Your credit report — and corresponding credit score — is a vital part of your financial health. Using credit responsibly means you can get loans at the best possible rates. But what if there is a negative mark on your credit report that was placed there in error, through no fault of your own?
Money expert Clark Howard says that it’s up to you to make sure your credit report is accurate. The credit bureaus sometimes make mistakes, as do companies that report your activity to the bureaus.
In this article, we’ll show you how to ensure there are no errors on your credit report and what steps you need to take to correct them if there are.
5 Steps to Dispute an Error on Your Credit Report
Errors on credit reports are a top source of consumer complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) every year, according to their Consumer Complaint Database. In order to protect yourself from being the victim of one of those errors, here’s what you need to do.
1. Check Your Credit Report at Least Once a Year
You can’t find errors on your credit report if you don’t review it regularly. You may be alerted that there’s something amiss with your report if you monitor your credit score and see a sudden drop. In order to figure out what’s going on, however, you’ll need to get copies of your actual reports from all three major credit bureaus:
Comb through all of your reports looking for mentions of any accounts that you haven’t opened and any negative remarks on accounts you do have, but should be in good standing. If you spot anything that looks suspicious or out of place, you’ll want to move on to the next step.
2. If You Find an Error, Contact the Business That Reported It
The next thing you’ll want to do if you spot something questionable or an outright error on your report is to contact the reporting entity involved. This could be a credit card company, the lender for your house or car note, or even a landlord. It may just be a simple misunderstanding, in which case it should be relatively easy to clear up.
However, no matter what caused the error or how significant it is, you’ll want to send an official dispute letter — along with a copy of the credit report itself, making sure you highlight the error — and any documentation you have in your favor to the reporting entity. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the letter should look something like this:
[Your City, State, Zip Code]
[City, State, Zip Code]
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. I have highlighted the items I dispute on the attached copy of the report I received.
This item [identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.] is [inaccurate or incomplete] because [describe what is inaccurate or incomplete and why]. I am requesting that the item be removed [or request another specific change] to correct the information.
Enclosed are copies of [use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation, such as payment records and court documents] supporting my position. Please reinvestigate this [these] matter[s] and [delete or correct] the disputed item[s] as soon as possible.
Enclosures: [List what you are enclosing]
To ensure that the letter makes it to its destination, you should send it by certified mail, return receipt requested.
3. Dispute the Error With the Credit Bureaus
At the same time you contact the entity responsible for the error, you should start the process of having the error removed with the three major credit bureaus. You will need to work in concert with the reporting business and the credit bureaus to ultimately have the error taken off of your report.
You can use the same dispute letter you sent to the reporting entity or, ideally, print off one of the dispute forms in the chart below. You’ll also want to check the instructions from each bureau and including all of the proper documentation with your dispute.
Here’s what you’ll need to dispute the error with the credit bureaus:
|Credit Bureau||Address for Disputes||Link to Instructions/Dispute Form
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
|Equifax||Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
|TransUnion||TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
4. Keep Copies of Everything
This next step is extremely important.
In order to have your dispute resolved, you may be asked at some point to provide proof of the actions you’ve taken. Keep copies of everything you send to both the reporting entity and the credit bureaus.
If you end up corresponding with anyone by phone, get the name and employee number of representative you deal with. If there are emails involved in your dispute, keep them in a folder where you are able to access them easily if you need them.
5. Stay on Top of the Process
Finally, it’s important to understand that getting an error removed from your credit report isn’t an overnight thing, it’s a process that can take weeks or even months. Give it time to play out, but make sure no one is dropping the ball. If you don’t hear anything from anyone for a while, follow up with a phone call or email to see where things stand.
Once Everything is Resolved, Follow Up
When you do get the error removed from your report, your job isn’t finished. There are still a couple of things you need to do:
- Send revised versions of your reports to anyone who has pulled your report while it was inaccurate, if necessary. This is especially important if the error on your report caused you to be declined for a loan or resulted in you being quoted a higher interest rate than you might have gotten with a better credit score.
- Continue to check your reports. You want to ensure the error doesn’t pop up again and that new errors don’t appear. Remember: You want to be checking your credit reports from all three bureaus at least once a year no matter what.
If You Don’t Get Resolution, Escalate
If you can’t get the error on your credit report removed to your satisfaction by following the steps above and you’re sure that it’s there through no fault of your own, you may need to escalate your situation to the CFPB and possibly even your state’s Attorney General.
Having an error on your credit report is no fun and can be damaging to your financial well-being. The good news is that with a little diligence and the right actions, you can likely have the error removed.
Don’t forget to check your credit reports at least yearly for mistakes and if you really want to protect yourself, make sure your credit is frozen with all three bureaus.
If you do need to dispute an error, we’ve created this handy reference with all of the steps.
If you’re feeling stuck and need to talk to someone who can help, contact Clark’s Consumer Action Center — a FREE helpline open Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m.–7 p.m and Friday from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. ET. We have volunteers available to answer YOUR concerns! Call Team Clark @ 404-892-8227.