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It’s no exaggeration to say that your credit score plays a huge role in your financial options. Keep reading to find out how to dispute an error on your credit report and protect your credit score from free fall.
Your credit score determines the kind of loans you can get, how low your interest rates will be, and whether or not you can do things like buying a house or car.
But sometimes, unfair errors can show up on your credit report and artificially lower your credit score.
Since this has the potential to throw your financial plans into disarray, it is important to know how to dispute an error on your credit report and maximize your credit score.
Let’s break it down.
How to Dispute Your Credit Report (5 Quick Steps)
Without further ado, our step-by-step guide to dispute an error on your credit report.
Step #1: Get a FREE Copy of Your Credit Report
First things first – you need to get a free copy of your credit report. You’ll need a copy of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus, too: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
You need this information so you can go line by line and identify exactly which “items” (i.e. transactions are account decisions) are causing an issue with your credit score.
The trouble, of course, is that many places will try to charge you an arm and a leg to give you a credit report.
Fortunately, Experian provides a free credit report at no extra charge and without any caveats. Use this to start your credit error dispute process.
Step #2: Decide What Errors You Need to Remove
The most important thing to do is go through your credit report line by line and look for items that are out of place.
Credit reporting errors can be the result of honest mistakes or because of malicious actions from some third-party, like someone who got ahold of your personal information inappropriately.
There are plenty of common credit report errors to look for as you do a deep dive into your report. Here are a few:
While these errors are less common for most people, the errors we discuss next are not. These errors continue to plague millions of credit reports annually.
As you go through the report(s), make a list, and carefully note everything you discover. This will make it easier to break down your dispute when you contact the credit bureaus later in this process.
Most Common Errors to Watch Out For:
- Signs of identity theft. Check to see, for instance, if someone has opened a new credit account in your name. This may indicate that your Social Security number or other information has been stolen.
- Mixed files. If you have a common name, there’s a chance that some part of another person’s credit report could inappropriately be attributed to yours. Double-check the names of each line on your credit report to check for this error.
- Furnisher errors. A “furnisher” is an organization that provides information directly to a credit bureau. You will need to check for errors made by them, which include normal businesses, streaming services, utility companies, and so on. These errors are usually clerical and minor to fix.
- Old debts still on file. Certain older debts are supposed to vanish from your credit report within a certain timeframe. But if the debt holder sells your debt to a third-party collector, the debt could accidentally “re-age”, meaning the expiration clock restarts.
Which Credit Report Errors Matter Most?
Ultimately, each of these items could be terrible for your credit report over the long-term. The errors that can hurt your score the most or the longest are the most crucial and should be tackled first. Examples include:
- Someone close to you, like an ex-spouse, incorrectly using your credit cards or accounts for loans
- Re-aged old debts that can follow you around for a long time
- Newly opened accounts with significant balances on them
Step #3: Consider Credit Repair
Now you can start considering ways to dispute your credit report errors.
The problem is that this process is often confusing and complicated. Many people choose to use credit repair services instead of taking the fight to furnishers or the credit bureaus themselves.
Credit repair services can:
- Contact the credit bureaus on your behalf, often many times, in an attempt to get them to listen
- Help you go through your credit report to locate potential errors you might have missed
- Petition the credit bureaus to remove something from your credit report over and over if they’re initially reluctant to do so
- Provide other credit-boosting advice
One great example of a fantastic credit repair service is Credit Saint. This high-quality program begins with a free consultation and comes with lots of excellent features, like a private credit repair dashboard and a 90-day moneyback guarantee.
All in all, the best credit repair companies can be well worth the modest cost when you consider how much time disputing a credit report ever typically takes.
Learn More:Credit Saint Review
Step #4: Dispute Error with All Three Credit Bureaus
You can alternatively try to handle the dispute yourself. You have multiple options at this point.
Be aware, however, that regardless of which method you choose, you’ll need to contact all three major credit bureaus individually to get the credit report error removed. Then you’ll need to get the correction reflected across your holistic credit scores. Be prepared to do a lot of legwork!
Option 1: Dispute Errors Online
The credit bureaus have online contact pages where you can start a dispute online. In a nutshell, this involves filing a dispute report where you explain the issue on your credit report in as much detail as possible.
This can help the credit bureau locate the error more quickly and get back to you faster.
Check Out Our Individual Guides:
Option 2: Write a Formal Dispute Letter
You can alternatively write a letter to the credit bureau. In fact, the CFPB or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends that you contact the credit bureaus this way, as it’s harder for them to ignore you.
In the letter, be sure to explain in exacting detail what the error on your credit report is and why it might be wrong.
The CFPB thankfully has sample dispute letters on the website you can use as templates when crafting your own dispute letter.
Keep a copy of any letter or documentation you send just as a precaution, of course.
Credit Bureau Addresses:
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000
P.O. Box 7404256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
Option 3: Filing Dispute by Phone
Lastly, you can contact each of the three credit bureaus independently by phone and try to file a report that way.
This is the least effective way to file a dispute, however, as each bureau will likely request some time to investigate the matter personally before getting back to you.
They will not correct an error immediately due to the need to check your claim against their records.
As a side note: if the credit report error in question is a furnisher error, consider contacting the furnisher themselves. They might also contact the credit bureaus to work to correct the error on your behalf.
Step #5: Wait for Dispute Results
At this point, all there is to do is wait for the results of your dispute filing. Depending on your method, you could hear back from the credit bureaus in as little as a single business day or as much as a week or more.
It’s a good idea to follow up on your credit error dispute whenever possible. There is nothing wrong with calling or contacting the bureaus every day to ask for a progress update.
If you filed for a credit error online, you could use the same initial filing pages to check the status of the dispute.
Step #6: Invest in Credit Monitoring
What’s this? Step six!?
In truth, the best way to avoid having long-term errors on your credit report is to invest in credit monitoring services from the get-go.
Credit monitoring services can, for a small (or sometimes no) fee, constantly monitor credit reports and make sure that no suspicious items are entered there without immediately alerting you and the credit bureaus themselves.
For instance, such services can quickly tell if:
- someone opens a strange bank account or credit account in your name
- your Social Security number is used in an abnormal way
- mysterious charges have appeared on your account without explanation
The best credit monitoring services are effective and invaluable in this day and age due to the possibility of identity theft.
Plus, they can help save your credit score in the long run since any errors that do crop up can be caught and corrected much more quickly.
Why is Fixing Credit Errors Important?
Ultimately, fixing credit errors is important, so your credit score doesn’t sink too far and for too long. A mistake on your credit report always drags your score down unfairly, making it harder for you to:
- Obtain prime or high-quality loans
- Progress with certain life milestones, like college or buying a house
- Maintain a balanced budget, as a low credit score can increase your existing debts’ interest rates
The faster you fix the credit report errors, the better off your credit score will be.
Bottom Line: How to Dispute an Error on Your Credit Report
All in all, there are multiple ways to dispute errors on your credit report. Your best bet is to use a credit monitoring service and start on any existing credit errors early.
Use all of the methods outlined above if you have to and don’t give up – remember, the bureaus eventually have to correct any error you notice, so keep at it even if progress seems slow at first.