Tips for disputing credit reporting errors
Realizing that there is an error in your credit report can be scary and nerve-wracking. You might be in the process of obtaining a mortgage, securing a business loan, renting an apartment, or even applying for a job when you discover the problem. Credit reporting errors can derail the plans you have for your financial future. If you find an error on your credit report, you should move quickly to dispute the incorrect information. We have written this post to provide consumers with guidance for properly disputing credit errors.
We recommend that you dispute errors by sending a letter to the credit reporting agency (or agencies) reporting the inaccurate information. Disputes made online or over the telephone are not as effective as written disputes. Before writing your letter, you should gather ALL relevant documentation necessary to establish that your credit report is inaccurate. Documents like canceled checks, bank account statements, and loan payment histories are commonly included with disputes. We strongly recommend that you make copies of the documents submitted with your disputes and save the originals. Once you have the relevant information, keep in mind three words when making your dispute(s) – proof, detail, and clarity. Prove the inaccuracy by supporting your position with documents. Include as much detail as possible to support your dispute – how and why is the information wrong – the more the better. Be clear about why the information is inaccurate.
There are free resources to assist consumers in preparing dispute letters. You do not need to pay anyone to dispute errors for you! Two federal agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, have provided detailed advice on drafting disputes: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, How Do I Dispute an Error on My Credit Report and Federal Trade Commission, Disputing Errors on Credit Reports.
Additionally, the National Consumer Law Center, an organization focused on advocating for fair treatment of consumers, recommends including the following information in your dispute letter:
- Your full name;
- Your current address and all previous addresses in the past two years;
- Your date of birth;
- Your telephone number;
- Your Social Security number;
- If you are married, include the name of your spouse;
- Current employment information;
- A clear description of the item in the report that you are disputing, along with a copy of the consumer report on which the disputed item has been circled;
- An explanation of why you are disputing the information (e.g., “This account does not belong to me”); and
- A request that the consumer reporting agency delete or correct the information.
National Consumer Law Center, Fair Credit Reporting Act (8th ed.).
You should send your dispute to the appropriate credit reporting agency (or agencies) by Certified mail, return-receipt requested.
Subject to limited exceptions, federal law mandates that the credit reporting agencies conduct and complete their investigations within 30 days of receipt of consumer disputes. 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a)(1)(A). Most of the time, the credit reporting agency will forward your dispute to the creditor, debt, collector or other information provider responsible for supplying the inaccurate information to the credit reporting agency – referred to as the “furnisher” of the information. When the investigation is complete, the credit reporting agency must provide you with written results of the dispute.
If the credit reporting agency reports back that they have corrected the error, then they must also include an updated copy of your credit report free of charge. If they do not fix the error, then we recommend you consult a lawyer familiar with consumer rights under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (the “FCRA”). Consumers harmed by violations of the FCRA may be entitled to actual damages, attorney’s fees, costs, and, in some instances, punitive (punishment) damages.
Hopefully, if you are the victim of an incorrect credit report, the issue will be resolved by your dispute letter. If not, we would be glad to assist you in getting your life back on track and seeking fair compensation for you under the FCRA. Thanks again to my intern, Kadian Carter, who provided invaluable assistance in drafting this post!