The ultimate guide to disputing mistakes on your credit report

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The information in your credit report directly affects your financial wellbeing. It’s no wonder you should be paying attention to your credit score — it helps lenders, creditors, landlords and even employers determine your creditworthiness and decide whether or not to work with you. Unfortunately, credit reports often contain errors and inaccurate information.

Mistakes on your credit report — especially ones that cast you in a negative light — can drag down your credit score and tarnish your financial image. When you find a mistake, you should get it corrected as soon as you can. Americans have the legal right to an accurate credit report.

Here’s how to dispute a mistake on your credit report.

Identify the mistake(s) you wish to dispute

First, get copies of your credit report. You can get your reports for free from the three major credit reporting agencies once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. Make sure to request your report from all three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — as they may not all contain the same information.

Next, read through each credit report to identify mistakes. Common errors include:

  • Incorrect identifying information (e.g., misspelled name or wrong address)
  • Accounts that belong to someone with the same name or a similar name
  • Accounts you don’t recognize and never opened
  • Accounts you closed that still show as open
  • Accounts that incorrectly show as late or delinquent
  • Hard inquiries from credit applications you never submitted

Highlight all the items you believe are inaccurate so you can begin the dispute process.

Genius tip: It generally isn’t a good use of your time to dispute accurate negative information in the hopes it will be removed. While there’s no law barring you from doing so, your dispute will be denied if the party that reported the information to the credit bureau (known as the “data furnisher”) can provide proof that it is correct.

Submit a dispute with the credit bureau

Once you find an error on your credit report, submit a dispute to the credit bureau reporting the mistake. You can contest multiple items in the same dispute. But you can’t contest mistakes across credit bureaus, meaning if an error appears on all three of your main credit reports, you can’t just file a dispute with Experian and expect Equifax and TransUnion to address the issue. They operate as separate, private entities, so you need to file a dispute with all three.

Each credit bureau website will give you instructions on how to submit your dispute, but there are three main ways to get it done:

  • Online: The credit bureau’s online dispute center is the easiest way to submit a dispute. You will need to enter some identifying information to locate your account and begin the process.
  • Mail: You can submit your dispute, along with all supporting documents, by snail mail to the credit bureau’s dispute center.
  • Phone: You can initiate your dispute by phone, though you may need to submit additional documentation. Make sure to have your credit report on hand before you call the credit bureau.

Each credit bureau provides a dispute form that can be completed online or printed, filled out and mailed. While the dispute form is sufficient for many mistakes, you may find that a dispute letter allows you to go into more detail.

Writing a dispute letter

The dispute form and/or letter should include, at minimum:

  • Your full name, phone number, address and date of birth
  • The report confirmation number from your credit report, if available
  • The name of the furnisher that reported the information you are disputing. Common furnishers include banks, lenders, credit card issuers and utility companies
  • Information, such as an account number, that helps the credit bureau identify the mistake
  • An explanation of why the disputed item is incorrect
  • An explanation of any supporting documents you are including

Whether submitting your dispute online, by mail or over the phone, include copies of the credit report with the mistake highlighted and copies of any supporting documents, such as a payment receipt or confirmation of a closed account.

“If you’re sending supporting documents, always send copies,” Jen Smith, personal finance expert at The Penny Hoarder, says. “Things can be easily lost in transit and paper shuffles and originals are always safest with you. Send letters by certified mail with a ‘return receipt requested,’ so you can document when it’s received.”

Wait for the credit bureau to investigate

After you submit your dispute, you should be prepared to wait anywhere from 30 to 45 days.

If you submitted your dispute with the credit bureau, they will contact the furnisher and provide all relevant information and documents related to your dispute. The furnisher will be instructed to investigate, verify the accuracy of the information, provide a response and update their own records. You may receive a reference number so you can check on the status of your dispute.

“Credit reporting companies have 30 days from the date your letter is received to investigate your claim,” Smith says. “They can add 15 more days to this if they need additional documentation or documents are received late.”

If you submitted a dispute to the furnisher, they also typically have 30 to 45 days to investigate and report results. They will inform the credit bureau about the dispute, and the item will show up as disputed on your credit report.

Receiving your credit report dispute results

Following an investigation initiated by the credit bureau or the furnisher, the furnisher will respond to your dispute in one of three ways:

  • It’ll update the information as a result of your dispute.
  • It’ll remove the information from your credit report.
  • It’ll leave the information on your credit report unchanged.

You should receive a written statement informing you of the results. The credit bureau will also provide the name, address and phone number of the furnisher and a free copy of your credit report if the dispute resulted in a change.

Check out this guide to learn more about what a good credit score looks like.

Genius tip: If your dispute was incomplete, incorrect or you are attempting to dispute the same item more than once without submitting any additional information, the credit bureau  can decide your dispute is frivolous and take no further action. They must notify you of this decision within five days, along with their reasoning.

Not satisfied with your accurate, but so-so credit score? We’ve got a few ways to improve your credit in 30 days or less.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

Featured Image Credit: GCShutter.

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