Credit reports are extremely important for adults who plan to get a credit card, apply for a job, buy a house, have utilities turned on, or a host of other activities. Each month, your creditors and lenders send details about your account to at least one of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
It’s very common for credit reports to contain errors. Anything from inaccurate late payments to accounts that aren’t yours or maybe even a falsely reported bankruptcy could mistakenly end up on your credit report. Because so many businesses use your credit report to make decisions about you. It’s important that your credit report is accurate.
Federal law gives you the right to an accurate credit report. Credit bureaus aren’t allowed to report anything that’s inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable. Thanks to that provision in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to dispute errors to have them removed from your credit report.
First Check Your Credit Report for Errors
The best way to find credit report errors is to check a copy of your credit report. There are several ways to do this – even for free. First, you can get a free annual credit report from each bureau once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com. Secondly, you’re entitled to a free credit report if you’ve recently been turned down because of your credit report, if you’re unemployed and planning to look for a job soon, you receive welfare or government assistance, or if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Finally, some states have laws entitling you to a free credit report each year in addition to the free credit report you get through other sources.
If you can’t get a free credit report, you can order one through the credit bureaus directly for $10 to $20 depending on the bureau.
You should review all three of your credit reports because they’re not necessarily identical. It can be overwhelming to do this all at once, so you might work on one credit report per month or quarter.
Once you have your credit reports, take some time to look through them and highlight the items to include in your credit report dispute.
Note The Items That Can Be Disputed
Technically, you can dispute anything, but note the credit bureau will do an investigation and only delete items that law requires them to delete. You can dispute credit report items that are inaccurate, incomplete, out of date, or that you believe cannot be verified. Negative items, except bankruptcy, should only appear on your credit report for seven years – bankruptcy can remain for ten. If you have negative entries older than seven years, you can dispute them. Other things you can dispute include:
- Payments reported late that were actually on time
- Accounts that aren’t yours
- Inaccurate credit limit/loan amount or account balance
- Inaccurate creditor
- Inaccurate account status, for example an account status reported as past due when the account is actually current
Decide Which of Three Ways You Want to Make Your Dispute
You can place your credit report dispute online, by mail, or over the phone. To dispute online or by phone, you need to have ordered a copy of your credit report within the past month – you’ll need to provide your credit report number.
While disputing credit report errors online is convenient, there are some drawbacks. When you dispute online, you can only get the results of your dispute online. If you dispute online, you can also check the status of your dispute online by providing your confirmation number, but you can only get the results online, not by mail. And you’ll still have to mail in any documentation or proof that supports your dispute.
Should you decide to dispute your credit report online, here are links to the major credit bureau pages for submitting an online credit report dispute:
Making a credit report dispute by mail takes more time, but gives you the paper trail you’d need if the credit bureau doesn’t respond in a timely manner. Credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate and respond to your credit report dispute, or 45 days if you send additional proof during the investigation period. If they don’t respond in that time frame, you have the right to sue in Federal court for up to $1,000.
When you dispute via mail, you should write a letter explaining the information that should be removed and include the reason that detail is inaccurate. Also include proof of the error if you have it. Send the letter via certified mail with return receipt requested so you have proof of when you made the dispute and when the creditor receives it. Make sure you keep track of the time that’s passed.
Wait for the Credit Bureau Response to Your Credit Report Dispute
The credit bureau may respond to your dispute by immediately deleting the information you’ve disputed. However, they have the right to reinsert previously deleted items if those items are later verified. The credit bureau has to notify you, in writing, that the item has been put back on your credit report.
The credit bureau has 30 days to investigate your dispute and respond to you, in writing, with the results of the investigation. Any data you provided about the inaccuracy of the information will be forwarded to the original information provider. The information provider is then required to investigate and respond back to the credit bureau.
Once the investigation is complete, the credit bureau will provide you with the results, along with a free copy of your credit report if the dispute resulted in a change. You can request that the credit bureau send a correction notice to any company that accessed your credit report within the past six months.
If there is inaccurate information in one credit bureau's version of your credit report, it's likely that the information will be inaccurate on the other two bureaus' reports as well. You should check all three credit reports to be sure that the information in each is complete and accurate.
Types of Proof to Send With Your Credit Report Dispute
You’ll need to submit proof if there’s something wrong with your address, name, date of birth, or your social security number. You can send a copy of your driver’s license, recent billing statement, or your social security card to solve these issues. Proof might also be a cancelled check showing that you paid your bill on time. Or a recent billing statement showing your credit card limit or balance. Make sure you send a copy of the proof and keep the original documents for your files.
If you send the additional proof after you've already sent the dispute, the credit bureau has 45 days, instead of 30, to respond to your dispute.
Hardest Things to Remove From Your Credit Report
Some things are easier to remove from your credit report than others because these items are easier to verify and less likely to be erroneous. Items that are a matter of public record are more difficult to remove. This includes bankruptcy, foreclosure, repossession, lawsuit judgments, and loan default (especially student loan default). Sometimes it’s hard to get these removed even when they’re legitimately inaccurate.
If you have inaccurate public records on your credit report, try to work directly with the court or agency that has the item listed on your credit report. Once they’ve updated their records to show what’s accurate, it will be much easier to work with the credit bureau to clear up your credit report. Creditors and other businesses that report to the credit bureaus have the same obligation to investigate and clear up credit report errors. So, if the credit bureau is being stubborn, go straight to the source and dispute with the creditor.
Make Sure Your Disputes Are Legitimate
Be sure you don’t do anything to make the credit bureaus think your credit report disputes are frivolous. For example, don’t dispute everything on your credit report and definitely don’t send all your disputes at once. If you dispute the same item more than one time, you should give a different reason for each dispute, so the credit bureau won’t think you’re sending duplicates. The credit bureau has the right to deem your disputes frivolous and if that happens, the bureau also has the right to reject your dispute.
Sample Phrasing for a Dispute Letter
Here are a few different ways to word your dispute letter. Makes sure you tailor the dispute to fit your circumstances.
I’ve reviewed a copy of my credit report and found an error with GE Capital Account XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-1234. The account is listed as 30 days late. However, I have never been late on this account. Please remove this inaccurate information.
I’ve reviewed a copy of my credit report and found a number of negative accounts that are older than seven years. Here are the accounts that should be removed:
Verizon Visa XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXX
I've reviewed a copy of my credit report and found an error. The account with Chase XXXX-XXXX-XXX-3456 is not my account. I have never had an account with Chase Bank. Please remove this account from my credit report.
Dispute Addresses for the Major Credit BureausEquifax
P.O. Box 7404256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000