Like most people, you probably don't think about your credit report until there's a problem. And by then, it can be challenging to get the errors corrected. Your credit report is one of the most important financial records you have, and it affects your ability to get approved for a home loan, a student loan or new credit accounts.
Around 20% of Americans have inaccuracies in their credit information. However, thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act and laws designed to protect consumers, you have the right (and the ability) to dispute these errors. Read on to learn how to dispute your credit report, and get some tips for making the process as smooth as possible.
Table of Contents
- How to dispute your credit report the right way
- Identify errors in your credit report
- Understand how the credit report dispute process works
- Disputing your debt
- Review the results of the investigation
- Check for updates to your credit report
- FAQs on how to dispute credit
How to dispute your credit report the right way
There are many ways to dispute errors on your credit report, but not all of them are effective or even ethical. If you are going to dispute your credit score — that is, without the help of a credit repair company — then you need to know exactly what to do. Here’s a breakdown of the entire process.
Identify errors in your credit report
There are several types of credit report errors. Some of the most common include:
- Incorrect personal information (name, current address, etc.)
- Inaccurate account numbers, histories or balances
- Accounts listed as open that have been closed
- Duplicate accounts
- Incorrect statements
To identify these errors, the first step is to request a copy of your credit report. If you don’t know how to check your credit, you can get started with a copy of the free credit report you’re entitled to annually. Most platforms will walk you through each section so you know what you’re reading and what you should be looking for, which may help if you aren’t quite sure how to read your credit report.
Once you get your credit report, identify any errors you find. You should pay special attention to your demographic details to ensure they are correct. Mistaken identity can be a problem for people with a common first and last name or who share a name with a family member (think Bob Smith Sr. and Bob Smith Jr.) These names could cause others' information to appear on your credit report by mistake.
You should also verify:
- Name changes and aliases
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Current and past home addresses
- Phone numbers
- Current and past employers
After making sure this information is correct, you should check out the financial information on your credit:
- Credit and loan accounts
- Public records such as bankruptcies
- Soft and hard credit inquiries
When checking this information, pay attention to:
- Status (open accounts, closed accounts, charged-off, late payment, missed payment, etc.)
The three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) all have different reporting procedures and rules for accuracy, but the basics are the same when you need to dispute items on your report. It all starts with finding the errors before you can do anything about it. Below, we'll cover what you should do after finding errors on your credit report.
Understand how the credit report dispute process works
Once you've identified errors on your credit report, it's time to start the dispute process. The first step is to contact the credit bureau where the inaccuracies appear. In some cases, only one bureau may have inaccurate information. In others, all three may be reporting the same negative information.
You can send a letter or fill out an online dispute form to contact the bureau. Include all relevant documents supporting your claim and explain why you believe the disputed information is inaccurate. If you're submitting physical documents, use certified mail to ensure the protection of your personal information and sensitive data. You also have the option to request a return receipt, which will provide you with documentation proving that your dispute was received by the bureau.
The credit bureau should then investigate your claim and notify you of the dispute results. If they find that the information is incorrect, they'll remove or update it on your report. You should also receive a copy of an updated credit report reflecting any changes.
It's important to note that some disputes may take longer than others to resolve, and the credit bureaus are not required to remove or update anything that is determined to be correct information.
Keep in mind that disputing information on your credit report can negatively affect your credit score, which can throw a wrench in your gears if you want to open a new line of credit or increase your credit limit with an existing company. If you try to remove a collection account, for example, there’s a chance your report will update to show recent collection activity — and knock your score down even lower. So make sure you weigh all the pros and cons before deciding to dispute an item on your credit report.
Disputing your debt
You can dispute a collection account with one or more credit bureaus by phone, online or by mail. Here’s the contact information you need to do that.
|Mail the dispute form with your dispute letter to:
|Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30348
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Provide all the information required to dispute your credit report
The more information you provide regarding your dispute, the better. You don't want to delay the process by leaving out the information needed to update your credit report.
Write a letter to the credit reporting agencies
When disputing incorrect information on your credit report, it's important to provide all the necessary documentation and information the credit bureau will need to investigate your dispute. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, your dispute letter to the credit bureau should contain the following information:
- Each item in your report you dispute
- Detailed facts regarding those items
- An explanation of why you're disputing the information
- A request that it be removed or updated
- (Optional) An enclosed copy of your credit report with the items in question circled or highlighted
You may also consider including a copy of your identification, proof of address like a utility bill and copies of any relevant documents, such as bills or receipts, to back up your claim about the information being incorrect.
If you need help writing your dispute letters, there are a few consumer advocacy sites that can provide dispute letter templates and details regarding the information you should provide:
File a dispute letter with the furnisher
If the credit bureau doesn't remove or update the information you are disputing, you can file a dispute letter with the furnisher of the information (i.e. the company that reported it, such as lenders and credit card companies). This letter should outline why you believe the information is inaccurate and request corrections to your report.
You should also explain why you are filing the dispute with the data furnisher and include any supporting documents. Once you've sent this letter, the company or creditor has 30 days to investigate your dispute. If it finds that the information is inaccurate, it must inform all three credit bureaus so they can update your report accordingly.
Once you've submitted your dispute to either the credit reporting bureau or the furnisher, there's nothing left to do but wait. The standard response time is about 30 days, but process can sometimes take longer. Even if the dispute doesn't end in your favor, that doesn't mean you'll be stuck with a ding on your credit report forever.
Review the results of the investigation
Once the credit bureau has been informed of your dispute, it will then investigate your claim and notify you of the results. If it finds that the information is incorrect, it will remove or update the information on your report accordingly. You should also receive an updated free copy of your credit report reflecting the changes made.
If a credit reporting bureau or furnisher doesn't respond within the 30 days allotted, the credit bureaus should remove the item from your report. However, if the furnisher responds later with information proving the item's legitimacy, it could be reinserted into your report.
The furnisher is required to alert you of the reinsertion. You can dispute the item again, but you'll likely have to dispute it with a new reason or new information supporting your stance on why it’s incorrect.
Also, keep in mind that many negative items will eventually drop off from your report if they are older than the reporting period. So, if you aren't successful with your disputes, you can rest assured that these items will be removed at some point.
Check for updates to your credit report
It's a good idea to do an independent check of your records to make sure that your information has been updated, even if the credit reporting bureau or furnisher provides you with a copy of your credit report reflecting the changes.
After that, keep checking your credit score on a regular basis. Inaccuracies may re-occur due to errors, identity theft and other misfortunes, but again, you're entitled to one free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You can also sign up for credit monitoring services that allow you access to your credit reports whenever.
Credit report dispute FAQ
Is it worth it to dispute my credit report?
How long does it take to dispute your credit?
Can disputes hurt your credit score?
What happens if my credit report dispute is rejected?
Summary of Money's Guide on how to dispute your credit
Disputing inaccurate information on your credit report is a time-consuming process, but it offers the potential for an improved credit score. By knowing how to remove negative items from your credit report, you can increase your approval odds for accounts that require good credit — whether that’s a new credit card, apartment lease or otherwise.
Make sure to consider all the potential outcomes of the dispute process before getting started. There are no guarantees, and there's a small chance that your credit score could decrease. Your best bet is to develop healthy financial habits, which will ultimately lead to a better credit score.