This guide will outline the process that any consumer can follow for reviewing and disputing inaccuracies in his or her credit report without the assistance of others.
1. Review Your Credit Reports.
Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year. Consumers may obtain these free reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. In order to obtain the copies, consumers must enter their personal information and answer verification questions. Consumers should be sure to review all three of their reports because sometimes errors may only appear with one or two of the credit bureaus. For each report, consumers should carefully review the report line-by-line, mark any potential errors, unfamiliar accounts, or identity errors.
2. Research Potential Inaccuracies and Gather Documents to Support a Dispute.
After reviewing all three reports, consumers should research anything they've marked as suspicious, unfamiliar, or potentially incorrect. Consumers can compare the information in their credit reports with documents from their accounts as well as requesting information from creditors. Ultimately, if appears that an error or inaccuracy exists in the credit report(s), consumer should start a folder for their dispute of the inaccuracy and store an documents (for example, receipts, accounts statements) that help prove that the information in the report(s) is, in fact, inaccurate.
Sometimes the status of accounts can be inaccurate by being labeled "late" or "in collections" instead of "closed" or "paid in full." In a situation where a status is incorrectly reported, a consumer should try to collect documentation proving the correct status and place it in the dispute folder. Another potential inaccuracy consumers may encounter is having their credit limit is being reported as $1,000, when it's really $5,000 - in this case, include a copy of your credit card statement that shows the correct credit limit in your dispute folder.
3. Write a Detailed Dispute Letter.
After identifying an inaccuracy and gathering as much documentation in support of the dispute as possible, a consumer is now ready to write his or her dispute letter. The federal Fair Trade Commission (FTC) as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) each provide sample dispute letters on their websites that may give consumer a guide. At minimum, the consumer should be sure to write the letter in a way the identifies the account at issue as well as the information the consumer believes to be inaccurate. In good dispute letters, the consumer will also explain why they they believe the reported information is inaccurate. In even better dispute letters, consumers will also reference any supporting documents they found and include a copy of those documents with their letter. A consumer may even consider whether he/she would want to include a marked-up copy of their credit report to the credit bureaus and reporting company.
All this being said, dispute letters don't have to be fancy or worded like they were written by a lawyer. They just need to give information to the credit bureaus and the company that reported (or "furnished") the information that appears inaccurate to the consumer.
After a consumer finishes their dispute letter, the consumer should make a copy of everything being sent, including the dispute letter and any documents, and place this in their dispute folder for the particular inaccuracy. Then, if the consumer needs to reference these documents later, they can do so.
4. Send the Dispute Letter.
After a consumer makes sure they have a copy of their dispute letter for themselves, it's time to send their dispute letter. The credit bureaus general accept disputes online (they are also supposed to forward a dispute to the company that furnished the credit information when they receive disputes this way). Consumers may also send dispute letters through the U.S. mail to companies reporting information to the bureaus may be sent to the companies' headquarters or registered agent. To make sure a dispute is received and given attention, it may be wise to submit a dispute BOTH online to the credit bureaus as well as through certified mail (with a return receipt) to the company report the seemingly-inaccurate information. Consumers can even write above the addressee information on their letter that it was submitted "VIA ONLINE SUBMISSION & CERTIFIED MAIL," so it is clear to all that receive the letter which entities the letter is being sent to and the manner in which it is being sent.
After submission of a dispute, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that credit bureaus and/or "furnishers" (i.e., the companies that report to the credit reports) that receive a dispute investigate that dispute and respond to the consumer after approximately 30 days, in most cases. (Consumers might want to make notes on their calendars about when they send a dispute as well as when they may expect a response around the 30-day mark -- if no response is ever received, that is a problem, and consumers should try to consumer that their letter was successfully delivered, if possible).
When the credit bureaus or reporting companies respond to a consumer's dispute letter, they may tell the consumer that they agree with the dispute and will correct the dispute information. The credit bureaus should then report the corrected information back to the consumer once updated.
However, consumer disputes are not always successful. Consumers may receive a response indicating that the disputed information was not believed to be an error. Also, consumers may receive a response that their dispute was "frivolous;" this response is sometimes given if consumers don't provide enough information describing their dispute, dispute the same item repeatedly, or dispute too many items at the same time. None of these responses mean that consumers cannot send another dispute letter about the same item asking for re-investigation, providing more information, or even providing newly-found proof of the suspected inaccuracy.
If you are a consumer that submits a successful dispute - congratulations. But remember, even if your dispute is successful, new errors may hit your credit report in the future. It is wise to monitor your credit regularly to ensure your information remains as accurate as possible. With your credit score and financial situation on the line, it will be well worth your time.
If you are a consumer that submits an "unsuccessful" dispute even though you believe you have information to prove that your credit report remains inaccurate or you have found that either the bureaus or the reporting company did not conduct a good investigation, you may consider contacting a consumer protection attorney about whether you may have a valid claim to bring under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
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