It’s an unfortunate reality that many consumer credit reports contain errors. Here’s what to do if you discover an error on your credit report:
1. Write a letter to the credit reporting agency explaining what information you believe is inaccurate. When the credit reporting agency gets your letter, they must conduct an investigation and remove any information that cannot be confirmed as accurate. The CRA is required to send the furnisher (the business providing the information on the report) all of the information that you provide. Your letter should contain the following:
- Your full name and address. You may also consider including your social security number to ensure that the CRA locates your file.
- Identification of every single item that you believe is inaccurate. One way to do this is to include a copy of your credit report and circle each of the items you dispute.
- An explanation of why each disputed item is incorrect. Be detailed and describe your dispute as if you were explaining it to a young child. CRAs may disregard your dispute if it isn’t sufficiently detailed.
- Attach copies of all of the proof that you have that supports your dispute.
- Tell the CRA if you have previously disputed these items, provide the details of these prior disputes (including any phone disputes), and explain how the CRA’s failure to correct the errors is harming you.
- Most importantly, tell the CRA what you want them to do (ie. delete the incorrect entry; modify it, etc).
2. Mail the letter certified, return receipt requested, and keep a copy of the letter and green card for your records. Address the letter to the credit reporting agency whose report contains the error. Some experts advise sending a copy of the dispute letter to the furnisher. This isn’t a bad idea, but you’re not required to do so. The CRA is required to send the furnisher all the information that you provide them with.
3. You may have to write several dispute letters. The CRA may not fix the error after your first letter. Be persistent and write follow-up dispute letters until you get the mistake fixed. Avoid the shortcut of just sending the CRA another copy of your first dispute letter. Read their response to your previous dispute letter and do your best to address the reasons they denied your dispute in your follow-up letter. Don’t be afraid to detail your previous attempts to fix the error and to describe the harm the CRA’s failure to correct the mistake has caused you in these follow-up letters. And be sure to keep copies of all the letters that the CRA sends you in response to your dispute letters.
4. If you’ve written multiple letters and the CRA still hasn’t fixed the error, it’s time to talk to a consumer attorney. If you’ve followed all these steps and the error hasn’t been fixed, contact a consumer attorney with experience handling cases under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
5. Finally, a few words of caution:
- It’s perfectly acceptable for a CRA to report accurate negative information. Don’t abuse the dispute process by seeking removal of accurate negative information. Similarly, be very wary of any credit repair “specialist” that promises to improve your credit score by using repeated and shallow dispute letters or similar questionable tactics.
- It’s much better to write dispute letters than to dispute over the phone or to use the CRA’s internet form. Writing letters creates a paper trail for your records and it allows you to attach proof of your dispute. It’s also possible that a CRA’s internet dispute form might require you to waive some of your rights when submitting your dispute electronically.
- Avoid using sample dispute letters that you find on the internet. Many of the sample letters you will find on the internet are shallow, deceptive, or even fraudulent. There is no magic language for writing a good dispute letter. Just adequately identify yourself, identify the account you’re disputing, and provide a detailed explanation of the error. It’s much better to use your own words than to rely on boilerplate language from a possibly untrustworthy source on the internet. If you must look at a form letter before writing your own, there’s a sample letter on the Federal Trade Commission web site.