If you've noticed an error in your credit report, it's essential to fix the problem as soon as possible. Even if you don't plan to borrow in the near future, the process can take a long time. What's more, it's not just lenders that check your credit; others (such as potential employers or insurance companies) can get the wrong idea about you as well.
Two Approaches to Fixing an Erroneous Credit Report
The most effective way to fix your credit report is to attack it from two directions:
- Correct the problem at the credit reporting agencies
- Fix the problem at its source: the creditor that reported the error
Let's start with the first option: correcting the information at credit reporting agencies. Doing so will require that you know how credit reporting agencies work and what information credit reporting companies store.
First, you need to know what’s wrong. If you haven’t seen a recent copy of your credit report, get a free government credit report and find out exactly what it says. You're entitled to at least one free credit report per year.
Next, gather evidence that proves that the credit agency needs to make changes. You’ll want to make copies of related documents. You may have to repeat these steps several times and you don’t want to give away the originals.
Send a letter with all the documentation and instructions on how they should fix your credit report. Include the following:
- Your full name, address, date of birth, and Social Security Number
- Any previous names or addresses used during the disputed period
- The creditor’s name and details of the account in question (account number, when the account was opened, etc.)
- Specific instructions on what is wrong and how you'd like them to update your credit report
- Notes and references to enclosed documents
Send the letter via USPS certified mail or a courier (like UPS or FedEx). The credit reporting agency must investigate legitimate claims to fix your credit report, usually within 30 days, and they will inform you of the results after that. The FTC has a sample letter on its site.
As a safeguard, it’s also a good practice to fix your credit report errors with the creditor that reported them. Send the same information you sent to the credit reporting agency. After a few weeks, call and ask what action they've taken. Fixing the problem at the source will ensure that you don’t have the same problem in the future.
Even if you've lost the documentation to prove your case, you might still have a shot at fixing your credit report. Whether you have the records or not, a credit reporting agency will still have to investigate your claim if you dispute a finding on your report.
Why You Might Have to Fix Your Credit Report
There are plenty of reasons that you might have to fix your credit report. Some common causes include a clerical error in recording payments at one of your lenders or an ex-spouse’s credit problems that are still linked to you. Sometimes, somebody else’s Social Security Number had digits transposed and the bad debt was linked to you.
You may have also been a victim of identity theft and everything didn’t get cleaned off from this violation. Unfortunately, as you fix your credit report, you may need to build credit to increase your attractiveness to lenders.