for errors. A credit report can look complicated and intimidating. If you’re not used to reading them, start by reading our guide to understanding your credit report.
There are a number of possible mistakes that you’re looking for. These are some of the most common.
- Wrong account balance and/or credit limit.
- Incorrect personal details such as Social Security number, phone number, and date of birth.
- Credit card or loan accounts that aren’t yours.
- The same debt listed more than once.
- Identical accounts appearing several times with different creditors.
- Timely payments that are incorrectly reported as late.
- Closed accounts being reported as open, or the opposite.
- Presence of accounts more than seven years old.
- Hard inquiries that you did not authorize.
You should recognize and clearly understand every entry on your credit report. If you don’t, there is a problem. The details of each entry should conform to your records.
☝️ Note that some businesses may do business and report under different names. If you applied for financing at an auto dealer, for example, the dealer may shop for loans from several sources, which could produce hard inquiries you don’t recognize. If you see an accurate report but don’t recognize the name of the creditor you should check it, but recognize that it may not be an error.
3. Dispute the Entry
Once you identify an error on your credit report, you’ll need to address the problem with a dispute letter. Each credit bureau has its own set of instructions for disputing an error. To kickstart the dispute process, use the following contact information for each of the three credit reporting bureaus:
|Online||How to Dispute||Dispute Online||Start Dispute|
|Equifax PO Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30374-0256||Experian PO Box 4500 Allen, TX 75013||TransUnion LLC Consumer Dispute Center PO Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016|
Refer to the credit report as your supporting documentation and attach it along with a letter identifying the information you wish to dispute. Indicate your personal information, the account number, alongside the reasons why you believe the report has errors. Highlight each item on your report that you believe to be inaccurate. Include copies of any documents that support your claim.
A credit report dispute guide from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stresses the need to attach a document that would verify your address, such as a copy of your utility bill or bank statement. You also need to attach a copy of your government-issued identification card (think driver’s license or state ID card). You can use our sample dispute letter to address the discrepancies in your credit report. Make sure to cross-check the details in your dispute letter before submitting it for review.
Your credit report will contain specific instructions for filing a dispute.
You may see claims online about special letter templates that guarantee success. Some people claim that if you cite certain legal precedents or threaten to complain to the CFPB your chances of success will rise.
This is not the case.
No human being will ever read your letter. It will be scanned by a system called e-OSCAR (Online System for Complete and Accurate Reporting) and a complaint code will be generated and sent to whoever furnished the information in the first place. It is up to the information furnished to verify the information.
You want to keep your letter short and direct and make your complaint clear and specific. If the letter is complex or long the system may misread it, generate the wrong code, and slow the process down.
4. Wait For a Response
The credit bureau will notify you via email once the dispute is placed on file. The credit reporting company is required to investigate your claim within 30 days and submit its findings in writing. It must report the results within 5 days after concluding its investigations.
If there’s no solid proof to support the dispute, then the credit bureau won’t remove the reported errors. Either the credit bureau or the furnisher of the report can dismiss the claim if you’ve handed over limited information to support the dispute, or if you challenge the same entries several times without a positive outcome.
5. Review the Outcome
Once the credit reporting company carries out its investigations, they’ll furnish you with the results in writing. If the dispute is valid, you’ll have access to a free copy of your new report with updates on the entries that had errors. Unless the entity providing information verifies the authenticity and accuracy of the disputed errors, the credit reporting company will discard the entries and they’ll no longer affect your credit score.
For more transparency, the credit reporting bureau will send you a written update of the findings by the information provider including their name, phone number, and address. If the credit reporting agency shared your credit data within the past six months, then they’ll need to send a reconciled copy to any lending entity that got hold of it. They also need to amend any credit report shared with an employer during the past two years.
6. Confirm Any Updates on Your Credit Report
It may take a while for changes to appear on all your credit reports. For the most part, the timeline will depend on the criteria being used by the credit bureau and data furnisher to update the disputed entries. It might take as many as a few months.
Here’s a brief outline of the possible outcomes after disputing a credit report entry:
- An entry can be added to your credit report.
- The disputed entry will be deleted from your credit report if found to hold any merits.
- No updates will be made if the entry is proved to be accurate by the company furnishing the credit reporting agency with information.
- Personal information such as home address will be updated.
Your credit score could go up, go down, or remain the same, depending on the type of credit report entry you’re disputing. Changes made to personal information or the criteria for credit tracking, for example, will not have a significant impact on your credit score.
What if It’s Identity Theft?
Many credit report errors are just that: mistakes due to clerical error. There is no malice behind these errors. Some errors may also be early signs of identity theft. Pay particular attention to these:
- Personal information errors, like your name attached to an inaccurate address or phone number.
- Accounts you don’t recognize. Somebody could have opened an account in your name.
- Hard inquiries that you didn’t authorize. Someone could be shopping for credit in your name.
If there is any sign that could indicate identity theft, take it seriously. You may wish to place a fraud alert on your credit report or take other steps. Read up on the signs of identity theft and what to do if you suspect that you may be a victim of identity theft. Always track down any suspicious entry on your credit report and make sure you get a clear and acceptable answer.
What If I’m Not Satisfied with the Outcome?
If you have reasons to believe the decision by the credit reporting company is biased, you can escalate the dispute by filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. After contacting the credit reporting agency, the CFPB will give you a response within 15 days. Even though you might not be satisfied with the final decision after the CFPB intervenes, there are no legal means to remove an entry on your credit report that has been verified to be accurate.
Disputing an inaccurate entry on your credit report can give a quick boost to your credit score. Disputing an accurate report is generally a waste of time.
⚠️ Anyone who claims to be able to remove an accurate entry from your credit report is almost certainly a scammer. Don’t fall for it, no matter how badly you want to boost your credit score.
Learning how to spot credit repair scams will help you avoid getting ripped off. It’s far more rewarding to understand how to build credit than to fall victim to ineffective credit repair schemes promoted by scammers.