How to Dispute a Credit Report in 4 Easy Steps
In your yearly review of your credit report, you find a glaring mistake—and even worse, it's brought your hard-earned credit score down. Finding a mistake on your credit report can be stressful, especially because the solution isn’t immediately obvious. The last thing you want is a clerical error to tank your credit score.
To dispute information on your credit report, you can write a letter to the credit reporting agency and have them correct the error. Legally, credit agencies can take 30–45 days to respond to a credit dispute letter. The formal process of a credit dispute may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, but it's important to remember that having incorrect items removed can have a significant, often immediate impact on your credit score.
Follow the steps below to avoid having your dispute rejected for incorrect formatting or insufficient evidence, and to give you the best chance of getting the error removed.
Step 1: Identify errors
Start by first finding the wrong information on your report. Be careful to comb through your entire report since it can contain more than one mistake, and be sure to examine whether or not it's actually a mistake. Below is a list of common errors that appear on credit reports to get you started.
Common credit errors:
- Wrong identifying information (name, address, employment information, Social Security number, etc.)
- Closed accounts listed as open
- Unfamiliar credit card or loan applications
- Bad debts older than seven years
- Accounts listed twice
- Debts from an old joint account
- Inaccurate payment history
Step 2: Gather verifying evidence
The next step is to gather evidence that confirms the correction you’re asking the credit bureau to make is accurate.
For example, if there’s an error in your address, you should make copies of recent utility bills or your driver’s license to confirm your correct address. If your report lists a closed account as open, you should include any balance statements and confirmation closure notices from your credit card company in your dispute. The more information you can find that supports your claim of wrong information, the better.
You should also print a copy of the credit report that has the error, circle the mistake and include it along with other documentation in your dispute.
Step 3: Send a credit dispute letter
Once you’ve gathered documentation, you need to draft a credit dispute letter (or use a sample template) and send it to the credit reporting agency that issued the report.
A credit dispute letter should include:
- Your name, date of birth and address
- The name and address of the credit reporting agency you’re filing the dispute with
- Your credit account number with that agency
- The type of error on your report
- A description of the error including where it’s located on the report
- An explanation of the correction
- A summary of what documentation is enclosed
It's important to note that each dispute will be sent to only one credit reporting agency since each bureau issues reports independently, and therefore different errors may appear on each. This means that you'll need a separate letter of dispute for each individual credit bureau.
Experts recommend sending credit dispute letters via Certified Return Receipt Requested (or CRRR), a service offered by the US Postal Service that notifies the sender when the letter has been delivered. This provides proof that the credit agency received the dispute letter.
Step 4: Allow time for investigation + follow up
Legally, the credit agency has 30–45 days to respond to your dispute. When the investigation has ended, you will receive written notice of the credit agency’s conclusion. If your credit report has been corrected, you will also receive a free copy of your new report.
However, if you haven’t heard from the credit reporting agency within 30 days, you can follow up over the phone to inquire about the status of your investigation. You can also file a formal complaint against the credit reporting agency with the Federal Trade Commission, if needed.
If your credit report was corrected as a result of your dispute, you can request that the bureau notify all parties that have received a copy of your credit report over the past six months of the corrected error.
How to write a credit report dispute letter
Writing a credit report dispute letter can be stressful if you don't know what you're doing. Below, we've outlined the steps to take when writing a letter of dispute to a credit bureau, as well as some pointers to keep in mind when drafting your letter to make it as effective as possible.
Parts of a credit dispute letter
Personal information: A dispute letter should begin with the sender’s information listed at the top:
- Sender’s name
- Sender’s date of birth
- Sender’s mailing address
Credit reporting agency information: The letter must also include the credit reporting agency’s name and address. The three reporting agency addresses are listed below.
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
- Account number: Each person has an account number with each individual credit bureau that’s listed on the credit report. This account number should be included in the dispute letter.
- Type of error being disputed: In the letter, note what type of mistake is being disputed. Errors can range from basic typos to duplicate or out-of-date information, or even potentially fraudulent credit inquiries.
