An estimated 5% of Americans have errors on their credit reports that can result in adverse loan terms, according to the Federal Trade Commission. But you’re not at the mercy of the credit bureaus if you’re among that minority.
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Last Week Tonight host John Oliver recently did a bit on Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — the three bigs in the credit reporting world. We can all laugh at the moment when he called your credit reports ‘the basis for the single most important three digit number in your whole life other than 311, the Beatles of rap-rock.’
But while the joke may be funny, the implication of this whole discussion is no laughing matter. The reality is that a mistake on your credit report could mean denial of job offers, higher interest rates on loans, higher insurance rates or outright denials for credit.
Fortunately, if you find a legitimate error on your credit report, disputing it can be done — even if it is not necessarily an easy process.
First things first: Check your credit at this free legitimate site
Thanks to the passage of the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA), all Americans are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies upon request every 12 months.
But there are a lot of pitfalls out there when it comes to getting your free credit report. Forget about FreeCreditReport.com. They may have cute TV commercials, but AnnualCreditReport.com is the only legit and official site to get free access to your credit reports once a year.
If you find something wrong on them, that’s when you’ve got to spring into action…
Here are 9 tips to keep in mind as you go through the dispute process
- File your dispute at the same time with both the credit issuer and the credit bureau.
- Do not use the automated system to dispute. Always use the manual form.
- Equifax’s manual form is available here. TransUnion’s manual form is available here. Experian’s manual form is available here.
- Send all documents by certified mail, return receipt requested.
- If the problem is not fixed, re-dispute it with the bureau and the credit issuer.
- If that fails, you must sue both the credit issuer and the credit bureau in small claims court. Talk to a clerk of court for guidance on the process. You do not need a lawyer to do this.
- Find out where the registered agent of the credit issuer and the credit bureau is in the state by calling your state’s corporation commission. Then serve them with the suit.
- Know that most of the time, the offenders will usually cave before the court date and remove the black mark from your report.
- If all else fails, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for help.
This requires persistence and guerrilla tactics on your part. And it’s important to note that you must use the manual dispute form. Because you can send all the supporting documents in the world and the credit bureau won’t pass them on when they get in touch with the credit issuer. They simply send a three-digit code that describes the nature of your dispute to the issuer.