Correcting your credit report
Making mistakes is an unavoidable hassle of being human. The same can be said of many companies (they are, after all, run by people). But when a credit bureau makes a mistake on your credit report, it can be costly—both emotionally, due to the stress of having to fix it, and financially due to the higher interest rates you might be charged.
Thankfully, your credit report is not set in stone and can be corrected. It’s up to you, however, to make sure that happens. And doing so is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
1. Get your reports
Get a copy of your credit report from all three bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—learn how at the end of this post). While you might be thinking, “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” let me explain: I have had numerous people complain about their credit report as if it is one single document. But it’s not. There are three reports, and each can have wildly different information. This is why it’s vital you get your copy from all of them.
The best place to do that is www.AnnualCreditReport.com. In fact, it is the only site legally designated to give you copies from all three bureaus each year. Some sites might have “free” in their name or promise free access, but there is often a fee hidden in the fine print. So your best bet is to stick with www.AnnualCreditReport.com. You’ll also need to have some information at the ready:
- Full name (including maiden name)
- Complete current address/phone number
- Previous addresses (if you’ve moved in the past 2 years)
- Date of birth
- Social security number
For security reasons, you will also be asked about something only you would likely know, such as where you lived in 1998 or the monthly payment on a loan you have.
2. List the errors
Make a list of any and all errors on each report. Make sure to include payments you made but weren’t given credit for, info on past jobs, even your past addresses—anything that is wrong.
You then need to start collecting evidence that they have the wrong information. Keep in mind that the burden of proof is on you, not the credit bureau or the creditor. This means you’ll need to have rock-solid evidence to support your position. A good way is to print (or photocopy) a copy of your report and then highlight everything that is wrong. Then place your evidence in a folder (either physical or electronic – your preference) so it’s in one place and easy to access.
3. Contact the bureau(s) and creditor(s)
You’ll want to write a letter to each bureau outlining what is wrong on your report, and mail it with copies of your evidence (not the originals!) to the appropriate bureau. Make sure the letter is professional (you can find a sample on at the Federal Trade Commission’s website) and keep copies of all your correspondence. In fact, it’s best to use certified mail so you know when it was received and by whom.
If the error is with a creditor, the bureau will contact the creditor, and then contact you within 30 days to notify you of the creditor’s response.
If the creditor disagrees with your claim, you will have to deal with them directly. In this case, you should send letters (again, via certified mail or even fax so you have a record) “Validating the Debt,” which requires them to prove you owe what they say you do. From there, they will either agree and make the change, or disagree and explain why that is with their own evidence. While you can challenge their denial, only do so if you are 100% certain you are correct—it can take a lot of time and might even require the services of a lawyer.
Remember that it is up to you to monitor your credit report and ensure it is accurate. So check your reports once a year for free at www.AnnualCreditReport.com and quickly ask for errors to be fixed. Your bank account—and your stress level—will both benefit.
Exquifax Credit Information Services
PO Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374
Experian National Consumer Assistance Center
PO Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion LLC Consumer Disclosure Center
PO Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022
For more information on the complete dispute process, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at www.FTC.gov/credit.