Managing Debt: Correcting Errors on Your Credit Report

Managing Debt: Correcting Errors on Your Credit Report
Eileen St. Pierre, The Everyday Financial Planner

Checking your credit report allows you to catch identity theft early. It also allows you to catch errors that could lead to incorrect lending decisions. How do you fix errors or inaccuracies on your credit report?

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting agency and the information provider are responsible for correcting errors or incomplete information in your report. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) you should follow these two steps if you find an error on your credit report:

Step 1: Notify the Credit Reporting Agencies

Tell the credit reporting agency in writing what information you think is inaccurate. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your argument.

  • In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should clearly identify each item in your report you dispute, state the facts and explain why you dispute the information, and request that it be removed or corrected.
  • You may want to enclose a copy of your report with the items in question circled. [Sample Letter]

Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the credit reporting agency received. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures.

  • Credit reporting agencies must investigate the items in question — usually within 30 days — unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all the relevant data you provide about the inaccuracy to the information provider.
  • After the information provider receives notice of a dispute from the credit reporting company, it must investigate, review the relevant information, and report the results back to the credit reporting company.
  • If the information provider finds the disputed information is inaccurate, it must notify all three nationwide credit reporting companies so they can correct the information in your file.

When the investigation is complete, the credit reporting company must give you the results in writing and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. This free report does not count as your annual free report.

  • If an item is changed or deleted, the credit reporting company cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies it is accurate and complete. The credit reporting company also must send you written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the information provider.
  • If you ask, the credit reporting company must send notices of any corrections to anyone who received your report in the past six months. You can have a corrected copy of your report sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two years for employment purposes.

If an investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute with the credit reporting company, you can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your file and in future reports. You also can ask the credit reporting company to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past. You can expect to pay a fee for this service.

Step 2: Notify the Information Provider

Tell the creditor or other information provider in writing that you dispute an item. Be sure to include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your argument. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider reports the item to a credit reporting agency, it must include a notice of your dispute. And if you are correct — that is, if the information is found to be inaccurate — the information provider may not report it again.

The next column in the Managing Debt series provides six steps to reducing debt. Visit my Debt Management page for more information.