What to do with an inaccurate address on a credit report
Credit Score Report
Dear Credit Score Report,
All my credit reports show my previous addresses as the ones my ex-husband has lived at since we divorced. I never lived in these places and have always lived in my current residence. Everything else on the report seems accurate. Should I worry about the address issue? -- Theresa
It's important for consumers to review all their credit reports in order to identify any questionable items, such as those you've discovered. While those addresses most likely aren't a reason to worry, their appearance on your reports should prompt you to take action.
The accuracy of your credit reports matters because the information they contain -- both positive and negative -- can influence all sort of decisions by companies, including whether to give you a loan or grant you a job. That's why borrowers need to make sure that their credit reports are as up-to-date and error-free as possible. In your case, you've found some addresses that may be connected to accounts you don't use. While that likely isn't as a serious concern, their appearance should encourage you to contact the banks associated with those accounts and the credit bureaus that list the information.
Those addresses alone won't damage your credit. "This type of information would not impact one's credit score," Cliff O'Neal, senior director of corporate communications for credit bureau TransUnion, says in an e-mail. "A lender, however, might use other services, e.g. a fraud detection application, in which multiple addresses might trigger the lender to investigate this issue further."
Other bureaus disagree with the characterization of the addresses as incorrect, since they may "accurately show what is being reported by lenders or other businesses as associated with the individual," says Rod Griffin, director of public education with Experian. In other words, those addresses are probably connected to accounts you set up with your husband, who has since moved and changed the address on the account. Still, Griffin agrees you don't need to worry. "If you recognize the address and know that it is not fraud, you probably do not need to be too concerned about it," he says.
If you don't recognize the address, then it's a possible red flag indicating fraud. Someone, for example, may have used your Social Security number to get a new credit card in your name at a different address. However, from your description, that doesn't seem to be what's happening in your case.
Rather than being worried, you should confirm why those addresses appear. What you learn can help guide your actions:
Contact the lender. Those addresses may appear because they are tied to a joint account you continue to share with your now ex-husband. Divorce doesn't dissolve your responsibility for joint accounts, which means any debt your ex accrues will be jointly yours to repay. "She will need to contact each lender directly and request that it change the contract, removing her as a joint account holder. The lender may or may not agree to do so," Griffin says. He adds that as long as the address is connected to an open, active account, it will remain on your credit reports.
Write a letter. If those addresses are inaccurate, you'll need to contact each of the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to dispute their appearance. Although you can file a dispute with the bureaus online or by phone, experts recommend putting it in writing. Draft a letter that explains the problem, and include any supporting documentation, such as copies of bills showing how long you've been at your current residence. Send those letters via certified mail. (You can find more information in our story, "How to dispute credit report errors.")
Wait one month. Once you have confirmation the certified letters were received, you'll still need to be patient. The credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate the accuracy of the items and then fix any inaccurate information on your credit reports.
Check your reports. After about a month has passed, reorder your credit reports to make sure those addresses have been corrected. (You'll need to pay for those reports if you've already taken advantage of your free annual credit reports from each bureau.) If the addresses remain, unfortunately, you'll need to repeat the process.
Ideally, your conscientiousness will be rewarded with an up-to-date credit report -- and a peaceful state of mind.
See related: How to dispute credit report errors, States stepping up to limit pre-employment credit checks, Credit card fraud monitoring can halt legitimate purchases, Credit card authorized users, joint account holders differ
Jeremy M. Simon is a former CreditCards.com reporter who wrote about credit scoring, economic data, credit card crime and other issues. He is based in Austin, Texas. He is a graduate of Vassar College and has previously worked for Thomson Financial in New York City, where he wrote about the stock markets, and Texas Monthly, as well as several publications in Austin.
Published: March 22, 2011