How to Dispute a Credit Report Error

Because your credit report contains information that is reported about you, mistakes are made. However, if someone looks at your credit report, he or she assumes that what it contains is accurate, whether it is a potential employer, or an insurance underwriter trying to figure out what premium you should be charged. And, of course, errors in your credit report can result in you being turned down for a loan, or paying a higher interest rate.

It is a good idea to check for errors on your credit report and, if you find them, properly dispute them. It’s up to you to be vigilant and make sure that the information reported about you is accurate.

Obtaining a Copy of Your Credit Report

There are three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. You should make the effort to check the information on each of these reports. Some information may not be reported to each credit bureau. Additionally, there might be a mistake on one report that does not appear on the other two reports. You should go through each of your reports and look for errors.

You can obtain a copy of your credit report in a number of ways. Once a year, you can look at your report from each of the bureaus. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com for more information on how you can get one free report every 12 months from each of the three major bureaus. You must go to this official web site if you want to get your free credit report. You will need to provide your name and Social Security number, as well as answer questions about your identity for security purposes, before you can see your credit report.

If you are turned down for credit, or for a job, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from the company who supplied the information that was used to decline your application. You must request your free copy in writing, though, and do it within 60 days of your rejection.

If you have already seen your free credit report, and you haven’t been turned down for credit or a job, you can purchase a copy of each credit report from the bureaus. Visit each bureau’s web site to purchase a copy of your report:

It is also possible to get what is known as a 3-in-1 report from any one of the bureaus, or from www.myFICO.com. A 3-in-1 report is a credit report that contains the information from all three major credit bureaus. This adds an element of convenience, since you can pay one price, at one web site, and look at all three of your credit reports. Note that the 3-in-1 option is not available from annualcreditreport.com, nor can you get it if you are receiving a free report because of a rejection.

What Information to Look For

Once you have a copy of your credit report, it’s time to look for problems that need to be corrected. Some common mistakes to look for on your credit report include:

  • Incorrectly reported payment history: Your credit report may record you as paying late, or as missing a payment, even though you didn’t. If you have paid on time, and your account statements show it, you can dispute this information.
  • Who closed the account: It looks negative when a creditor closes your account. You are shown in a better light if you are the one who closed the account. If your credit report shows that the creditor closed it when you did, it’s worth it to dispute the information so that it is changed.
  • Duplicate accounts: In some cases, an account might be listed twice. If a credit card account, or a student loan account, is listed twice, it can make it look like you have more debt than you do. Lenders looking at your debt-to-income ratio might decide to penalize you if it looks higher than it is. You should have duplicate accounts removed from your credit report.
  • Not reporting credit limits: In some cases, if there is no credit limit reported for your credit card, it can be difficult to determine your credit utilization. If you have a low amount of debt on your credit card, and that isn’t reflected relative to a higher limit, you might want have that information added to the account.
  • Failure to remove old items: Most of the time, your payment history is recorded for three to five years on an account. Old loan accounts you paid off will still appear, and foreclosures can remain on your account for up to seven years, and bankruptcies for up to 10. If negative items are still being reported past time, you can dispute items to have them removed.
  • Erroneous information: Sometimes, public information about someone with a similar name might appear on your credit report. Dispute information that appears on your credit report, but that doesn’t actually pertain to you.
  • Fraudulent Accounts. If there is an account that you don’t recognize, it could be an indication that someone has opened an account in your name. If this is the case, you need to contact the credit bureau immediately, as well as contact the lender by phone. Have a fraud alert placed on your credit report, and notify law enforcement authorities.

Because credit bureaus are required to be as accurate as possible, it is possible for you to dispute errors on your credit report to have them corrected. Unless you are dealing with a fraudulent account, you should follow the normal dispute process.

How to Dispute an Error on Your Credit Report

By law, credit bureaus are required to investigate disputes you submit about the information in your report – unless it is an obviously frivolous dispute. Credit bureaus are required to investigate the matter within 30 days, and make corrections in a timely manner. It is up to the credit bureau to contact whoever reported the information, and then make sure your report is accurate. However, you can speed up the process by contacting the reporting organization as well as the credit bureau.

Here are the steps you should take when disputing an error on your credit report:

  1. Gather your evidence: Once you spot the error on your credit report, you need to gather your evidence. Look for documentation of the error. If you made a payment on time, but your report shows that you were late, look for the credit statement showing your on-time payment. If you don’t have evidence, you can ask for copies of recent statements (many companies keep them on file online for at least a year). You can also use your own bank statement, showing when payments were taken from your account, to help bolster your case, or obtain a copy of the canceled check. You can keep a record of transaction numbers for online payments in a password-protected file on your computer so that you have a reference point. It’s a good idea to keep that information somewhere you can access it – just in case.
  2. Make copies: After you have gathered your evidence, make copies. You should never send originals; you should keep the originals in a safe place. You can also make a copy of your credit report, and then highlight or circle the items that you are disputing. This will make them easier to identify.
  3. Write a dispute letter: Your next step is to compose a dispute letter to the credit bureau. Make sure that you include your full name and address, as well as the date. Your letter should clearly state the reason you dispute the information, and what action you want taken. You will need to name the source of the information as well. If your problem is a duplicate account, you need to say that, and then ask that the duplicate account be removed from your report. Also, indicate what documentation you are enclosing with the letter.
  4. Mail the letter: After you have written the dispute letter, put it in an envelope with the appropriate copies of your supporting documents. The letter should be addressed to the credit bureau reporting the inaccurate information. If information is incorrect at two bureaus, you’ll have to mail two separate packets. Your best option is to send it certified mail with return receipt. You will get a receipt verifying the date the credit bureau received your request. You can write to the bureaus at:
    1. Experian: P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013
    2. Equifax: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA, 30374
    3. TransUnion: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA, 19022
    4. Contact the reporting organization: If you want to speed things up a bit, you can call the creditor or other organization that reported the information on the credit report and let them know what you are disputing. Follow up in writing with a dispute letter and copies of supporting documents. (Send these by certified mail, too.)
    5. Follow up: You should receive notification of the outcome of the investigation when it is completed. If you are right, your credit report will be updated. You might want to check 30 to 60 days after you receive the results of the investigation to make sure that your credit report has been properly amended. If you are not happy with the outcome of the investigation, you can appeal the decision.

You also have the right to write a statement that will be noted on your credit report. You can explain your side of the story, and you can also include a copy of your dispute letter in the statement so that those checking your credit report will see that you believe some of the information being reported is inaccurate.

What If a Negative Item is Accurate?

Realize that just because you dispute something, it doesn’t mean it will be changed on your credit repot. Indeed, if you know the information is accurate, you shouldn’t dispute it. Accurate information can only be removed by the passage of time. The best way to counteract accurate negative information is to engage in better habits so that you can overwhelm the negative item with multiple positive items. After a while, if you consistently make payments on time, the one late payment you had will no longer count for as much. If you can show positive financial behavior in your credit report for three years after a foreclosure, your credit will begin to recover, and those looking at your report will see that you are making progress.

You want your credit report to accurately reflect you. Dispute items that are inaccurate, but only improved habits will help you overcome accurate negative items in your report.