Mistakes on your credit report are terribly common. In a recent study by Consumer Reports who asked volunteers to check their credit reports, 34% found at least one error. And those errors were most often debts wrongly attributed to them, payments wrongly flagged as late or missed, or incorrect personal information (like a wrong address).
Such mistakes can seriously affect your credit score and tarnish your credit report for up to seven years. And a lower credit score can increase the rate you pay for auto insurance, the interest rate on a loan or credit card, and even prevent you from buying a home. As such, it is important to stay on top of your credit report and dispute any errors that could affect your . Here’s how to do it.
Start by reviewing your credit report
To get started, you will need to review yourto detect any errors. There are three major credit bureaus, each with its own report: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. You will need to get a credit report from all three because they all collect information in their own way.
Although the credit bureaus can bill you for a credit report, federal law allows you to get your credit reports for free once a year on annualcreditreport.com. Best of all, temporary changes to federal law allow you to get up to six free credit reports per year through 2026 by visiting the site. Equifax website. And as the pandemic spreads.
To access your reports, make sure you have your Social Security number ready and follow the steps on the website. You can view or download them directly from the site so that you can read them carefully in order to detect errors.
Common mistakes that can impact your credit score
Examining your credit report can help you watch for identity theft and find things that could lower your score. However, all errors on your report. There are some things, like an outdated phone number, that are not worth disputing.
Items that could lower your credit score and that are worth challenging include:
- Credit accounts you don’t recognize
- Incorrect account statuses, such as an invoice flagged as overdue or an account in collection when you have always paid on time
- Derogatory marks more than seven years old
- Addresses you don’t recognize
- A former spouse registered in a current account
- Incorrect credit balances or limits
If you identify any of these errors, disputing them might be the next step in removing them from your report so that you can start to see an increase in your credit score.
Gather the documentation for your dispute
If you find errors on your credit report, the more evidence you have to support it, the better your chances of having the errors rejected. You will need to submit a letter explaining why you think the information in your report is in error and provide evidence. Besides the explanation, you may need to provide a copy of your driver’s license or passport to verify your identity.
File your dispute
Filing a dispute is free and will not damage your score. According to Fair Credit Reports Act, once you have filed a dispute with a credit reporting agency, that agency must update the account to show that it is in dispute. You can see “XB” next to the entry, which indicates that the item is disputed and under investigation. A disputed item cannot adversely affect your credit score while it is under investigation. If it is cleared in your favor, you will see an improvement in your FICO over time. Otherwise, the score will drop back to reflect the negative rating.
When you write a dispute letter to the credit bureau, ask them to correct or remove inaccurate information. Include the following points:
- Credit report identification number
- Your full name
- Date of Birth
- Proof of identity, such as a copy of your driver’s license
- Company name and address for the incorrect item
- A copy of the incorrect item (s) on the report
- Explanation of why the item is incorrect
- A list of additional supporting documents attached
- Copies of supporting documents showing why the item is incorrect, such as a copy of the canceled payment check that shows the date of payment
To dispute an item, follow the steps for the specific credit reporting agency:
- In line: ai.equifax.com/CreditInvestigation
- By telephone: (800) 864-2978
Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, Georgia 30374
- In line: experian.com/disputes/main.html
- By telephone: (888) 397-3742
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, Texas 75013
If there are errors on more than one report, repeat the same process for each credit bureau, asking them to correct or remove the erroneous information.
Contact your account provider
You can also contact the account provider, such as the credit card company, lender, or utility company, who initiated the negative or incorrect mark on your credit report. Notifying it of the dispute can help the process move faster, especially if the item is incorrect. It’s best to put everything in writing so you can track your efforts. Refer to this letter model as an example of what to write.
How long does the dispute process take?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit bureaus to investigate and resolve a dispute within 30 days, although some investigations can take up to 45 days. Filing a report online is the fastest way to initiate litigation.
Review of your dispute resolution
Once the investigation is complete, you should receive the results in writing. If the office confirms that there was an error in your report, they will delete or correct the information and provide an updated copy of your credit report free of charge.
Beware of credit repair scams
Filing a dispute is not a complicated process. Litigation is free, and credit bureaus must follow strict federal regulations for your protection. However, there are some credit repair companies that prey on people by promising to remove derogatory information and charge hefty fees for doing so. These companies have no more power to make changes to your credit report than you could, for free.
That said, if you’d rather hire a credit repair company to handle disputes on your behalf, we recommend that you check the company carefully before paying them a dime.
What if a score on my credit report is negative but correct?
If a mark on your credit report is correct, a credit bureau cannot remove it. You can try to contact the company that issued it, ask them to remove the mark as a courtesy. For example, if you’ve made a late payment and have years of on-time payments, a credit card company might be willing to ignore this error. However, companies are not obligated to suppress factual information.
How long will a derogatory note stay on my credit report?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits derogatory scores on your credit report to seven years. If there are any marks on your credit report that are more than seven years old, you can dispute them to have them removed.
Are Litigation Affecting My Credit Rating?
Disputes don’t hurt your credit score. In fact, they can improve it temporarily, as the Fair Credit Reporting Act states that the items under investigation cannot harm your credit. However, if the disputed item is correct, you will likely see a drop when the negative item is reflected again.