How to Dispute Credit Report Errors With the Credit Bureaus
Remove credit report errors with a credit report dispute
Credit reports are extremely important for adults who plan to get a credit card, apply for a job, buy a house, have utilities turned on, or a host of other activities. Each month, your creditors and lenders send details about your account to at least one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
It’s not uncommon for credit reports to contain errors. Anything from inaccurate late payments to accounts that aren’t yours or maybe even a falsely reported bankruptcy could mistakenly end up on your credit report. Because so many businesses use your credit report to make decisions about your creditworthiness, it’s important that your credit report is accurate.
Federal law gives you the right to an accurate credit report. Credit bureaus aren’t allowed to report anything that’s inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable. Thanks to that provision in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to dispute errors to have them removed from your credit report.
Check Your Credit Report for Errors
The best way to find credit report errors is to check a copy of your credit report. There are several ways to do this. You can get a free annual credit report from each bureau once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com. You're also entitled to a free credit report if you’ve recently been turned down because of your credit report if you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job soon, if you receive welfare or government assistance, or if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Some states have laws entitling you to a free credit report each year in addition to the free credit report you get from other sources.
If you can’t get a free credit report, you can order one through the credit bureaus directly for $10 to $20, depending on the bureau.
You should review all three of your credit reports because they’re not necessarily identical. It can be overwhelming to do this all at once, so you might work on one credit report per month or quarter.
Once you have your credit reports, take some time to look through them and highlight the items to include in your credit report dispute.
Know Which Credit Report Errors Can You Dispute
Technically, you can dispute anything, but note the credit bureau will do an investigation and only delete items that the law requires them to delete. You can dispute credit report items that are inaccurate, incomplete, out of date, or that you believe cannot be verified. Negative items, except bankruptcy, should only appear on your credit report for seven years; bankruptcy can remain for 10. If you have negative entries older than seven years, you can dispute them. Other things you can dispute include:
- Payments reported late that were actually on time
- Accounts that aren’t yours
- Inaccurate credit limit/loan amount or account balance
- Inaccurate creditor
- Inaccurate account status, for example, an account status reported as past due when the account is actually current
Decide How to Make Your Dispute
You can place your credit report dispute online, by mail, or over the phone. To dispute online or by phone, you need to have ordered a copy of your credit report within the past month and you’ll need to provide your credit report number to prove it.
While disputing credit report errors online is convenient, there are some drawbacks. When you dispute online, you can only get the results of your dispute online. If you dispute online, you can also check the status of your dispute online by providing your confirmation number, but you can only get the results online, not by mail. You won't be able to complete the entire process online as you'll still have to mail in any documentation or proof that supports your dispute.
If you decide to dispute your credit report online, you can use these links to the major credit bureau pages for submitting an online credit report dispute:
Completing a credit report dispute by mail takes more time, but gives you the paper trail you’ll need if the credit bureau doesn’t respond in a timely manner. Credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate and respond to your credit report dispute, or 45 days if you send additional proof during the investigation period. If they don’t respond within that time frame, you have the right to sue in Federal court for up to $1,000.
When you're disputing a credit report error via mail, you'll need to write a letter explaining the information that should be removed and to include the reason that detail is inaccurate. Be sure to include a copy of proof of the error, if you have it. Send the letter via certified mail with return receipt requested so you have proof of when you made the dispute and when the creditor received it. Make sure you keep track of the time that has passed.
Over the Phone
There may be a number listed on your credit report for you to call to dispute reporting errors. If there isn't, you can reach all three credit bureaus at these numbers:
- Equifax: 1-866-349-5191
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- Transunion: 1-800-916-8800
Keep a record of when you called, who you spoke to, and any information they gave you regarding your dispute. In certain instances, such as fraud, even if you submitted your dispute via mail or online, you may be asked to call the credit report bureau to provide more information.
Dispute Addresses for the Major Credit Bureaus
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Wait for the Credit Bureau Response to Your Credit Report Dispute
The credit bureau may respond to your dispute by immediately deleting the information you’ve disputed. However, they have the right to reinsert previously deleted items if those items are later verified. If that happens, the credit bureau has to notify you, in writing, that the item has been put back on your credit report.
Any data you provided about the inaccuracy of the information will be forwarded to the original information provider. The information provider is then required to investigate and respond back to the credit bureau.
Once the investigation is complete, the credit bureau will provide you with the results, along with a free copy of your credit report if the dispute resulted in a change. You can then request that the credit bureau send a correction notice to any company that accessed your credit report within the past six months.
If there is inaccurate information in one credit bureau's version of your credit report, it's likely that the information will be inaccurate on the other two bureaus' reports as well. You should check all three credit reports to be sure that the information in each is complete and accurate.
Sometimes the credit bureau responds that the error you disputed was verified by the creditor. This can happen when there's an error within the creditor's systems and it was not uncovered in the investigation. If this happens, you can bypass the credit bureau and dispute the error directly with the creditor.
Types of Proof to Send With Your Credit Report Dispute
You’ll need to submit proof if there’s something wrong with your address, name, date of birth, or your social security number. You can send a copy of your driver’s license, recent billing statement, or your social security card to solve these issues. Proof might also be a canceled check showing that you paid your bill on time or a recent billing statement showing your credit card limit or balance. Make sure you send a copy of the proof and keep the original documents for your files.
If you send the additional proof after you've already submitted the dispute, the credit bureau has 45 days, instead of 30, to respond to your dispute.
Hardest Items to Remove From Your Credit Report
Some things are easier to remove from your credit report than others because these items are easier to verify and less likely to be erroneous. Items that are a matter of public record are more difficult to remove. This includes bankruptcy, foreclosure, repossession, lawsuit judgments, and loan default, especially student loan default. Sometimes it’s hard to get these removed even when they’re legitimately inaccurate.
If you have inaccurate public records on your credit report, try to work directly with the court or agency that has the item listed on your credit report. Once they’ve updated their records to show what’s accurate, it will be much easier to work with the credit bureau to clear up your credit report. Creditors and other businesses that report to the credit bureaus have the same obligation to investigate and clear up credit report errors. So if the credit bureau is being stubborn, you can go straight to the source and dispute the inaccuracy with the creditor.
Make Sure Your Disputes Are Legitimate
Be sure you don’t do anything to make the credit bureaus think your credit report disputes are frivolous. Don’t dispute everything on your credit report and absolutely do not send all your disputes at once. If you dispute the same item more than once, you should give a different reason for each dispute, so the credit bureau doesn’t think you’re sending duplicates. The credit bureau has the right to deem your disputes frivolous and if that happens, the bureau also has the right to reject your dispute.
Sample Phrasing for a Dispute Letter
There are a few different ways to word your dispute letter. Make sure you tailor the dispute to fit your circumstances.
I’ve reviewed a copy of my credit report and found an error with GE Capital Account XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-1234. The account is listed as 30 days late. However, I have never been late on this account. Please remove this inaccurate information.
I’ve reviewed a copy of my credit report and found a number of negative accounts that are older than seven years. Here are the accounts that should be removed:
Verizon Visa XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXX
I've reviewed a copy of my credit report and found an error. The account with Chase XXXX-XXXX-XXX-3456 is not my account. I have never had an account with Chase Bank. Please remove this account from my credit report.