Even small errors on your credit report can cause big problems. A typo in your home address could make it difficult for you to pull a copy of your credit report, for instance. A larger error, such as a creditor misreporting your financial information, could cause more serious issues.
This is why it’s essential that you check your credit report at least two or three times each year. When you do, examine it for errors, either in your personal information or in information reported by your creditors. If you find errors, use these steps to correct them:
First, Find the Errors
Because of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months.
You can get a free copy from each of the major reporting companies. So, you could get your Equifax report in January, your Experian report in May, and your Transunion report in September. Start over again the next year, and you’ll stay on top of your credit report.
The three reports can be somewhat different. While all your major financial information should be the same, sometimes there are discrepancies between your credit reports.
If you find a major error on your Equifax report, for instance, you may want to pull your other two reports to see if they carry the same error. Even if you don’t have a free report available from the other two companies, it’s not too expensive to buy a copy.
The Basics of Correcting Errors
When correcting an error on your credit report, document everything. While a minor error is unlikely to send you to court against a creditor or credit reporting bureau, stranger things have happened.
You can best protect yourself by keeping everything in writing. Sending letters about the error – and keeping copies – is a good place to start. If you end up making phone calls, take plenty of notes on every call. Be sure to mark dates, times and other pertinent details about the conversations.
Also, stay calm. Dealing with the red tape and impersonal service often offered by major financial entities is frustrating. But you will get this problem fixed, and you’ll get it fixed more quickly if you’re as businesslike as possible.
Errors in Your Personal Information
Errors in personal information on a credit report are fairly common. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Here’s how you do it:
- Pull all three credit reports to find out if they carry the same error. If so, contact all of them. (They don’t communicate with one another, so correcting an address error with Equifax doesn’t mean the same error will be corrected with TransUnion.)
- Check with your creditors first to make sure they have your correct name, address and other personal information. Sometimes the error is in the information creditors are sending to the reporting agencies. Besides, it’s always good to make sure that current creditors have this information correct.
- Send a letter or fill out the online dispute form for the agency with the incorrect information. If you send a letter, add supporting evidence: copies of bills or other official mail should do.
Whenever you’re correcting personal information, give it a month or two to take hold. Even though credit bureaus are required to look into inaccuracy claims in a timely manner, it can take awhile for the claim to go through and the information to be changed.
Correcting Other Errors
There are several types of common credit report errors, including:
- Information from another person with a name or address similar to yours
- Information left over from a battle with identity theft
- Information from a former spouse
- Incorrect payment status on an account
- Multiple delinquent dates for an account, which may happen if an account is transferred to a debt collector
- Wrong notations for closed accounts (it may look like the creditor cut you off, when you really chose to close the account)
- Unreported remedied delinquencies
Some of these issues are minor and simple to fix. In the right circumstances, however, any one of these common problems could be enough to ruin your credit score. So here’s what you should do if you find incorrect information from your creditors on your report:
- Gather documents that support your position. For instance, if you’ve paid an account that was overdue, find a payment receipt that includes the date. Circle the pertinent information on your documents so it’s easy to find. Always send copies, not the originals.
- Enclose supporting documents with a professional, dated letter to the credit bureau. The letter could look something like this one from the FTC.
- Keep copies of both the letter and supporting documents, and write down the date you mailed them.
- Notify your creditor, either online, over the phone, or by letter. The option you choose will depend on the type of creditor. You can look online or call your creditor to find a number or address specifically for credit reporting disputes.
- Wait. The FTC generally requires that credit reporting companies investigate the issue within 30 days, unless they deem your dispute frivolous. Once they’re done with the investigation, they’ll give you the investigation’s results and a free copy of your credit report if the dispute changes it.
- Send out copies of your updated report, if you need to. If the error on your credit report kept you from getting a lease, a loan or a job recently, ask the credit reporting company to send a free copy of your report to anyone who pulled it in the last six months. You can ask for copies of your report to be sent to anyone who pulled it for employment purposes in the past two years.
At times, you’ll need to take further steps to correct an error on your report, especially if a creditor insists the information is correct. While the need to take further action is unusual, it happens. If you go through this process multiple times with no result, it may be time to consider hiring a lawyer to help you through the more complex process of suing a creditor or credit reporting bureau for reporting inaccurate information.
Your Credit Reporting Rights
During this process, it’s ideal to understand your rights as a consumer and draw on them when dealing with the credit bureau. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act:
- You have a right to be told if the information in your file has been used against you. If you’re denied employment, insurance, a loan, or anything else because of your credit report, you have to be notified. You can also obtain a free copy of your report in these situations.
- You have a right to know what’s in your file. You can get a free report once a year, or when someone has taken adverse action against you because of your report, when you’re the victim of identity theft, when you’re on public assistance, or when you’re unemployed but hoping to apply for employment within two months.
- You have the right to ask for your numerical credit score, although you’ll have to pay for it.
- You have the right to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information in the ways listed above.
- If you prove that information is inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable, credit reporting agencies must correct it or delete it from your file.
- Consumer reporting agencies can’t report outdated negative information. Most negative information is outdated after seven years, and bankruptcies are outdated after 10 years.
- Your credit report may be given only to people who need to see it, and you must offer written consent for employers or potential employers to pull your report.
- You can opt out of pre-screened credit and insurance offers by calling a toll-free number provided with these offers.
- You can seek damages from people or companies who violate these rights.
- If you’re active military personnel or a victim of identity theft, you may have more rights than these.
That’s a lot of information, but it can help you fix errors on your credit report. If it’s been awhile since you’ve checked your report, don’t delay. The sooner you find and fix errors, the better off your credit will be.