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Credit Report Dispute

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Mark Cappel
UpdatedOct 27, 2010
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    10 min read
Key Takeaways:
  • Review your credit report regularly to check its accuracy.
  • Take the right steps to dispute any errors on your credit report.
  • Understand your legal rights, to best protect your credit score.

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 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, 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:

  • Name
  • 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.

The steps described here should correct false information appearing in a credit report. However, if the consumer credit reporting agency does not delete or correct the false information, see the method of verification article describing the next steps you can take to fix your credit report.

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 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 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.


CConnie, May, 2014
I disputed a Capital One account with all three credit bureaus that was reporting an amount owed after they had sent me a 1099-C and canceled the debt. Capital One refused to remove or change the amount on my credit bureaus but all three bureaus sided with me and cancelled the amount being owed to $0. Will Capital One be able to re-report to the bureaus next month or any time in the future with an amount again or is it resolved forever now that the credit bureaus sided in my favor? All three credit bureaus also sent me a revised and updated report.
BBill, May, 2014
I have two pieces of bad news for you.

First, there is no, "Once off, always off" rule in the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It is possible for the account here to reappear if the FCRA 7-year clock has not expired. What is the date of first delinquency on this Capital One account? If it was more than 7 years ago, then it cannot reappear on your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports.

Second, the IRS Form 1099-C is the most misleadingly named form we're aware of. When an original creditor issues a 1099-C, it does not mean the debt is forgiven, discharged, or no longer collectible. It is still possible for the original creditor to collect the debt from you, or for it to sell this collection account to a collection agent.

Is there any good news here? Yes. Your strongest ally is your state's statute of limitations law for contracts. Learn your state's statute of limitations rules so that if a collection agent attempts to collect this debt in the future, you know your rights.
ssam, May, 2014
I have an eviction on my credit report that has been placed in collections. I lived there back in 2006 maybe, but the report says the date placed in collections is 2010. How can I go about disputing this? should the negative marks have already been removed from my report?
BBill, May, 2014
On what date did the eviction occur? The Fair Credit Reporting Act 7-year clock should start on that date.

Follow the directions in the article above to dispute the error or errors appearing in your credit reports.
JJulie Cognee, Feb, 2014
I started receiving calls from Steller Recovery so I looked them up and found out they were a collection agency for Dish Network. I had an account with Dish and called Dish directly to find out if I had an outstanding balance and why they reported me to a collection agency. They told me I had to return my equipment and it would be cleared up and I would owe nothing once they received it. I asked the CRS to note my account to let them know I would be returning it and two weeks later I received an alert from experian telling me that Steller Recovery just put a collection account on my report in the amount of $1600.00. I was shocked so I called Steller to explain my situation and they said they will not remove it at all. After I talked to them I went online and did a chat call with a dish network agent and explained my situation they told me to hold on while they researched it and once she did she confirmed that the CRS did note my account and that once the equipment was returned she assured me that they would tell Steller to "remove" the collection. I printed out our text conversation just in case. Do you think I'm going to have a problem getting this off my report after they receive their equipment because it's already been put on my credit and if so what I should do?? I'm also concerned because of the amount the collection was for. That seems very high just for equipment. I am trying to buy a house this year and I'm extremely concerned about this.
BBill, Mar, 2014
It may be difficult to get the collection account off your credit report, if it requires the cooperation of the collection agent. It is helpful for any dispute you file to have the account removed to show that the original creditor agrees that the account should not be there, but I am not sure that is going to be sufficient, should Stellar decide not to cooperate.
SSusan, Jan, 2014
I am going through a divorce. My soon-to-be-ex lives in our home which we share a 1st and a 2nd mortgage on. The 1st loan was modified with a principal reduction which was great except he hasn't made the payments. The 2nd he has not made payment for quite some time. The 2nd mortgage shows on my credit twice. One under Franklin Credit Mgnt and Real Time Solutions. Both with the same Balance and mo payment but the past due amounts are different? Why is this on my credit twice? My real estate balance does include the 2nd mtg amount twice? Is there anything I can do?
BBill, Jan, 2014
There are two account listings for the second mortgage on your credit report because Franklin Credit Management was your second mortgage servicer, and Real Time Resolutions (their actual name) is a collection agency that, I believe, purchased the right to collect on the delinquent account. If that is correct, then Franklin Credit Management should show the negative history of late payments and charge-off, but should not show a balance owing. You can file a dispute to have that inaccurate information removed.

Unfortunately, you are still on the hook for the money owed for both mortgages, unless your loans are non-recourse loans. Check out the anti-deficiency laws in your state.

You asked what to do. Consult with your divorce lawyer about changing your stance on your soon-to-be-ex staying in the home. Instead, consider insisting on selling the property, especially if your soon-to-be-ex cannot afford to make the loan payments.
LLia, Feb, 2013
I monitor my credit monthly and have been working on paying down debt. My scores are about 700. When looking at my report a little closer today, I noticed that there are several accounts I had nearly 10 years ago that I have paid off and closed (mostly department store cards from before I was married). My question is: Can I have those older, closed ones removed since they are not open and have been paid in full for so long? If so, how would that affect my credit report?
BBill, Feb, 2013
You do not want to remove the old, closed accounts from your credit report! Why? Because 15% of your credit score depends on the length of your credit history. The longer your positive credit history, the higher your score. These old accounts, I am assuming, are your oldest, and therefore set the starting point for your credit history. On the other hand, if you have an older account that's still active, then these accounts mean nothing to the length-of-credit-history portion of your score.

Old, closed accounts with positive history have, at worst, no negative impact on your credit score. And, as discussed above, may have a positive impact depending on what else appears in your credit history.