Wrong information on my credit report hurts my credit score. How do I dispute the errors?
When you view your credit report, you may find items on it that are inaccurate. In fact, the US Federal Reserve reported in a bulletin, based on a survey by a consumer organization, that “up to 79 percent of credit reports may contain some type of error and that about 25 percent of all consumer credit reports may contain errors that can result in the denial of access to credit.” With so many errors present that can cause serious negative consequences, a wise consumer will monitor his or her credit report regularly and take the proper steps to dispute any inaccurate information that appears on the credit report. It takes effort to preserve and maintain a strong credit score.
Credit Report Rules at a Glance
If you find an item on your credit report which does not fit with the facts (derogatory notation), such as a wrong account, wrong name or even wrong status, you can file a dispute to have the wrong information deleted. Remember, the only accounts that will be removed from your credit history are those with a derogatory notation.
Federal law (US Code Title 15, §1681c) controls the behavior of credit reporting agencies (CRAs). The specific law is called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Under FCRA §605 (a) and (b), an account in collection will appear on a consumer’s credit report for up to 7½ years. To determine when an account will be removed by the CRAs (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian and others), add 7 years to the date of first delinquency. The date of first delinquency is shown in credit reports. Subsequent activity, such as resolving the debt or one debt collector selling the debt to another collector, is irrelevant to the 7-year rule.
Some debts have a reporting period longer than 7 years, including:
- Tax liens: 10 years if unpaid, or 7 years from the payment date
- Bankruptcy: 10 years from the date of filing (15 U.S.C. §1681c)
- Perkins student loans: Until paid in full (20 U.S.C. §1087cc(c)(3))
- Direct and FFEL loans: 7 years from default or rehabilitation date (20 U.S.C. §1080a(f)(1) and 20 U.S.C. §1087e(a)(1))
- Judgments: 7 years or the debtor’s state statute of limitations on judgments, whichever is longer
The FCRA 7-year rule is separate from state statutes of limitations for debt issues. Learn the lifespan of a judgment in your state at the Bills.com Statute of Limitations Laws by State page.
The start of the 7-year begins at the date of first delinquency, or if no payments are made, when the first payment was due. Review your credit report carefully to make certain the dates of first delinquency are reported correctly. Unscrupulous collection agents reset the date of first delinquency to stretch out how long a derogatory account appears on consumer’s credit report. This is illegal under the FCRA.
Just because a debt does not appear on a credit report does not mean the statute of limitations for the debt has passed. The opposite is also true: The passing of a state statute of limitations on a debt does not mean the debt may not appear on a credit report. The federal FCRA and state statutes of limitations are separate and independent of each other.
Whether a debt appears on a credit report does not establish legal liability for the debt. The opposite is also true: You may have legal liability for a debt not reported to the credit reporting agencies. Credit reports are not legal records of every debt a person owes.
Disputing a Credit Report
The FCRA requires consumer credit reporting companies to report accurate information. If you find any inaccurate information in your credit report, you should dispute the credit report listing with the credit reporting agency in question to fix your credit report. There is no cost to disputing a credit report item, other than the time it takes to assemble the evidence, write the letter(s), and buy postage stamp(s).
Steps to Dispute Credit Report
The Federal Trade Commission lists the following steps as the appropriate method for resolving credit reporting inaccuracies:
Step 1: Get Your Credit Report
An amendment to the FCRA requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.
The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have set up a Web site, toll-free telephone number, and mailing address through which you can order your free annual report. To order, visit AnnualCreditReport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print this form (PDF). Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually.
You may order your reports from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies at the same time, or you can order from only one or two. The law allows you to order one free copy from each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies every 12 months.
You need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have moved in the last two years, you may have to provide your previous address. To maintain the security of your file, each nationwide consumer reporting company may ask you for some information that only you would know, like the amount of your monthly mortgage payment. Each company may ask you for different information, because the information each has in your file may come from different sources.
Step 2: Look for Errors
Review the report and compare the information it contains to information you know to be accurate. In particular, make sure the report contains your accurate:
- Social Security number
- Address and previous addresses
- Accounts and account numbers
If any of the above information is inaccurate, the consumer credit reporting company may have added incorrect information to your account accidentally. This is very common. Alternatively, someone may be using your identity.
Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting agency (i.e., Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion) and the information provider (i.e., the person, company, or organization that provides information about you to a consumer reporting agency) are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. To take advantage of all your rights under this law, contact the consumer reporting agency and the information provider.
If you are not familiar with the entity trying to collect a purported balance, you should dispute that you owe the debt or the amount of the debt. The collector may have the account history which it must provide to you to answer your dispute. The collector is required to state the name of the original creditor if ownership has changed. Just this much information will usually allow you to identify the account on the credit report as one of your old charge-offs. If the balance is bogus you can still compare your payment records with theirs. The most advantageous provision of the FDCPA relating to collection activity is that until the collector can "verify" the debt, i.e., deliver documentation that there is no mistake as to debtor identity, all collection efforts must terminate and not to resume until acceptable verification is provided.
Step 3: Correct the Errors
Tell the consumer reporting agency, in writing what information you think is inaccurate. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should clearly identify each item in your report you dispute, state the facts and explain why you dispute the information, and request that it be removed or corrected. You may want to enclose a copy of your report with the items in question circled. Send your letter by certified mail, "return receipt requested," so you can document what the consumer reporting agency received. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures.
Consumer reporting agencies must investigate the items in question — usually within 30 days — unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all the relevant data you provide about the inaccuracy to the organization that provided the information.
After the information provider receives notice of a dispute from the consumer reporting agency, it must investigate, review the relevant information, and report the results back to the consumer reporting company. If the information provider finds the disputed information is inaccurate, it must notify all three nationwide consumer reporting companies so they can correct the information in your file.
When the investigation is complete, the consumer reporting agency must give you the results in writing and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. This free report does not count as your annual free report. If an item is changed or deleted, the consumer reporting company cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies that it is accurate and complete. The consumer reporting company also must send you written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the information provider.
If you ask, the consumer reporting agency must send notices of any corrections to anyone who received your report in the past six months. You can have a corrected copy of your report sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two years for employment purposes.
If an investigation does not resolve your dispute with the consumer reporting company, you can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your file and in future reports. You also can ask the consumer reporting agency to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past. You can expect to pay a fee for this service.
Step 4: Dispute the Errors
Tell the creditor or other information provider, in writing, that you dispute an item. Be sure to include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider reports the item to a consumer reporting company, it must include a notice of your dispute. And if you are correct — that is, if the information is found to be inaccurate — the information provider may not report it again.
To obtain a sample of a dispute letter please visit the Bills.com Debt Self-Help Center.
The three major credit reporting agencies also offer consumers the ability to dispute a credit listing online:
Summary & Next Steps
The steps described here should correct false information appearing in one of your credit reports. If the consumer credit reporting agency does not delete or correct the false information, see the Bills.com article describing the next steps you can take to correct your credit report.
Your credit rating should be important to you because it affects your ability to achieve financial goals. Make sure to monitor your credit report regularly. Check it for accuracy. Take the time and effort necessary to dispute any errors that appear.