How to Dispute Credit Report Errors & Improve Your Credit
Credit-report errors are all too common. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that roughly one in four consumers have an inaccurate credit report. And it can take only one error for a lender, landlord or other credit checker to decide you can’t be trusted to meet your financial obligations.
That is why it’s important to review your credit report on a regular basis and dispute any errors. You can check your latest TransUnion credit report for free on WalletHub. And if you find an error, you can file a dispute with TransUnion directly from your WalletHub account.
Alternatively, you can get all three major credit reports once every year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Below, we’ll explain the three ways to dispute credit report errors, the types you can dispute and more.
How to Dispute Credit Report Inaccuracies
There is a simple process that you can follow to dispute credit report errors (and hopefully win). In all, there are just four or five steps, depending on how things play out.
1. Review Your Credit Reports
You can’t dispute credit report errors without finding them first. And if you’ve already spotted a mistake, it might not be the only one. So it’s a good idea to start the dispute process by assessing the extent of the problem.
2. Investigate the Error(s)
Credit reports can be confusing. They often contain a lot of information, not to mention industry codes and jargon. So there’s a chance that what you think is a mistake might actually be accurate.
Researching, perhaps even contacting, the source(s) of the info in question (also called “data furnishers”) can help, too. At the very least, you’ll get a better idea of what’s going on. And ideally, you’ll find that an honest mistake has been made.
3. Choose a Dispute Method
There are three ways to file a credit report dispute: online, by phone or by mail. Which method you choose is largely a matter of personal preference. In complex cases, it can be helpful to mail hard copies of supporting documents.
|Credit Bureau||Dispute Online||Dispute by Mail||Dispute by Phone|
|TransUnion||https://dispute.transunion.com||TransUnion, LLC / P.O. Box 2000 / Chester, PA 19022||1-800-916-8800|
|Equifax||https://www.equifax.com/personal/disputes||Equifax Information Services, LLC / P.O. Box 740256 / Atlanta, GA 30374-0256||1-866-349-5191|
|Experian||http://www.experian.com/disputes/||Experian / P.O. Box 4500 / Allen, TX 75013||1-866-200-6020|
Below, you can find more detailed instructions for each option.
Filing online is the easiest, and often quickest, option. In fact, you can do so directly from your TransUnion credit report on WalletHub. Just click on an account, and you’ll find “Report to TransUnion” in the bottom right corner.
You can also dispute credit-report errors through AnnualCreditReport.com or the credit bureaus’ websites. Here’s what the start of the dispute process looks like on the Experian website:
Each credit bureau’s dispute page will look different, but you’ll generally have to follow the same steps. You’ll select the option that best describes your situation, verify your identity and enter your report number. You’ll then be able to review your report. And when you find an error, there will be an option to dispute the info right on the page.
Once you do so, you’ll be able to choose the reason for your dispute from a drop-down menu and provide a short explanation of why you think the info is inaccurate. After you submit your dispute, you’ll be redirected to a confirmation page, which you should save or print for your records.
Filing by Mail
To file a dispute by mail, you will need to send a dispute letter (plus supporting documents) to each bureau reporting the error(s). In addition to summarizing the errors, this dispute letter should include your:
- Full name
- Current address
- Credit-report confirmation number (if accessed through AnnualCreditReport.com)
- Account numbers for credit cards, loans, etc. in question
- Evidence, such as photocopies of receipts, monthly credit card or loan statements, proof of residency, etc.
It’s also wise to send your dispute by certified mail and to request a return receipt. That way, you can be sure the bureaus receive it.
Filing by Phone
You can certainly call the credit bureaus to initiate a dispute, and you’ll generally supply the same information as you would online or in a letter. But unless the error is a quick fix, you might still need to send written correspondence and some documentation.
That said, it’s a good idea to call the bureaus after submitting your dispute to confirm that they’ve received it and the process is moving forward.
