The Federal Trade Commission estimates that some 5% of Americans have errors on their credit reports that can result in adverse loan terms.
Are you among that unlucky 5%? The good news is you’re not at the mercy of the credit bureaus.
Read more: Your guide to paying off credit card debt
How to fight for your good credit reputation
A mistake on your credit report could mean more than just getting higher interest rates on loans. It could also mean denial of job offers, higher insurance rates and even outright denials for new credit applications.
Fortunately, if you find a legitimate error on your credit report, disputing it can be done — even though it’s not the easiest 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 both the bureau and the credit issuer.
- If that fails, 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. (Do a simple web search of your state’s name plus the keyword “corporation commission” to get started.) Then serve those registered agents with the lawsuit.
- 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 — while they’re still around!
Know what to expect
Small claims court is really best used as a tactic to call the errant party’s bluff and get them to remove the bad mark on your credit. That’s what you really want.
But if you don’t get your desired result once the credit bureau and the credit issuer are served notice of the suit, you want to show up well organized with strong documentation. The burden will be on you to show how you’ve been harmed by the false mark on your credit file, why the person or company is responsible and how much you’re seeking in damages.