Understanding your credit report, credit score and the potential for errors in the system, discussed thus far in our credit report series, is basic consumer knowledge to keep you an informed and smart consumer. You know, through our series how important it is for you to review your credit report ever six months to a year to ensure the accuracy of the information reported from your file. But what do you do if you review your credit report and find errors?
How do you dispute the errors you have located?
First, know that as a smart consumer you want to keep a file with a history or record of your dispute. In this file you will keep all correspondence you send or receive, backup documentation, certified mail receipts and a telephone log of all conversations including date, time, who you spoke with and brief summary of the discussion.
The dispute process although it may take some time is relatively simple.
- Notify the credit report agency (CRA) in writing. Also, notify the organization that reported the inaccurate information (creditor or court, for example) and request documentation of the debt. What you’ll want to include in your notification: your full name, address, date of birth, social security number, each item you dispute, the facts or details of the dispute, and explain why you are disputing the information. Many experts encourage you to include a copy of your credit report with the disputed items circled to guarantee clarity. Don’t forget to include your desired result – what you want them to do about it. Include copies (and only copies) of your documentation, payment records or court documents for example.
- It will usually take 30 days for the CRA to notify information provider, investigate and receive a report back to CRA with the information results.
- If disputed information is found to be inaccurate the information provider must notify all national CRAs so information is corrected.
- The kinds of results you may receive from a dispute include:
a. Unverified information must be deleted
b. Information error must be corrected
c. Incomplete information must be completed (you were delinquent, but are now current)
d. Account belonging to other consumers must be deleted
e. Information, while negative is found to be accurate and is not deleted
- If the dispute results in a change on your credit report the CRA must provide you with a copy of the updated report and written results of the dispute/investigation.
- The CRA must send notices of corrections to anyone who received your report in the last six months, but only IF YOU REQUEST IT.
- While new legislation requires CRAs to communicate corrected information to other CRAs, after a change is made on your credit report due to an error dispute, follow up with the three major CRAs to be sure all changes are completed.
- If all else fails, you are permitted to submit a 100-word or less statement on your credit report explaining the situation and dispute.
Remember…if you find accurate negative information on your report only time can remove it. Generally, information can stay on your report for 7 years; however, there are some exceptions to this rule. One exception is bankruptcy information, which may be reported for 10 years.
Other information that may appear on your report, with no time limit are criminal convictions, application for a job with a salary of more than $75,000, application for credit or life insurance for more than $150,000. Lawsuits or unpaid judgments against you may be reported for seven years or to the end of the statute of limitations whichever is longer.
If, after you proceed through the dispute process, you believe you have been treated unfairly by the CRAs, or the dispute was not dealt with promptly according to the above timeline, you may contact your state attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission to file a business complaint against the CRA and/or creditor.