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. Your credit report can be the difference between qualifying or getting rejected for these things.
It’s not uncommon for credit reports to contain errors, though. Anything from inaccurate late payments to accounts that aren’t yours, or maybe even a falsely reported bankruptcy could mistakenly end up on your report. For this reason, it's critical to check your credit report for errors on a regular basis.
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.
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. You can get a free annual credit report from each bureau once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com. You're also entitled to a free credit report if you’ve recently been turned down because of your credit report, if you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job soon, if you receive welfare or government assistance, or if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Some states have laws entitling you to a free credit report each year in addition to the free credit report you get from other sources.
If you can’t get a free credit report, you can order one through the credit bureaus directly for a small fee. At least for 2020, however, the three credit bureaus are offering free weekly reports.
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.
Know Which Credit Report Errors You Can Dispute
Technically, you can dispute anything, but the credit bureau will do an investigation and only delete items that the law requires it 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 You can dispute credit report items that are inaccurate, incomplete, out of date, or that you believe cannot be verified.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 10. 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 How 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 and you’ll need to provide your credit report number to prove it.
While disputing credit report errors online is convenient, there are some drawbacks. When you dispute online, you can usually only get the results of your dispute online. You also may not be able to complete the entire process online if you still need to submit some of your information via mail.
If you decide to dispute your credit report online, you can use these links to the major credit bureau pages for submitting an online credit report dispute:
Completing a credit report dispute by mail takes more time, but gives you the paper trail you’ll 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 within that time frame, you have the right to sue in federal court for up to $1,000.
When you're disputing a credit report error via mail, you'll need to write a letter explaining the information that should be removed and the reason that detail is inaccurate. Be sure to include a copy of proof of the error, if you have it. Send the letter via certified mail with a return receipt requested so you have proof of when you made the dispute and when the creditor received it. Make sure you keep track of the time that has passed.
Dispute Addresses for the Major Credit Bureaus:
Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Over the Phone
There may be a number listed on your credit report for you to call to dispute reporting errors. If there isn't, you can reach the credit bureaus at these numbers:
- Equifax: 1-866-349-5191
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- Transunion: 1-800-916-8800
Keep a record of when you called, whom you spoke to, and any information they gave you regarding your dispute.
In certain instances, such as fraud, even if you submitted your dispute via mail or online, you may be asked to call the credit report bureau to provide more information.
Wait for the Credit Bureau Response to Your Dispute
The credit bureau may respond to your dispute by immediately deleting the information in question. However, the company does have the right to reinsert previously deleted items if those items are later verified. If that happens, the credit bureau has to notify you, in writing, that the item has been put back on your credit report.
Any data you provided about the inaccuracy of the information will be forwarded to the original company that provided the information, which 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 then 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.
Sometimes the credit bureau responds that the error you disputed was verified by the creditor. This can happen when there's an error within the creditor's systems and it was not uncovered in the investigation. If this happens, you can bypass the credit bureau and dispute the error directly with the creditor.
Types of Proof to Send With Your Credit Report Dispute
If there’s something wrong with your address, name, date of birth, or your Social Security number, you’ll need to submit proof such as a copy of your driver’s license, recent billing statement, or your Social Security card. Proof you paid a charge might include a check copy 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.
Hardest Items 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. 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 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 things up. Creditors and other businesses that report to the credit bureaus have the same obligation to investigate and clear up errors.
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. Don’t dispute everything on your credit report and do not send all your disputes at once. If you dispute the same item more than once, you should give a different reason for each dispute so the credit bureau doesn’t think you’re sending duplicates. The credit bureau has the right to reject your dispute if you don't have solid evidence.
Sample Phrasing for a Dispute Letter
There are a few different ways to word your dispute letter. Make 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.