Errors on your credit report can severely harm your credit score. Dispute any errors as soon as you see them.
Checking your credit report is an essential part of improving your credit score because you’ll be able to make sure your score is accurate and up to date. If any errors are found, you can have them corrected through a dispute process.The first step you should take is to obtain copies of all three of your credit reports from the major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can access these reports through annualcreditreport.com. This site provides one free credit report each year from each of the bureaus. But due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this site is offering free weekly reports through April 2021. Reviewing all three is helpful as the bureaus don’t have exactly the same information in their databases. Seeing all three reports side-by-side is helpful in spotting errors, especially if you have not done this in some time (or ever).
How to dispute a credit report error
The first step of the formal dispute process is to contact the credit bureau (or bureaus, if the error is on more than one report). You can do this by mail or online.
If you choose to use the U.S. Postal Service and send a letter, you should send the correspondence via certified mail, return receipt requested. Your letter should outline the error and why it is a mistake. A copy of the credit report with the error circled or otherwise indicated should be included, along with copies of any documentation you have to support your claim.
Depending on the nature of the error, this documentation could be canceled checks or statements (in the case of paid-off accounts), police reports and FTC Identity Theft Reports (in the case of identity theft) or any correspondence related to your claim. Do not mail original documentation and be sure to keep copies of everything you mail. Your letter should include your contact information (full name, address, telephone number) and a written request that the information be corrected or removed from your credit report.
Each bureau has an online process in place to dispute errors (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). Disputing online is faster, easier and more secure than using the mail. You can upload the documentation needed through these portals as well, and be able to track your dispute. Give the bureau about 30 to 45 days to complete their investigation before you check to see if the correction has been made.
You may also prefer to contact the creditor in question. They must investigate the disputed information and report back to you within 30 days. While they are investigating, they must report the account as in dispute. If they tell you they updated your file, check your reports again in 30 or 45 days to be sure the error has been removed.
In the case of an address or credit line you don’t recognize, you may be the victim of identity theft. This is a serious issue that will require more than just a dispute with the credit bureaus.
If you are unsatisfied with the result of your dispute, you can add a 100-word (or less) statement to your credit report explaining your side of the issue. The statement won’t improve your score, but it may help someone reviewing your report to understand what happened from your point of view.
See related: Why is your credit score important?
Do you have to dispute with all three bureaus?
If the error in question only appears on one report, you only need to dispute with the bureau in question. In all other cases, you technically should only have to file a dispute with one bureau and that bureau is supposed to contact the others. But it’s best to contact all three just to be sure it is corrected in a timely manner.
Can disputing hurt your credit?
Your credit score is derived from the information that is on your credit report(s). So the dispute itself will not have an impact on your score. Address corrections and other identifying information corrections will not affect your score at all.
But if the dispute results in a change to an account, that could have an effect on your score, depending on what was changed. The most important thing is for all of your information to be correct, even if the result is not what you initially hoped for. If the dispute does result in a dip to your score, you will need to concentrate on positive actions to get your score back up.
Beware of making frivolous disputes. This means disputing the same thing over and over again. In that case, the bureau will tell you why they think your dispute is frivolous and tell what you need to do (or stop doing) to get them to launch an investigation.
How to look out for credit report errors.
As noted above, checking your credit reports is crucial to finding mistakes. The credit bureaus deal with millions of pieces of data on a daily basis, and mistakes are bound to happen. It is generally up to you to find and correct those mistakes when they happen. Checking your reports on a regular basis is the best way to do that. I like the idea of pulling at least one report every three months or so to check for errors. If you have access to credit reports through a credit card, you can check them even more often at no cost to you.
Stay on top of your reports and know where you stand with your accounts at all times. This is the best way to keep your reports – and your credit score – in their best shape.