Identifying Credit Report Errors
Credit bureaus do their best to compile accurate information on your credit report, but sometimes errors appear. Because errors can mean a lower credit score, it’s important to check your reports regularly. There are two kinds of inaccurate information: flubs and fraud.
Flubs occur because of human error or incomplete information being provided to a credit bureau. Errors can include:
- Reports of something you didn't buy or a purchase you didn’t authorize
- Reports of amounts differing from what you actually paid
- Inaccurate purchase dates
- Items not properly identified
- Math errors
- Missing payments or credits to your account
- Accounts mistakenly attributed to you
- Reports of applications you didn't fill out
The other credit report error is fraud, in which someone intentionally and illegally tries to mess with your financial status—for example, by opening an account in your name.
In either situation, the best way to correct an issue is to find the source of the error. Of course, you won’t know there is an error unless you check your report regularly. So, request a copy of your report and carefully review all of the information it contains. Look for any entries that are mistakenly attributed to you because of confused names, addresses or Social Security information. Check for mixed account information as a result of identity theft, incorrect payment status, an ex-spouse’s information mixed with yours, outdated information or remedied delinquencies not being reported.
Once you've discovered a possible problem, make sure to gather proof supporting your position that there is an error before you officially dispute it.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting company and the organization that reported the faulty information are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. If you find an error on your report, assemble proof that the entry is incorrect and then take these steps to file a dispute.
1. Inform the credit reporting company (Equifax®, Experian® or TransUnion®) of the inaccuracy.
Credit bureaus must investigate the item(s) in question within 30 days unless they consider your dispute frivolous. Disputes can be filed online for all three bureaus and also by mail for TransUnion. You’ll need to put together a letter that includes your complete name and address, and:
- clearly identifies each item in your report that you dispute
- states the facts and explains why you dispute the information
- requests deletion or correction
Along with this letter, include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. You may want to enclose or attach a copy of your report with the items in question highlighted. If you’re mailing your dispute, send it by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document that the credit bureau received it. Keep copies of your dispute letter and attachments.
2. Contact the appropriate creditor or information provider explaining you’re disputing the information provided to the credit reporting company.
Again, include copies of documents that support your position. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider reports the same information to a credit bureau, it must include a notice of your dispute. Request that the provider copy you on correspondence they send to bureaus. Expect this process to take between 30 and 90 days.
In many states, once a dispute has been registered, you’re eligible to receive a free credit report directly from the credit bureau in order to verify the updated information. Contact the appropriate credit bureau to see if you qualify for this service.
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