With more than 200 million Americans possessing credit reports, and billions of pieces of data regularly moving to credit reporting bureaus, mistakes, unfortunately, are bound to happen.
Research performed in 2021 by Consumer Reports of nearly 6,000 volunteers found that more than one-third — some 34% of participants — reported finding at least one error on their report, with 29% noting errors in personal information and 11% uncovering account information inaccuracies.
Those mistakes can potentially lead to a lower credit score, which can have negative implications on your ability to borrow money, rent or buy a home, purchase affordable insurance and even land some jobs. That’s why it’s so important to review your credit reports at least a few times each year to make sure the information presented is accurate and up-to-date.
Under federal law, everyone is entitled to receive a free copy of their credit report from each credit reporting company every 12 months. You can get a free copy of your credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com. You also have access to your credit scores for free through SavvyMoney.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offers these guidelines for disputing incorrect information you find on your credit reports:
Cast a wide net
When reporting an error on your credit report, contact both the credit reporting company (the big three are Experian, Equifax or TransUnion) and the company that provided the information. Known as furnishers, these can typically be financial institutions, credit card companies and landlords. Remember, you can also use the SavvyMoney product to request a correction with TransUnion.
Write a detailed letter
While phone calls and emails may be more convenient, it’s advisable to put your grievances in writing. In a clear and concise manner, explain what you think is wrong, why, and include copies of documents to support your claim. For guidance, and addresses for the major credit reporting bureaus, the CFPB offers detailed instructions and a sample letter to walk you through the process. If you decide to mail a credit report dispute, your letter should include:
- Complete contact information with your full name, address and telephone number
- A report confirmation number, if it is available
- Details that clearly identify each mistake, such as an account number for an account you are disputing
- A written request that the information be removed or corrected on your report
Make copies of supporting documents
Besides your written communication, it’s helpful to include a copy of the portion of your credit report that contains the disputed item. Be sure to circle or highlight the mistakes. You should also include copies (never the originals) of documents that support your claim with your letter. Also make a copy of the letter you send for your own records.
Send through certified mail
Consider sending the letter detailing errors to credit reporting companies by certified mail. Make sure to ask for a return receipt, so you will have a record of your letter.
Keep good records
Gather all of the information and documents related to the credit report dispute in a file for safekeeping. Those documents may come in handy if you don’t immediately receive a favorable response from the companies you contacted.
Be prepared to wait
Consumer reporting agencies have five business days after completing an investigation to notify you of the results. Typically, they are required to investigate a dispute within 30 days of receiving it, notes the CFPB. But if you file a dispute after receiving your free annual credit report, the reporting agency has 45 days to investigate your claim. And if you submit additional information about your dispute during the 30-day investigation period, it can extend the investigation period for another 15 days.
Jean Chatzky with reporting by Casandra Andrews via SavvyMoney