Whether you’re planning to apply for a loan, buy a house, or simply review your personal information, it’s good practice to periodically check your credit report. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the three credit reporting bureaus – TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax – to provide you one free credit report every 12 months. Whether you request all three at once or space them out throughout the year is up to you, but you should regardless take advantage of the three. One important reason why you should personally check your credit report is to spot any incorrect information that may have made its way into it. It’s not rare for consumers to notice an error in their credit report, and if they leave it unaddressed – small as it may be – it could have negative consequences the next time they try to apply for a loan or line of credit. So if you’ve spotted a mistake in your credit report, what should you do? Read through our guide below to ensure you can get errors on your credit report corrected quickly and thoroughly.
Contacting the Credit Reporting Bureau
If you detect an inaccuracy in your credit report, the first thing you should do is contact the credit reporting company in whose report you noticed the blunder. You may reach out via phone or by mail. If you send your dispute in writing, you can use this sample letter conveniently provided by the Federal Trade Commission website. Be as clear as possible when you describe what is incorrect and why it’s incorrect, and request that the information either be corrected or deleted. You’ll want to include copies of any documents in your possession that support your dispute and be sure to also provide your complete contact details. Before you send your letter and documents, make copies of everything so that you may have an extra set on you (assuming you keep the originals, which you should) and choose certified mail with return receipt requested when at the post office.
Contact the Provider of the Inaccurate Information
After contacting the credit reporting company, you should also reach out to the provider of the mistake in question. Mail a written notice of the dispute – the FTC site has a sample letter for this step, as well – and include any documentation that can prove your case. Your credit report should have a mailing address listed for the information provider, but if one isn’t available you can always call the provider directly and request a mailing address to ensure your letter gets to the correct place.
The Investigation and the Outcome
Once the credit reporting company receives the notification of your dispute, it must investigate the mistake you’re pointing out. The company has one month to look into the information and provide you with a conclusion of the findings. During the investigation process, the credit reporting company must also send forward all details of your dispute to the provider of the error. It’s wise for you to reach out to the provider along with the reporting bureau so you can maximize the chances that your case is received and inspected.
If the information provider finds that there is indeed a mistake, it must report it back to all three credit bureaus, not just the one in whose report you noticed the gaffe. You are entitled to receive written results of the investigation as well as a free copy of your (updated) credit report, which does not count as your free yearly copy; you won’t see the incorrect information again unless the provider determined that there was no error. Ask the reporting company to notify anyone who recently received your credit report of any corrections, and you may also request that an updated report be sent to anyone who received a copy for employment reasons in the last two years.
What to Do
If the investigation determines that there was no error, you can ask the reporting company to include a record of your dispute in your file so that anyone who requests your report in the future will be aware of the contention. It’s important to understand that if you notice that some information is missing from your credit reports – such as a line of credit or a loan – it may not necessarily be by mistake. Some lenders may not supply information about your account with them simply because they’re not required to. Also, don’t try to disguise accurate information as incorrect and dispute it. Such frivolous claims will not result in having information reversed.
If there is unfavorable data on your report, and it is correct, only time will eventually erase it. Remember that faults such as a bankruptcy claim will remain on your report for 10 years, and evidence of several missed or late payments will be marked against you for up to seven years.