When you get your credit report, you may find information on it that is not correct. When that happens, you'll need to understand how to dispute an error on your credit report. Here, we will explain how mistakes wind up on credit reports and how to fix them.
Three major credit reporting agencies; Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, maintain credit information about consumers. These companies are competitors and they each collect and maintain their own individual reports about consumers. In other words, they don't share information with each other. The data they collect is compiled into credit reports, also referred to as "credit files" or "credit histories."
Your credit report is a record of how you've managed credit accounts, including credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, and personal loans. Some types of accounts - such as medical debt or utility accounts - are not usually reported unless those bills go to collections.
The details on your credit report has been supplied by creditors, and gathered from public record sources, such as the court system in the case of bankruptcies or judgments. If a creditor or other source that gathers this information makes a mistake (typing in an address wrong or Social Security number, for example), that error may wind up on your credit reports.
Also keep in mind that credit reports are only compiled when they are requested. When you or a creditor requests your credit report or credit score. To do that, the credit reporting agencies will try to "match" account information they have in their databases to the consumer for which the report has been ordered. Usually that process works fine, but sometimes information about relatives or other consumers with similar names can get mixed up with yours.
Finally, if you have been inconsistent in the information you've used when filling out applications (using different variations of your name or address, for example), that can show up as an error on your reports.
The first step in disputing a credit report mistake is to understand whether an item is wrong or not. That sounds logical but it can be trickier than you realize. For example, your credit report may list an inquiry from a company you don't recognize, but if that company accessed your credit report, the credit reporting agency is legally obligated to report that inquiry. Or your report may show a collection account that you paid off. While you may think it should be removed because you paid it, under federal law it can be reported for up to seven years and six months from the date you fell behind with the original creditor, regardless of whether it has been paid. (Of course, a paid collection account should still be listed as paid.)
Once you have established that an item is wrong, you can dispute it. You can contact the lender (or collection agency) who is reporting the wrong information, the credit reporting agency that lists the mistake, or both. Asking the creditor to fix it may be the simplest approach, because if they do agree they made a mistake, they will be required to transmit the correction to all the agencies to which they report. That saves you the extra step of having to dispute it with other agencies that may be reporting the same incorrect information.
However, it's also important to note that to protect your legal rights under federal law, you must send a written copy of your dispute to the credit reporting agencies, not just the creditor. Therefore, if you find a serious mistake or if you are having trouble getting an item corrected, make sure you also report the error directly to the credit bureau(s).
If you ordered your reports online you will have the option of disputing it online or by mail.
Online disputes are fast and convenient; however, you may not be able to include documentation to back up your side of the story. So if you have proof that an item is wrong, you may want to send a written dispute and include the records you would like to them to review. If you do file a credit report dispute by mail, be sure to send it via certified mail and keep a copy for your records.
Credit reporting agencies and creditors who receive a credit dispute are required by law to investigate a dispute and report the results of their investigation back to the consumer within 30 days, in most situations.
If you have ordered your credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com or another credit report service you will be provided with instructions for how to dispute a mistake.
Equifax dispute: Equifax has a form for initiating a credit report dispute on their website at Equifax.com.
Experian dispute: You will find instructions for filing a dispute or checking on an existing one at Experian.com.
TransUnion dispute: Visit the TransUnion website for instructions for filing a consumer dispute if you think the information on your TransUnion credit report is wrong.