By Laurel Nelson-Rowe | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
6 Min Read | March 18, 2020 in Credit
Your credit report may be among your most important life documents, like your driver’s license, passport, or marriage license. But credit reports contain far more information than those documents—and, research shows, they can be prone to error. Fortunately, U.S. law gives you the right to review and dispute your credit report at all three credit reporting agencies, as well as with any business that gives them information.
What other document can influence whether you get a new car loan, a credit card, a job, a rental apartment, or a home mortgage? Or reveal potential identity theft attempts? Credit reports are commonly used for all these purposes. That may be enough to prompt you to review reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies—and dispute credit report information that isn’t current, accurate, or complete.
In a one-of-a-kind 2012 study, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) selected 1,001 Americans at random and asked them to review and dispute credit report information that they felt was wrong.
Here’s what happened1:
That last statistic is perhaps most important. As the FTC report notes, the credit report disputes by those 5% resulted in enough improvement to get them better loan terms should they seek one, including a lower interest rate.
The government and the credit reporting industry recognize how important, and how error-prone, credit reports are, so fair credit laws make it relatively easy to dispute your credit report. Relatively. Here are the main steps, discussed in more detail below:
The three credit reporting agencies offer both in-common and unique dispute services, tools, and advice. Each bureau’s site explains its error-dispute processes, including:
The agencies urge online filing for more rapid resolution. Each bureau offers information for postal mail and telephone-based filings as well. You can begin the dispute process by obtaining a copy of your credit report from each bureau at annualcreditreport.com, a site established by law and overseen by the three agencies. If you detect errors, experts recommend marking them on the report, which you will copy and include in your credit report dispute package.
Equifax’s site offers a comprehensive list and examples of documents that could help support your case, including personal information, account-related information, and “other.”2 The examples include:
These materials, together with your dispute letter stating the facts and requesting corrections or deletions (several examples are available online), are your dispute package.
You can file credit report disputes with one or multiple bureaus, depending on where you’ve found inaccuracies. Experian’s Dispute Center, for example, offers interactive tools to make reports from workstations or smartphones.3 With postal mail, experts recommend certified mail with return receipt, to assure delivery. And, it’s a good idea to record dates and all communications, whatever filing method used.4
Once you file your dispute, credit reporting agencies must tell information provider(s) about it. Information providers (banks, credit card issuers, etc.) are required to verify the data in question—or, if it’s found inaccurate, they must inform all three bureaus and have the data corrected or deleted. The credit bureaus’ sites offer you links to check on the status of a dispute, and FAQs that describe possible outcomes and next steps.
Once a dispute investigation is complete, credit bureaus are required to inform you of the results in writing and provide a new free report if there are changes. Further, the bureau must provide information on the “data furnisher” involved. “Data furnisher” is the legal term for any entity that provides information to a credit reporting agency. You can request that the bureau notify anyone who received your report over the last six months.
If you are unsatisfied with the results, you can:
In addition to errors, like inaccurate bill payment data, accounts belonging to someone else, or outdated account balances, credit reports may show several “hard inquiries,” or requests for full reports, including from sources you don’t know. Experts say unauthorized hard inquiries could be report errors or could signal potential identity theft. Importantly, too many hard inquiries can hurt credit and decrease your score. So, experts recommend you dispute any hard inquiries that you don’t recognize.6
TransUnion’s FAQ puts it this way: “Don’t worry, there’s no impact to your credit score because you start a dispute. However, if your dispute results in items being changed or removed from your credit report, your score may change due to that.”7 This could be a positive change for you, of course, or negative.
Because inaccurate credit reports can potentially harm you financially, it’s worth knowing all your dispute-related rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the federal statute that regulates credit reporting and safeguards consumers. The law stipulates your right to:
Credit reports have become essential documents, affecting life decisions in the U.S. But because of their information volume, they are prone to error—approximately 20% of credit reports contained errors, according to a major FTC study. By regularly reviewing your credit report and disputing and resolving errors, you can increase report accuracy and potentially increase your credit scores.
1 "Report to Congress Under Section 319 of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003," Federal Trade Commission
2 "When Does Filing a Dispute Make Sense For You?," Equifax
3 "How to Dispute Credit Report Information," Experian
4 "Disputing Errors on Credit Reports," Federal Trade Commission
6 "Can You Remove Hard Inquiries From Your Credit Report?," Credit Karma
7 "Credit Dispute FAQs," TransUnion
8 "The Fair Credit Reporting Act," Federal Trade Commission