Cardholders must fight to correct credit report errors

Reporter Jeremy M. Simon
Jeremy M. Simon is a former staff reporter for who covered credit reporting and scoring issues.

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Question for the expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
Back in 2007 was the first time I checked my credit score via Experian. I had a score of 726, but also found that my personal information was messed up. The more serious issue was that there were close to 10 accounts displayed on my report when, in fact, I had only two credit card accounts. I disputed the accounts that were not mine and got them removed. But for some reason, Experian went ahead and removed the two credit card accounts that were mine. Since then, every time I check my score, it always says "score unavailable" due to no credit information. When I asked Experian about this they told me to contact the credit card provider. I took their advice and contacted the credit card company, but they told me to fix it with the credit bureau. I have been going in loops for a long time now and still my case is not closed. Could you guide me on to how to deal with this issue? -- Karthik

Answer for the expert

Hey Karthik,
In hopes of getting your credit report corrected once and for all, take advantage of consumer protection law by disputing these ongoing errors with both the bank and credit bureau.

You did the right thing by previously disputing the eight accounts on your credit report that weren't yours. Those items may have been associated with someone else who shared your name, such as a relative, who had a similar birth date or Social Security number to yours. "It's a good thing to look and make sure it's your information that's associated with your file," says Pavneet Singh, an attorney in the division of privacy and identity protection with the Federal Trade Commission. That's because other borrowers' accounts that appear on your credit report could go unpaid or suddenly include high debt levels, damaging your credit. Of course, you also want to make sure that your own accounts are listed in your credit history, since insufficient information prevents your credit score from being calculated. With that in mind, you should contact both the banks that issued your cards and reach out again to Experian.   

The law will help you. The Fair Credit Reporting Act addresses how the credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- are required to maintain, share and correct information listed in consumers' credit reports. Additionally, a rule implementing part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction (FACT) Act was put into effect in July 2010 to allow consumers to directly contact the bank about any reporting mistakes.  "Before, in a lot of cases, the consumer would file a dispute with the furnisher -- for example, the credit card company -- directly," Singh says. Back then, the credit card company often took action to help its customer in those cases, but they didn't have to. "Now, because of the law, they are required to handle the dispute," Singh says. So if you haven't already done so, you'll want to also file a dispute with your card issuers. 

So what steps should you take to file that dispute? "The dispute process is very straightforward and begins with getting your personal credit report," says Rod Griffin, director of public education with Experian. "You can get a free report once every 12 months at You can also get a free credit report from the credit company used by the lender to make its decision if you have had adverse action taken, such as having your application declined. The lender will provide instructions for how to do so, usually in the adverse-action notice," Griffin says. You can also get a free credit report if you are a fraud victim, are out of work and are looking for a job or receive government welfare assistance, he adds. Or you can purchase your report from the bureaus.

Once you have your credit report in hand, just how you file a dispute is important. Consumer experts say you should mail your dispute letter, along with copies of any supporting documentation, to both the bank and the credit bureau. In the letter, outline what actions you have already taken to clean up your credit report. "He would want to provide information about what he disputed previously," says the FTC's Singh. As for that supporting documentation, include copies of your credit card statements (retain the original documents for your records) from the two banks that should appear on your credit report. "I recommend sending any supporting documentation and sending it certified, in case you don't get an answer in the required 30 days," says Sandy Shore, senior counselor with New Jersey-based consumer credit counseling agency Novadebt. Using certified mail will let you know the dispute letters have been received.  Be sure to list anything and everything that looks wrong. "You can dispute each account item," says Griffin. "There is no limit on the number of items you can dispute."

From there, it's up to the credit reporting agency and the card issuer to take action. "Experian then contacts the source or sources of information with your disputes," Griffin says. "The source(s) are required by federal law to review their records and respond within 30 days. The source will respond in one of three ways:  The information is accurate as reported; the information should be updated, along with the appropriate updates; or the information should be removed," he says in an e-mail.

Once the correct accounts appear on your credit report, it could take about half a year until your credit score can be calculated. "Most scoring systems can calculate scores with six months of data, many can do so with as few as two or three months," Griffin says. According to the website for FICO, creator of the most widely used scoring model, your score can be generated if your credit report contains at least one account that has been open for six months or more, at least one undisputed account that has been reported to the bureau within the past six months and no indication on the credit report that you are deceased. 

If you take all those steps and still don't get any closure on this issue, then it's time to file a complaint with the FTC. "He can certainly file a complaint with us. We look at those complaints generally, but we can't necessarily resolve each one," Singh says. 

In other words, when it comes to credit report errors, consumers must fight for their own credit files' accuracy.

Good luck!

-- Jeremy 

See related: FICO reveals how common credit mistakes affect scores, Credit report error? You can go direct to merchant, How to dispute credit report errors, Credit report anatomy: How to read, understand reports, FTC aims to clarify disclosure of consumers' credit reporting rights, Decade-old credit mistakes shouldn't appear on your report

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Updated: 11-24-2017