Everyone makes mistakes. Some are insignificant, while others can be costly. Mistakes on your credit report fall firmly into the latter category. These inaccuracies can make it difficult for you to get a loan, an apartment and even a job. This is why it is important to review your credit history carefully each year.
After all, disputing errors on your credit report can only be accomplished once you’ve found them.
Acquiring Your Report
Federal law mandates your entitlement to a free copy of your credit report each year. To facilitate this, they have authorized AnnualCreditReport.com to provide them, based upon information gathered by Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — the big three credit reporting agencies.
You can get it online using the link above. You can also phone in a request at 1-877-322-8228. Or, you can complete the site’s Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
This is the only copy of your credit report you should trust. Don’t bother getting one from anywhere else.
Reviewing Your Report
The first thing you want to do is ensure you are, in fact, looking at your report. Check the name for spelling errors, verify the Social Security number and review the current and past addresses to be certain they match your personal information.
Next, you want to look at all of the accounts listed and confirm they are yours and have the activation status you expect. If you closed an account years ago and it’s showing as active, look into it. If there are accounts you don’t recognize, dispute them. You also want to look for outdated information, and any delinquencies you’ve addressed listed as unresolved.
If bad debts over seven years old, or bankruptcies more than 10 years old are found, go directly to the reporting agencies, do not contact the creditors. In the case of an old bad debt, you could inadvertently reset the clock on it, allowing them to legally come after you for repayment.
Should you find other types of information in need of correction, your first step should be to contact the associated creditor directly to report the issue. You’ll need to contact them in writing at the address they provided for problem resolution. Do not submit an online request or a phone request.
If your dispute isn’t on paper, it doesn’t exist.
If no address is listed, contact the lender and ask for the correct address to send your letter. If they won’t offer it, use any business address you can find for that creditor — such as the one at which they receive payments.
Send the letter by certified mail with return receipt requested and keep the receipt when it arrives. In the letter, explain your concern and request removal or correction. Send copies of statements from the creditor showing the debt paid or closed if that’s the issue. Provide copies of other substantiating documentation as appropriate to the situation. Include a copy of your credit report with the error highlighted and keep copies of everything you send.
The Investigation Process
It generally takes no more than 30 days for your request to be reviewed and processed. If the finding is in your favor — great — you’re almost done. Confirm they also contacted the credit reporting agencies and cleared the mistake. If all goes well, you should receive a new copy of your credit report showing the error cleared.
If it doesn’t, you’ll need to escalate your claim to the credit-reporting agencies directly. Provide them with the same information you sent to the creditor in question. They will then contact the creditor for an explanation. If the finding is in your favor, the creditor must notify the big three so they can correct the information. Once they’ve done so, you can have the agencies send amended copies of your report to everyone who filed an inquiry in the past six months. In the case of employment reviews, you can have them go back two years.
If the finding goes against you, request a statement of dispute be added to the entry on your report. You can also ask the credit agencies to provide your statement of dispute to anyone who has received a copy of your report in the recent past.
If the entry turns out to be accurate and you owe more than you can comfortably repay, working with a company like Freedom Debt Relief can help you find the best resolution strategy for your situation.
Again though, everybody makes mistakes, so don’t assume an inaccuracy was made with malicious intent. Disputing errors on your credit report in this fashion will usually achieve the desired result.