How to Fix Errors on Your Credit Report
Errors on your credit report can affect your credit worthiness in the eyes of lenders, creditors, insurers, and employers. This can make it harder to get a car loan, take out a new credit card, get better lending terms and interest rates, or even rent an apartment. What complicates matters even more is that you have three credit reports that could contain errors—one from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian).
To keep track of what exactly is on your credit reports, it’s a wise idea to get your once-a-year free report from each bureau and review all information for any inaccuracies. Thanks to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), if you do find errors, you have a way to dispute them.
Errors to look for
While there are some errors that won’t affect your score—like a misspelled former employer or an outdated phone number—there are others you should look out for when reviewing your reports:
- Inconsistent and inaccurate spelling of your first name and middle initial. If you’re inconsistent with your name on credit cards, loan applications, etc. your report could accidentally contain information on another person with a similar name. Double check all reports have your full current address and Social Security number as well.
- Missing credit accounts. Length of credit history (how long you’ve held a loan or credit card with a company that reports to the credit bureaus) is an important part of a healthy credit report and score. If you’re missing good payment history on a credit card, loan, or line of credit, it’s hurting your creditworthiness. Ask your creditors/lenders to begin reporting your credit information to credit bureaus, or find lenders who do.
- Missed or late payments you actually made on time. Loan or credit card payments may have been inadvertently applied to the wrong account or you may have evidence of on-time payments that are missing on your report.
- Accounts reported more than once. This can hurt your credit score by making it appear you have more lines of credit open and higher debt than you really do.
- Former spouse’s debt. If you’re recently (or not-so-recently) divorced, you’ll want to be sure your ex’s debts are not reflected on your report.
- Signs of identity theft. These can include:
- Wrong account numbers
- Accounts that aren’t yours (loans taken out, credit cards opened, etc.)
- Inaccurate credit limits or loan balances
- An ex-spouse incorrectly listed/added on a loan or credit card
- Bad debts that should have been removed. Bad debts (collections accounts) and bankruptcies have a limit on how long they can appear on your report: seven and ten years, respectively.
How to fix errors
Once you’ve spotted an error, collect whatever materials you can to support your case for a correction—this could be credit card statements, auto debits/payments from your checking account, loan documents, divorce decree, or government-issued ID. Make physical copies or digital ones, depending on how you plan to contact the credit bureau with the wrong information plus the lender or creditor reporting the information. Never send originals—keep those for yourself.
Next, contact the organization that provided the information to the bureau, called the “furnisher.” Many companies specify a physical or email address for disputes. Use this address to send your dispute letter and copies of supporting documents. There’s a chance the furnisher will amend the mistake and report the fix to the bureau(s) without you having to contact each bureau. If not, or if you want to cover all your bases…
Contact the credit bureau that is showing the incorrect information. You can file a dispute online for all three credit bureaus on their respective websites. Experian now only accepts online submissions, while the other two still accept snail mail dispute submissions. If you mail a letter, send it by certified mail with a return receipt so you have proof of if and when the bureau receives your correspondence.
In your digital or print communication, include copies of the documents that support your claim, as well as an official dispute letter. You can also include a copy of your report with the items in question circled. There are dispute letter templates you can use on the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information webpage.
If you believe the mistakes on your report are due to identity theft, contact your local police. When you complete a police report and Federal Trade Commission identity theft complaint, include that in your communications with the furnisher and credit bureau.
What happens next
Credit bureaus investigate disputed items within 30 days unless they consider your dispute frivolous—i.e., you’ve submitted incorrect or incomplete information, or you’ve tried to contest the same item multiple times without new information. In this case, the bureau doesn’t need to investigate it further as long as it communicates this to you within five days, along with the reasoning for deeming the dispute frivolous.
When furnishers receive notice of a dispute from a credit bureau, it must investigate, review the relevant information, and report the results back to the credit reporting company within a similar time frame. If the information provider finds the disputed information is inaccurate, it must notify all three nationwide credit reporting companies so they can correct the information in your file.
You are entitled to the results of the investigation and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. This will not count as your annual free report. You can ask the credit bureau to send a notice of the correction(s) to anyone who received your report in the past six months, or to anyone who received a copy for employment purposes in the past two years.
Your dispute may not be resolved in your favor. If this happens, ask the credit bureau to include your statement of the dispute in your file and future reports.
It can be tough enough to build a good report, you don’t need mistakes lowering your score!