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If you notice a legitimate error on your credit report, such as an account in your name that you didn’t open or a late payment that wasn’t late, it’s in your best interest to remove it as quickly as possible.
“Errors can cause lower scores, which could mean higher interest rates, or, worst case, denials,” said credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax. A Federal Trade Commission study from 2012 found one in five consumers had an error on at least one of their credit reports from Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. The study also identified the positive effects of correcting credit report errors: One in 10 consumers saw a change in their credit score, and one in 20 had a maximum score change of more than 25 points.
However, a follow-up study in 2015 found that 70% of consumers with a least one unresolved dispute from the 2012 survey still believe the dispute was not fully resolved. And, half of consumers plan to abandon their dispute compared to 45% that plan to continue the dispute. One reason respondents cited for abandoning their efforts was lacking the time it took to continue with the dispute process.
These eye-opening findings should encourage you to regularly review your credit report and dispute any errors until your case is fully resolved. Every 12 months, you can request one free copy of your credit report from each bureau at AnnualCreditReport.com — the only source authorized by federal law. A good practice is to pull one report every four months, so you can regularly review any changes to your credit.
If you notice an error on your credit report, act fast and follow the steps below to dispute the error.
Do you have an error on your credit card account, such as an unauthorized charge or billing mistake? The dispute process is a bit different than a credit report error. Find out how to dispute errors on a credit card account.
In this article
- Types of credit report errors
- How to dispute a credit report error
- Best practices for protecting your credit
- Bottom line
Types of credit report errors
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau outlines common credit report errors you should look out for:
- Errors pertaining to your identity (wrong name, phone number, address)
- Accounts belonging to another person with the same or a similar name as yours (this mixing of two consumers’ information in a single file is called a mixed file)
- Fraudulent accounts resulting from identity theft
Incorrect reporting of account status
- Closed accounts reported as open
- You are reported as the owner of the account, when you are actually just an authorized user
- Accounts that are incorrectly reported as late or delinquent
- Incorrect date of last payment, date opened, or date of first delinquency
- Same debt listed more than once (possibly with different names)
Data management errors
- Reinsertion of incorrect information after it was corrected
- Accounts that appear multiple times with different creditors listed (especially in the case of delinquent accounts or accounts in collections)
- Accounts with an incorrect current balance
- Accounts with an incorrect credit limit
How to dispute a credit report error
Step 1: Verify the error is legitimate
Before you begin the dispute process, make sure the discrepancy is an actual error. If you’re disputing something is legitimate — say, a late payment you made — the credit bureaus won’t be able to rectify that. But if the error is truly inaccurate, you should proceed to the dispute process.
Step 2: Gather supporting documentation
Now that you’ve spotted an error on your credit report, gather any supporting documentation and information that can assist your dispute. This may include: bill statements, cashed check confirmations, email or letters stating an account closure date, and more.
Step 3: Send a letter to the credit bureaus
After you have gathered supporting documentation, it’s time to begin the actual dispute process. Begin by sending a detailed letter to the credit bureau that had the error. The FTC has a sample letter you can use. Make sure you express the issue clearly and attach copies of any supporting documentation.
While the credit bureaus do allow you to dispute an error online, experts recommend mailing it in for best results and to create a paper trail in case you run into problems.
Send the letter via certified mail with return receipt requested. This ensures there’s a paper trail proving you initiated a dispute and that the letter was received. If the credit bureau that receives the dispute finds the error legitimate, it must notify the other two credit bureaus. However, you can still follow up with separate letters to each bureaus as an added precaution.
Here are the addresses to each of the three credit bureaus:
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
Equifax Information Services
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
Step 4: Be patient
Most disputes are resolved within a few weeks, but legally the credit bureaus can take 30 to 45 days, said Ulzheimer. Since the timeline for resolving a dispute varies, be patient. In the meantime, keep track of all the documentation associated with your dispute. Monitor your mail for any notice that an investigation is in process or that additional information is required, and reply promptly. After 30 days, you should receive notification that the dispute has been received and whether it will be corrected or not. If a creditor is involved in reporting an inaccuracy, the bureau will reach out to the source to verify the information reported. If the creditor can prove the information you are disputing is truly legitimate, you’ll most likely will not be able to have that information changed.
Step 5: Review the resolution of the dispute
When the credit bureau resolves your dispute, you’ll receive the results in writing and a free copy of your credit report (if the dispute resulted in a change). In addition, you can request they send notices of any corrections to anyone who received your report in the past six months.
Review the letter the credit bureau sent to see if it adequately addresses the error you found. If it does, that’s great news. But, if your dispute was denied or only part of the error was resolved, there are follow-up actions you can take:
- File a written statement of dispute. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers have the right to include a written statement (often limited to 100 words) that briefly explains the dispute. This can provide lenders the chance to hear your side of a dispute that wasn’t resolved as you hoped. You can also ask the credit bureau to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past, but the FTC warns that service may have a fee.
- Report the credit bureau. If you think the credit bureau didn’t take reasonable action to resolve your dispute, you can file a complaint with the FTC or the CFPB.
- Contact your creditor. If applicable, reach out directly to your creditor to try to resolve the issue. For example, if the error is an incorrect balance, late payment, or an incorrect account closure, they may be able to resolve the issue and send the corrected information to the credit bureau.
Best practices for protecting your credit
Freeze your credit
While you can’t completely prevent errors from appearing on your credit report, freezing your credit is a good precaution. A credit freeze prevents new accounts from being opened in your name. Just know, it doesn’t prevent thieves from stealing information on your current credit accounts.
Safeguard personal information
Anytime you’re dealing with sensitive information, such as your Social Security number, make sure you take precautions to keep it away from thieves. Don’t leave personal information out in the open and avoid entering it on public devices or over public WiFi, which are more vulnerable to fraudsters. And don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Keep it at home in a safe place.
Review the status of closed accounts
If you willingly closed a credit card on good terms, make sure the account appears as “closed at consumer’s request” on your credit report. This shows that your account wasn’t closed due to delinquency or misuse, which can hurt your credit score.
If you find an error on your credit report, it’s key to begin the dispute process right away. It may not seem like a big deal if there’s an incorrect late payment or credit limit, but these seemingly insignificant errors can cost you in the long run when you apply for a mortgage, auto loan or other credit-related product. To reduce the chances of credit report errors, freeze your credit, regularly monitor your credit reports and safeguard personal information.