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Correcting credit report errors is crucial, but not always easy

By

Credit Score Report
Reporter Jeremy M. Simon
Jeremy M. Simon is a former staff reporter for CreditCards.com who covered credit reporting and scoring issues.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
I have disputed the way my name is listed with Equifax on several occasions. But they fail to make the correction. Background: My first and last names are the same as my dad's, but the middle names are completely different. Therefore, I am not a Jr., II, 2nd or anything. But about 10 to 12 years ago, my name showed up as first name, middle initial, last name, 2. The suffix "2" just showed up. I have guessed that a person making an entry saw my dad and my name on the same screen and just decided to add the "2" assuming it was the same because I have NEVER entered it like that in my entire life on any document. Since they cannot show proof that it should be a "2," why don't they remove it? They should have to show documentation to add the "2," just as they say I have to physically document it is not correct. This is a one-sided concept, since theoretically someone making entries into my credit report could make a typo entry everyday and I would have to send physical proof to the contrary. (Only sorry American businesses are allowed to do this.) Thank god for China & Japan putting these businesses "out of business!" This is unnecessarily burdensome to the consumer.

Question: How can I get this name error corrected once and for all?

Thank you -- William (without the 2), a pissed off American

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Hey William,
Any legitimate errors listed on a consumer's credit report, like the one you uncovered, can be disputed -- repeatedly, if necessary -- under the law. Still, there's no guarantee it's going away.

Getting your name corrected hasn't been easy. But don't give up: When it comes to challenging credit report inaccuracies, you've got the law on your side -- and the right to keep on disputing. "If a consumer believes that any item of information contained in their credit file is incomplete or inaccurate, we recommend that they notify us directly, and we will investigate the item free of charge," says Equifax spokeswoman Jennifer Costello. "Based on the results of the investigation, the disputed information may be updated or deleted from the consumer's credit file."

Equifax, and fellow credit bureaus Experian and TransUnion, are required to make those changes under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Once the bureaus are notified about disputed information on a consumer's credit report, the bureaus must re-investigate whether the information is accurate. If it's wrong, the bureau needs to correct the information within 30 days from learning of the dispute.   

The FCRA, however, doesn't require the credit bureau to explain why the error appeared on your credit report. It could be hard for Equifax to track down the source of the error, since the bureaus collect, organize and manage various types of credit, financial and public record information on consumers. "This information comes from a variety of sources, such as financial institutions, credit grantors, governmental entities and consumers," Costello says in an e-mail. "In situations where fathers and sons share a joint account, have the same name and do not use, for example, a Jr./Sr. to distinguish themselves from each other, it is possible that account information (i.e. identifying information) can be reported to both credit files, particularly when both are living at the same address," she adds. If a joint or other account may be to blame, you should also contact the lender.

Regardless of how that error showed up, you still want it removed. "You always want the information in your credit report to be as up-to-date and accurate as possible," says Steven Katz, spokesman for TransUnion. With that goal in mind, the process of challenging an error is important. To get the mistake fixed, experts say you need go about it the right way:  

  • Put it in writing. Although you can use the phone or Internet to file a credit report dispute, experts recommend put it in writing. For Equifax written disputes, mail a letter to:
    Equifax Information Services LLC
    P.O. Box 740256
    Atlanta, GA 30374
  • Include documents that support your argument. Since you want to dispute the way your name is listed in your Equifax credit report, be sure to include supporting documents that list your name accurately. These documents could take the form of bank statements, credit card bills or even your other credit reports. Submit copies, and retain the originals for your records.
  • Check your report again. After re-submitting your dispute (and waiting for about a month), request another copy of your Equifax credit report and see if the problem is fixed. Check your other two reports, as well, to see that they don't include any errors. You may need to pay for the files if you've already gotten your free annual reports from those bureaus.
  • Add a written statement. If the error remains, under the terms of the FCRA, you can submit a written statement of 100 words or fewer explaining your dispute. "You also can ask the consumer reporting company to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past. You can expect to pay a fee for this service," the Federal Trade Commission's website says. "If you tell the information provider that you dispute an item, a notice of your dispute must be included any time the information provider reports the item to a consumer reporting company."

By following these steps, you'll be taking full advantage of the FCRA. "The statutes set out the steps consumers should follow when disputing information with credit reporting agencies," says Katherine Armstrong, an attorney with the FTC's Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.  

It's a dispute worth making -- and sticking with until it gets resolved. "There's a problem if his name is confused with somebody else's in providing credit or correcting errors," Armstrong says. That confusion could mean added steps when applying for a loan. You could, for example, be asked to sign documents when taking out a mortgage stating that you aren't another "William 2" who may have had legal or financial problems. Still, banks may have processes in place to ensure that you won't get turned down for a credit card simply based on a naming mix-up. "We pull credit reports based on Social Security numbers and, therefore, a name variation should not impact whether or not we give credit," says Lisa Westermann, assistant vice president of public relations with card issuer Wells Fargo.  

Since this may not be the last error that appears on your credit report, continue to review those files regularly. "It's a good idea for consumers to get their free file disclosures from annualcreditreport.com each year so they can check for errors and get them corrected," says Armstrong.

Good luck!

--Jeremy 

See related: How to dispute credit report errors, Free credit reports: How to get the actual free one, How to add a written statement to your credit report, Decade-old credit mistakes shouldn't appear on your report

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: October 26, 2010


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