If you find inaccurate or unverified information on one of your credit reports, you can dispute that information. And, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), bureaus generally have 30 days to investigate the dispute and remove any items proven to be inaccurate. (More on that later.) But how long does it take from start to finish? Well, that depends on each of the steps along the way.
1. Review Your Credit Reports
Before you get started, you need to make sure you have the most recent versions of your credit reports in front of you. You can get a free copy of your credit reports from the three main credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you have them, go over each of them, as they may all have different information, and note any problems you plan to dispute.
2. Formulate & Submit Your Dispute
You must specify the exact reason you are disputing an item on your credit report. Possible reasons could be that the item is not yours, is falsely reported as late, the account balance is wrong, the dates are wrong, or it should have aged off your report. Be as detailed as possible. It’s important to include any evidence about your dispute, as this can help your case. It’s a good idea to send copies of the documentation and keep the originals for yourself.
In addition to documentation, you’ll need to write a letter explaining each item you’re disputing. (You can find sample letters and advice for writing the letter here.) If you submit your dispute online, you won’t have to wait for the time it takes an item to go through the traditional mail. However, if you submit your dispute via snail mail, you’ll have the advantage of sending the letter certified mail, with a return receipt requested. This way, you can track when the letter was received.
3. Wait for Credit Bureaus to Conduct Their Investigation
As mentioned earlier, credit bureaus have 30 days to conduct their investigation. (There are a few exceptions when this time frame may extend to 45 days, but 30 is the most typical.) This doesn’t mean it will take the full 30 days before you receive a response, but this is the maximum time frame. This is a time when having written proof in the form of a receipt noting when the credit bureaus received your dispute may be helpful, so you know when the 30 days begins. You should receive notice informing you of the results from the credit bureaus within five business days after the investigation is completed.
4. Review Your Results
Once you receive notice of the results of your investigation, it’s time to do some analysis. If your dispute was successful, you can monitor your credit to see how this update affected your scores. (You can view two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.) If your dispute was denied, you will be notified of this as well.
If your dispute was successful, your journey ends here. If not, read on.
5. Resubmit Your Dispute
If your dispute is unsuccessful, but you feel it still has merit, you may wish to try disputing it again. You can do this on your own for free. Or, if your dispute is complex and you’re not getting anywhere, you can also consider hiring someone, like a consumer attorney, credit counselor or reputable credit repair firm. If you opt for outside help, it’s important to vet companies carefully. For instance, the Federal Trade Commission prohibits credit repair companies from charging an upfront fee. If you see firms doing this, or promising overnight credit repair, it’s likely a scam you should avoid.
Once you file your re-dispute, the credit bureaus have another 30 days to do an investigation on the new information.
As you can see, there is no direct answer as to how long a credit dispute takes, as it varies on a case-by-case basis. Credit disputes can take a few weeks or months, depending on how the process goes for you.