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If you’ve noticed an error on your credit report, it’s imperative to address it as soon as possible, as incorrect information on your credit report can damage your overall credit score and creditworthiness. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see errors on a credit report — in a study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 26% of respondents said they were able to find at least one error on their credit reports.
Keep an eye on your credit through sites like AnnualCreditReport.com, which offers a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus every 12 months. If you’ve identified any errors in your report, follow the steps below to file a dispute and to keep your credit in healthy shape.
How to spot credit report errors
Be sure to check your credit report at least once a year. Your credit report tracks everything from how you pay off debts to bankruptcies and more. An error on your credit report may affect your ability to get a home or car loan, or even your ability to get a job, as some organizations run credit checks before making hiring decisions.
Take a look at your credit report and keep an eye out for common errors including:
- Accounts that belong to someone else — this may happen with someone who has a name similar to yours
- Accounts incorrectly marked as late or delinquent
- Incorrect payment histories
- One debt — for example a credit card bill — marked down multiple times
- Signs of identity theft, including accounts you did not open
- Incorrectly marked credit limits
Why you shouldn’t ignore a credit report error
Don’t ignore credit report errors — even small ones. Your credit score affects your ability to take out loans, whether for a home, a car or a line of credit. If you have something negative on your report that shouldn’t be there, this may affect your overall status as a borrower.
Furthermore, while some credit report errors may simply be due to data or management errors, others may indicate that you have become the victim of identity theft. If someone has stolen your identity, they may be using your name, credit card information and Social Security number to open accounts that they then become delinquent on, adversely affecting your credit. If you spot an error on your credit report, you should take steps to address it immediately.
5 steps to disputing credit report errors
1. File a dispute with the credit bureau
If you find an error on your credit report, act as soon as possible to get in touch with the credit bureau and/or data furnisher to file a dispute. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has templates available for contacting credit bureaus and data furnishers. You can file these disputes by mail or online. You may also do so over the phone, but by submitting your claim in writing, you’ll be able to maintain clear records of your dispute.
2. File a dispute with the data furnisher
You may also file a dispute directly with the data furnisher that provided incorrect information. These furnishers include banks, lenders, credit card companies, collection agencies and others. There is one advantage to filing with a data furnisher rather than a credit bureau — if the data furnisher concludes there was an error, it must send corrected information to all the credit bureaus it works with. That means your credit reports will be updated with the correct information without any more work required from you.
3. Wait up to 45 days to complete the investigation
Once you’ve sent your dispute to a credit bureau or data furnisher, these organizations have 30 days to complete their investigations and make a conclusion on your claim. Credit bureaus may receive an extra 15 days to complete their investigations if you send them any additional information after you have already begun the dispute process.
During the investigation period, the bureau will likely get in touch with the data furnisher to explore the veracity of your claim. From there, the data furnisher is required to investigate the claim, returning its findings to the bureau.
While bureaus have up to 45 days to investigate your dispute, they are required to notify you within five business days if they believe your claim is frivolous.
4. Review the results
The credit bureau or data furnisher will respond with the results of their investigation within the investigation time window. Depending on the credit bureau, you may be able to check for your results online.
The bureau or furnisher may agree with you and determine information on your credit report was placed there in error. If so, your credit report will be corrected and updated to reflect these changes.
If the bureau determines your credit report does not contain any errors, your credit report will not change. However, you may still be able to add a note to your credit report identifying which information you believe to be incorrect. If your claim has been rejected, you may file another dispute that includes different information, or you can work with a lawyer who specializes in Fair Credit Reporting Act suits.
5. Monitor your report
Once your credit report has been cleared of errors, make a habit of checking it regularly. It’s best to catch any errors quickly, rather than letting them languish on your report and tarnish your credit score for years before you notice them. You can check your own report as often as you like without affecting your score.
Checking your credit report at least once a year can help you not only keep an eye out for any clerical errors that may damage your credit, it can also help you maintain defenses against identity theft.