Consumers who checked their credit reports last year apparently found plenty that looked wrong.
Complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about credit reporting nearly doubled in 2022 from 2021, according to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy organization.
Issues with your credit report can hurt your credit score, which affects your ability to qualify for credit cards and loans and your interest rates. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, a federal law passed in 1970, gives you the right to dispute incorrect or inaccurate information you might find in your credit report. Here’s more about how to dispute a credit report error.
What Is the Credit Dispute Process?
Disputing a credit report error with a credit bureau, according to the Federal Trade Commission, is a six-step process:
- Identify. You review your credit report and find an error.
- Dispute. You initiate a dispute with the credit bureau and provide supporting documents.
- Investigate. The credit bureau will investigate your dispute within 30 days.
- Decide. The credit bureau decides whether your report contains an error based on your documentation and information from the data furnisher, such as a creditor or lender.
- Notify. You’ll be notified of the outcome within five days of the decision.
- New report. If your credit report is corrected, you can ask the credit bureau to send updated reports to employers in the last two years and others in the last six months who accessed inaccurate reports.
1. Review Your Credit Reports to Identify Errors
Finding problems with your credit reports is the first step in fixing them. You can get free weekly online access to your reports through 2023 at AnnualCreditReport.com and should check them at least yearly but more frequently in certain situations.
When to check your credit reports more often: if you plan to apply for a loan soon or you have an elevated risk of identity theft. The latter might include being a victim of fraud or a data breach.
“Make sure to review reports from all three credit reporting agencies; each one may have slightly different information,” says Freddie Huynh, vice president of data optimization for Freedom Debt Relief.
What’s worth correcting on your credit report? As you review your credit reports, look for these common credit report errors:
- Incorrect identifying details, such as your name, address, birthdate, phone number or Social Security number.
- Accounts that aren’t yours, including fraudulent accounts, collection accounts or accounts that belong to someone with the same or a similar name.
- Open accounts reported as closed, and vice versa.
- Accounts that list you as owner instead of authorized user.
- Accounts that are mistakenly shown as late or delinquent but are current.
- Duplicate accounts.
- Incorrect delinquency date, account opening date or last payment date.
- Incorrect balances or credit limits.
- Credit inquiries you didn’t authorize.
- Public records that don’t belong to you, such as a bankruptcy.
Sometimes whether to dispute an error will be a judgment call. You may not want to correct an address that’s off by one letter, but a seriously wrong address could indicate fraud and must be fixed, says Gerri Detweiler, credit expert and author of six books, including “The Ultimate Credit Handbook.”
Similarly, a misspelled name might not seem worth the effort to correct but could leave you open to larger issues with your credit report. Accounts that aren’t yours could end up being added to your credit report, according to the FTC.
An unauthorized credit inquiry may not be worth your time to track down, though, Detweiler says.
“Inquiries only make up about 10% of your score, and even then, they don’t have as much impact as most people think,” she says. “It’s not a major factor that’s really worth getting worried about.”
Focus on fixing errors that can make a big difference in your credit score, Detweiler says. “If it shows you were late and you weren’t, that’s absolutely worth disputing,” she says.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud, such as applying for credit or making unauthorized purchases.
Report identity theft to the FTC online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 877-438-4338. You will explain what happened and get a recovery plan that can be updated as needed.
When you submit your report online, you will have a chance to print or save it. The report can help you prove to businesses that someone stole your identity and help you fix problems caused by the incident.
You will also have an option to get an email with a report number to update the report later, if necessary, with new information.
2. Prepare to Dispute the Error
You will need to dispute the error with the credit bureau that created the report and the company that provided the information, called the data furnisher.
If an error appears on two out of three reports – say, Equifax and Experian but not TransUnion – you need to dispute the mistakes with Equifax and Experian.
Prepare to support your assertion that the report is wrong with copies of these documents:
- Identifying documents with your correct name and address, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate or utility bill.
- Current bank statements with information such as balance, credit limit, payment status and account status (open or closed).
- Canceled checks.
- Student loan disability letters.
- Court documents, such as bankruptcy schedules.
- Relief program agreements.
- Letters from a lender showing an account was corrected.
- Proof that an account was the result of identity theft.
- Correction letters from a lender.
3. Dispute the Error With the Credit Bureaus
The fastest and easiest way to file a credit dispute with the bureaus is online, Huynh says, but you can also do it by mail or by phone.
Regardless of how you file, use the CFPB’s template for the dispute letter to the credit bureau. You may also want to include a copy of your credit report with the inaccurate or incomplete item marked or circled. Your letter will explain why it is wrong.
Filing a dispute is free, but make sure you follow the process for each credit reporting agency.
Filing a Dispute With Equifax
Online: You can file a dispute on the Equifax website if you have a myEquifax account or once you create one. Check the status of your dispute through the account.
Mail: Send your information to Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374-0256.
Phone: Call 888-378-4329 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern Time Monday through Friday or between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday.
Filing a Dispute With Experian
Online: Create an Experian account to submit a dispute online and monitor the status of your dispute.
Mail: Download, print, complete and mail this dispute form to Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013.
Phone: Call the number on your Experian credit report to initiate a dispute by phone.
Filing a Dispute With TransUnion
Online: Start a TransUnion account or sign into it to file or check the status of a credit dispute.
Mail: You will need to provide as many details as possible to TransUnion to complete your dispute by mail. Send your name, address, Social Security number, birthdate, name of the data furnisher, reason for your dispute and any corrections to personal information, such as address or phone number.
If possible, include the partial account number of the disputed item from your credit report and your TransUnion file number. Mail your documents to TransUnion Consumer Solutions, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016-2000.
Phone: Call 800-916-8800 between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern Time Monday through Friday or between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday.
4. Contact the Data Furnisher
You can correct an error with the credit bureau, but until you fix it with the data furnisher, the mistake will still appear on your credit report. That’s because the data furnisher is the source, and the credit bureau only reports that information.
If you correct your name with the credit reporting agency but not the data furnisher, for instance, your credit report will continue to show the wrong name.
Contact the data furnisher to correct the information. The CFPB offers further guidance and a sample dispute letter.
5. Wait for and Review Responses
Generally, credit bureaus and data furnishers will respond to your dispute within 30 days, according to the CFPB. Note that if you provide additional information related to your dispute during the investigation, you could wait up to 45 days for a response.
When a credit bureau completes an investigation, it must notify you of the results within five business days. The credit bureau could decide to:
- Make no change to your credit report.
- Update your credit report.
- Delete information from your credit report.
You will receive a free copy of your updated report to verify the correction. This process will be repeated as errors must be disputed separately with each credit bureau.
If You’re Unsatisfied With the Outcome
- Dispute the error again: If you have additional information, submit it to the credit reporting agency or the data furnisher with a letter explaining the enclosure. Ask the agency to send you the materials it used for the decision and escalate the dispute if necessary.
- Report the credit bureau: File a complaint with the FTC and the CFPB if the credit reporting agency is not providing adequate assistance or taking your dispute seriously.
- Compose a statement of dispute: “If the dispute has been resolved but the consumer still disagrees, the consumer can leave a statement on the credit report indicating that they do not agree with the information on the report,” Huynh says. Your statement should tell your side of the story in 100 words, but creditors are not guaranteed to consider it.
6. Review Your New Report
You will receive an updated copy of your credit report from the credit bureau once your dispute has been resolved. Verify that the mistake does not appear on the report.
Continue to monitor your credit reports for errors and to make sure that old errors do not reappear.