Let’s say you’ve finally gotten around to some financial housekeeping and ordered your personal credit report online. Good for you! It’s an easy first step in managing your credit and financial future.
But what happens if you find an inaccuracy in your credit report? Unfortunately, an error can impact your credit negatively as much as good financial choices can impact you positively. When you know you have a case for error, disputing mistakes on your credit report is actually a painless process, so fear not. Here are the steps you need to take, as soon as you spot the credit report error.
Make sure you know your credit report rights
By law, all three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and the creditor who reports the information are required to investigate legitimate claims of inaccuracy, and correct the information in your report if it is indeed found to be inaccurate—but it will take some patience and action on your part to makes sure that it happens.
Make sure you take action on the error
Disputing a mistake on a credit report used to involve mounds of paperwork and certified mail. Nowadays, you can easily dispute any information in your report that you find to be inaccurate, online and in seconds. If you have accessed your report online using AnnualCreditReport.com, each of the three bureaus makes it easy to highlight the negative information on your report, and enter a request for an investigation. (However, if you have already been working with a creditor to resolve a faulty charge and gotten nowhere with it, it may behoove you to file the “old fashioned way” by mail, so that you can include copies of supporting documentation with your dispute filing). You can also file a credit report dispute by phone.
Whichever way you choose to file, make sure that you have a current copy of the credit report that is issued by each individual bureau, so that you can reference the proper ”file number” that each bureau has assigned to you, and note the proper creditor name and corresponding account number for the account you are disputing. When you report the inaccuracy, you’ll be asked the reason for your dispute, such as a missed payment that was actually paid, or an account that you didn’t know you had.
Mark your calendar and check your credit report
Once you have filed the request for an investigation, the credit bureau will contact the creditor whose information you have disputed for an investigation, which is generally completed within 30 days. Don’t apply for any additional types of credit during this time. Each bureau will notify you of the results by mail or online after thirty days from your filing. If the creditor whose record you are disputing hasn’t responded to the bureaus’ request within that time, the item will be deleted from your credit report. If the item you disputed is actually found to be accurate, it will be placed back on your credit report within five days, and you’ll receive a letter telling you so.
If the conclusion didn’t end in your favor, your efforts weren’t all for naught; you can tell “your side of the story” in a short statement that will be included in your file and in future reports for other potential creditors to see.