As the economic crisis unfolded in the last few years, many people began paying closer attention to their finances, and in conjunction with that, started to look more closely at their credit report. Now, with the increased awareness of identity theft and with student loan debt reaching its own crisis status, the need for consumers to regularly review their credit report is greater than ever.
One of the unfortunate truths many people are coming to realize is that there are quite frequently inaccuracies in the information contained within the consumer credit reports that the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) generate. “We just report, you are responsible for the accuracy,” is the common refrain of these companies.
The question then is, how do you dispute errors and make corrections on your credit report? Fortunately, the answer is not complicated, and with some patience and discipline you can fix mistakes on your credit report without too much difficulty.
Start With Your Report
The first thing you need to do is order a credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies. By law, the agencies are required to furnish you one credit report free of charge per year. Other circumstances also allow you to get free credit reports, such as being on public assistance, being denied credit based on information in your report, or being the victim of identity theft. In these cases you can obtain a free credit report from all three credit bureaus.
Document, Document, Document
Once you receive your report, go over it with a fine-tooth comb. Make note of every single mistake, including typos or misspellings. Draft a letter to the credit bureau that generated the report and explain the error(s). Then, send your letter by certified mail with return request. This will notify you when your letter was received and start the clock.
By law, the credit reporting agency must initiate an investigation based on your letter and determine your complaint’s legitimacy. If the agency determines your claim is frivolous, it will disregard your claim and nothing happens. If your claim has merit, the agency has 30 days to respond and act.
Because of the timelines involved, it is vitally important you keep meticulous records of your interaction with a credit reporting agency. Include the name of the credit bureau representative you spoke with, the date and time of day you spoke with them, and write as detailed a recollection of the conversation as possible.
Once the agency concludes its investigation, it is legally obligated to provide another credit report to you. As you did with the original credit report that sparked the dispute, inspect your new credit report with an attention to detail, making note of any new mistakes or uncorrected old mistakes.
If the agency made the proper corrections then you have won a hard-earned battle and you can afford to engage in a bit of self-congratulation. If, on the other hand, the agency did not make the requested corrections, then you are back to the letter-writing stage and starting with a new timeline; it is precisely because this scenario is possible that it is imperative you document every single interaction with a credit bureau during a dispute process.
Thankfully, the process involved in disputing credit report errors and making corrections to your report is not a very difficult one. By maintaining a fierce attention to detail and documenting everything that transpires during the dispute process, you can ultimately prevail and have credit report mistakes removed, allowing you to improve the health of your credit score.