4. Wait for Results
Once a dispute begins, the credit bureau will contact the data furnisher to verify the legitimacy of your claim. Data furnishers typically have up to 30 days (45 days in some cases) to respond to such inquiries. But the process usually takes an average of 14 days, according to Experian.
Upon completing its investigation, the bureau will contact you by mail or email regarding the outcome (for mail or phone disputes, you must allow the credit bureau up to an additional 10 days after the investigation for mail delivery). The correspondence will outline the bureau’s findings and the action it took/will take as a result (i.e. correcting the error or making no change).
If the dispute results in a positive change to your credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the credit bureau(s) in question to notify anyone who has viewed your report in the past six months. But they must do so only upon your request. You can also ask the bureau(s) to send updated copies of your report to any employer that has viewed it in the past two years.
Finally, you will need to confirm the error is fixed on all three of your major credit reports. Although the credit bureaus all track the same types of information, their records may not match exactly. Data furnishers are required to notify all three bureaus if they find they’ve made a mistake but will do so only if you filed your dispute with the data furnishers instead of the credit bureaus.
5. Complain to the Bureaus’ Bosses (if Necessary)
If your dispute fails, you can always try again. But nothing is likely to change unless you provide new and stronger evidence. For example, maybe you have a confirmation email for a payment that your credit report says you missed. Such evidence isn’t always available, though. There’s not much you can do to really prove it wasn’t you who opened a particular account listed under your name, for instance.
So if you’re dissatisfied with the credit bureau’s handling of your dispute, you can escalate your case to the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or your state’s Attorney General’s office. And if a credit-report error is serious enough, you may want to hire an attorney that specializes in such matters.
What Can You Dispute on a Credit Report?
You can dispute the following types of credit-report errors:
|Types of Credit-Report Errors||Description|
|Inaccurate Personal Info||This could be a misspelled name, an unknown address or an unrecognized employer. The last two, in particular, could be signs of fraud. If that’s the case, you may need to suppress/block the info.|
|Duplicate Accounts||Sometimes, accounts are listed twice by mistake. In other cases, debt collectors may relist accounts to trick you into making a payment.|
|Fraudulent Accounts||This could be an honest mistake. But criminals are known to open financial accounts under other people’s Social Security numbers, rack up charges and leave their victims to clean up the mess. While you can dispute this type of error, it’s best to suppress/block any issues stemming from fraud.|
|Inaccurate Payment History||Creditors sometimes mistakenly post payments to the wrong accounts. When that happens, your report may show a missed payment that you actually made. Even a single missed payment can damage your credit.|
You cannot dispute accurate information just because it reflects poorly on you. More accurately, you can try, but you probably won’t win. There are strict timeframes for how long negative information stays on credit reports. And there’s nothing you can do to shorten them.
Sure, you can explain special circumstances (e.g., a period of financial hardship from job loss) on the Personal Statement portion of your credit report to explain a negative notation. But if the information is accurate, it won’t be removed.
With that being said, for-profit credit-repair services such as Lexington Law have successfully disputed negative records on their clients’ credit reports. Oftentimes, the disputes are successful because the creditor that provided the information to the credit bureaus won’t have the documentation needed to prove the record’s legitimacy.
For your convenience, here’s a quick recap of how WalletHub recommends handling the credit report dispute process:
5 Steps to Dispute Credit Report Errors
- Review your credit reports.
- Investigate the error(s).
- Submit your dispute online, by phone or by mail.
- Wait for results, which usually arrive within two weeks (but up to 45 days).
- Complain to a regulatory agency, if necessary.
Ask the Experts: Dealing with Disputes
For a greater understanding of the credit report dispute process, we asked a panel of credit experts to weigh in on the following questions. You can meet our panel and read their responses below.
- Do you think the average person is aware of his or her ability to dispute credit report inaccuracies?
- By and large, do you think people tend to be overly hesitant or too eager to dispute items on their credit reports?
- Do you think credit bureaus make mistakes at an unacceptable rate?
- What do you think is the biggest impediment people face in filing a dispute?
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