By Sarah Seville, Spencer Watson, and Valerie Ploumpis
So you’ve noticed that there’s a mistake on your credit report, and maybe you’re freaking out about it. You’re not alone. In a 2021 Consumer Reports survey, more than a third of people in the U.S.(34%) found at least one error on their credit report and 29% found errors related to their personal information. And the definitive study by the Federal Trade Commission found that 20% of consumers had verified errors in their reports, with 5% having an error so serious that it would cause them to be denied or pay more for credit.
Some common errors include:
- Inaccurate names or addresses included in your personal information.
- Mixed account information for loans or accounts that
- Debts reported by collection agencies that you don’t owe or already paid off
- Delinquencies or collection accounts that are more than seven years old– negative marks should “fall off” your credit report by then, unless it is a bankruptcy or criminal conviction.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) guarantees U.S. consumers the right to dispute inaccurate information and have it removed from their credit reports. If you find an error on your report, make a plan to get the error fixed. Be forewarned that you may need to dispute multiple times, file a complaint with the government, or even consult an attorney.
Step 1: Identify Which of Your Credit Reports Has Errors that Need to Be Fixed
Because each of the Big Three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) get their data independently of each other, sometimes an error won’t appear on all three reports, only one or two. If the error is only present in one or two reports, those are the only agencies you need to worry about filing a dispute to fix the error. But to be safe, you should check all three of your reports to see where the error appears, and look for any other mistakes they might contain.
There are a few ways to get free copies of your credit reports:
- The FCRA guarantees consumers’ right to get a free copy of their credit report once each year. You can request your free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com, by calling 1-877-322-8228 or by mail (this CFPB webpage has addresses). You will be asked to provide some personal information about yourself and also to answer some questions about information on your credit report, such as previous loans or addresses.
- The Big Three credit bureaus are offering free weekly access to credit reports through the end of 2023 via AnnualCreditReport.com.
- If you were turned down for credit, insurance, apartment or another benefit because of your report, you can obtain a free report in order to check that report for any mistakes or errors. If you were turned down for a job or promotion, you can request a copy of the credit report that the employer used. This right also applies to other types of reports, such as background checks or tenant screening reports.
- If you want even more reports or want a copy of your credit score, you might want to consider other options, such as the ones in this article.
Step 2: Gather the Information to File Your Dispute
The information you’ll need for the dispute process is the same for each of the agencies, so it’s a good idea to gather it ahead of time.
- Your full legal name (first, last, and middle initial)
- Your date of birth
- Your social security number (all nine digits)
- Your address
- One copy of a government ID (like your driver’s license or passport)
- One copy of a financial document in your name (bill, bank statement, etc.)
- A list of each item on your report that is inaccurate and the fixes the bureau needs to make to your report to fix the error.
- Any documents you may have that show that the information is inaccurate, such as a letter from your creditor, account statements, or other records.
Step 3: File Your Dispute
Each of the big three credit reporting agencies has its own procedure for correcting errors – here is some of the guidance that the bureaus provide to consumers on their websites:
- Experian: How to Dispute Credit Report Information
- Equifax: Correct or Dispute Information
- TransUnion: Dispute Your Credit
In general, the Bureaus offer consumers the ability to file a dispute online, by phone, or by mail. Although the choice is up to you on how you want to file your dispute, consumer advocates generally recommend filing your dispute by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keeping copies of the letters you send them. If you send the bureaus any documents, send them copies and keep the originals. While this may seem more time-consuming and slower than filing a dispute online or by phone, it means you have all your documents in order just in case the credit bureaus don’t adequately respond to or fix your issue.
The current mailing addresses to file disputes with the Big Three are:
Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
When writing your letter, list each item on your report that you believe is inaccurate, the account number and the specific reason you feel the information is incorrect. Make sure to identify each item with as much detail as you can; you may even want to include a copy of your report with the items circled.
If you need help writing your letter, you may want to check out this guide from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or this guide from the National Consumer Law Center about how to dispute errors on your credit report, which includes a sample letter that you can use to help you write your own letter.
Print and mail the letter with one copy of a government-issued identification card (such as a driver’s license or state ID card, etc.) and one copy of a utility bill, bank or insurance statement, or another financial statement in your name. Also, include copies of any documents that support your dispute.
Step 4: Contact the Creditor
Once the bureaus receive your dispute they have 30 days to investigate the error. Frequently, they reach out to the company providing the information, or “furnisher,” to ask whether it is accurate. Sometimes if the error is with the information at the furnisher, that furnisher will simply reply that the erroneous information is accurate, and the bureaus will simply accept that and “parrot” that report back to a consumer.
You should also send a copy of the dispute you filed with the bureaus to the address listed on your credit report for the furnisher–if there is no address, contact them and ask for the correct address to send your letter to.
Furnishers regularly send data to the reporting agencies, and fixing that data at the source can correct your credit file during the next data update they provide to the credit bureaus. Also, sending a copy of the dispute to them will prevent any arguments that the notice from the credit reporting agency was not adequate for the furnisher to conduct a reasonable investigation of the error. But always make sure to send the dispute to the credit bureau, it’s the only way to preserve your ability to sue over the error if it comes to that.
Step 5: If Needed, Report the Problem to the CFPB
Here’s the trouble with all of this: you can follow every step described above and have it still not work. Again you’re not alone. The National Consumer Law Center reports that credit bureaus frequently perform only perfunctory investigations, often fail to send furnishers documents submitted by consumers, and typically side with furnishers even when those furnishers are also only doing the minimum to investigate errors.
Luckily there are a few more things you can do to try to fix your report.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is the federal agency that regulates the credit reporting industry, as well as many of the creditors and debt collectors that supply information to the credit bureaus. The CFPB exists to protect consumers from the various ways financial institutions of all kinds can mess up and harm them. When something goes wrong with your credit report, and all efforts to fix it stall out or fail – it is exactly the kind of thing they need to be told about, and maybe they can help encourage the bureaus to fix the error.
- To submit a complaint to the CFPB, you can go here: Submit Complaint
- You can also read anonymized complaints that have been filed by other consumers by checking out the CFPB’s complaint database: Consumer Complaints
All complaints are investigated by the CFPB, and many complaints are resolved when the CFPB looks into the problem.
Step 6: If Needed, Talk to a Consumer Attorney
If all else fails, and you’re continuing to see the error on your credit report even after filing multiple disputes and filing a complaint with the CFPB, you may want to consider contacting a consumer attorney who is experienced in dealing with Fair Credit Reporting Act cases. A listing of consumer lawyers handling FCRA cases can be found at the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates: www.consumeradvocates.org. You may also want to check with your state Bar Association and look around to see if there are any free clinics for consumer issues that might be offered by law schools in your area.