- Description of error being disputed: Explain exactly where the mistake was made. If you know where the inaccurate information came from—a mistake made by your credit card company, loan issuer, etc.—you should state that here as well.
- Description of correction: Here you should articulate exactly what should be reflected in the report—a different address, a corrected payment record, etc.
- Explanation of evidence: You have to provide documentation that proves that the correction you’re asking them to make is accurate. Summarize what documents you’ve included and how they relate to your dispute.
- Location of error on report: Finally, you should note where on the report the error is located. You should also note that you’ve enclosed a copy of your report with the error circled.
- Closing: Close the letter formally with your printed name and signature.
What if there are multiple errors to dispute?
The Federal Trade Commission suggests that individuals list all errors in one dispute letter. However, some lawyers claim that sending a different letter for each error increases the likelihood that each dispute will be handled completely and correctly.
As of when this article is written, certified mail costs $3.55 per item (or $0.80 for an emailed return receipt), so if you have many errors to dispute on the same report, it may make sense to combine them into one letter for ease of cost and effort.
Does disputing my credit report hurt my score?
Disputing an item on your credit report has absolutely no impact on your credit score. If your dispute is successful and your credit history is corrected, you may see a positive change in your credit score. All the more reason why you should always try to have inaccurate items removed.
Can I dispute accurate information?
You can’t have accurate information removed from your credit report unless the information is more than seven years old, in which case the Fair Credit Reporting Act dictates the credit reporting company must expunge it from your credit history. Bankruptcies can remain on your report for 10 years.
Can I dispute online or over the phone?
It is strongly recommended that any disputes are sent in writing via mail. Mailing your dispute establishes a paper trail in case the investigation does not conclude in your favor, and written disputes are also considered to be more effective than other methods.
If you would like to dispute your credit report online or over the phone, you can do so using the contact information below:
- TRANSUNION: Dispute Online
- EQUIFAX: Dispute Online
- EXPERIAN: Dispute Online
You'll need to file a dispute separately with each individual credit bureau, as each bureau has different methods of assembling your credit report and could list different errors.
Can I dispute a charge-off?
You can dispute a charge-off, but it’s very difficult. Generally, charge-off disputes are only successful when the borrower can prove that the creditor lacks sufficient evidence that the debt was unpaid.
A charge-off is a debt that has remained unpaid for so long (typically 120 to 180 days) that the creditor will write it off as a bad debt. This does not mean the borrower no longer owes the money, it just means the debt will be transferred to a collections agency and will go on the borrower’s report as a negative mark.
Can I dispute errors caused by identity fraud?
If you believe the errors on your report are the result of identity fraud, you should definitely send a dispute letter. You should also take additional steps to protect yourself in case the investigation confirms your identity has been stolen.
- Freeze your credit: This prevents credit bureaus from giving out information to anyone who makes an inquiry about you, making it impossible for anyone to open new accounts in your name.
- Add a fraud alert: You can place an alert on your credit report warning potential grantors that your identity may have been stolen.
- Contact the credit bureau's fraud department: In addition to filing a dispute, you should also contact the fraud department of your credit bureau to notify them that you have been the victim of identity theft.
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016-2000
Fraud Victim Asst. Dept.
Consumer Fraud Division P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
National Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
4. Notify the authorities: Start with the Federal Trade Commission and also consider filing a report with local law enforcement.
What happens after I file my dispute?
After you’ve filed a dispute, you’ll have to wait 30 days to receive the results of your investigation. If your dispute is accepted, the error will be corrected and expunged from your report. However, if your dispute is rejected, you may have made a mistake or provided insufficient evidence of your claim, in which case you can refile.
Filing an individual dispute is simple, but it can become complicated quickly if the investigation fails to conclude in your favor or if you have multiple errors on multiple reports to fix. If you’re filing a dispute as a part of a larger effort to improve your credit, you may be juggling a number of other debts, repayment plans and other processes that can become hard to keep track of.
A credit repair consultant can help you manage this process and also help you develop a strategy for rehabilitating your credit health. Keep in mind that fixing credit doesn’t have to be frustrating or overwhelming—with a solid strategy and step-by-step planning, a healthy credit history is within reach.
from a Credit Expert