If your credit score consistently seems lower than it should be, there could be misinformation in your credit file. Or maybe you’ve seen your credit report and already know something isn’t right. In either case, you can file a dispute with the credit reporting agency to have it investigated and, if found to be incorrect, to have it corrected.
You can get a copy of your credit report for free every year
By law, you’re allowed to “order one free copy of your report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies every 12 months” from this website. You can order a report from each of the three nationwide bureaus at the same time, or one at a time. Note that checking your own credit score will not impact your credit score.
It’s a good idea to request your reports because that gives you the opportunity to verify that all the information in your file is accurate. Keep in mind, information can vary from each bureau to the next, so it’s a good idea to check all three at least once a year.
And per the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act), you can submit a written request outlining the information you think is inaccurate. Most times, the bureau must investigate and respond to your request within 30 days.
Common mistakes found on credit reports
It’s up to each individual company to report information about your accounts and payments to the credit bureaus – usually once per month. And while they’re usually accurate, there’s still room for error. Be sure to keep a close eye on:
- Accounts from companies you don’t recognize, which could be from someone opening an account in your name without your knowledge or permission
- Correct account information, like credit limits, loan terms, and monthly payments
- The exact spelling of your name, including missing or incorrect middle initials and suffixes such as “Sr.” and “Jr.”
- Duplicate account information, usually caused by a creditor reporting the same account twice
- Past debts or missed payments older than seven years, as most negative marks fall off your account after seven years
- Accounts with no late payments showing marked as late
- Debts you’ve paid off showing as outstanding, because the lender didn’t report the payoff date correctly
If you spot any of these items on your credit report, definitely write a letter to request an investigation.
How to dispute an item on your credit report
For a credit reporting agency to look into your claim, you’ll need to submit a letter in writing. Fortunately the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has an excellent template you can borrow.
In your letter, detail what information is missing or incorrect, and attach any account statements or documents related to your claim.
It’s also a good idea to send the letter with a tracking number or via certified mail. That way you can make sure the credit reporting agency received your request. Or, you can submit your claim online. Here’s the information you’ll need to reach out to each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
- Equifax – File a dispute
- Experian – File a dispute
- TransUnion – File a dispute
From the day they receive it, they have 30 days to look into your claim. Then, they will reply in writing with their findings. If they update your credit report, they’ll also enclose a new updated copy of your report for you to review. Note this copy of your report doesn’t count against the free copy you can request every 12 months.
Is it worth doing?
Disputing data on your credit file might seem like a daunting, multi-step task. But considering how many things in life depend on your credit score, it’s definitely worth the effort – especially if correcting your file could lead to your score increasing.
And because it takes about a month to complete the process, it’s best to get the ball rolling well in advance of when you could benefit from a higher credit score, like if you’re planning to:
- Apply for a new credit card
- Go shopping for a new car
- Refinance a loan
- Take out a mortgage
- Rent a new apartment
- Anything else that requires your credit score for approval
Having a higher credit score can be the difference between denial and approval, or between low interest versus high interest.
Plus, considering negative items can stick around on your report for several years, it’s worth it to file a dispute as soon as you can because sooner or later, you’ll want to take advantage of your credit score.
It’s a straightforward process to dispute items on your credit report: write a letter detailing your concerns, attach any proof or documents, and wait 30 days to hear back.
You’re entitled to a free copy of your report every 12 months from each of the three main bureaus. It’s a good idea to request them so you can keep an eye on the information being reported about your accounts. If you find incorrect, missing or duplicate information, follow the steps above to get your report updated.
Your credit score is an important asset. And luckily, there are regulations in place to keep you protected.