By Derek Moran | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
5 Min Read | September 22, 2020 in Credit
Regularly checking your credit report is a good way to uncover any potential inaccuracies, such as incorrect account information and balances.
If you find a mistake on your credit report, it’s important to get the error removed – otherwise it may hurt your credit score.
A “mistake” may even signify fraud.
To get things taken off your credit report, you’ll have to file a dispute with the credit bureau(s).
Your credit report is a bit like your financial “permanent record.” Chances are, you’d hope such a personal document is accurate and a good representation of your credit history. While most people have no inaccuracies on their credit reports, a comprehensive study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that over a quarter of participants uncovered one or more errors on theirs.1
If you ever happen to find an error on your credit report, the good news is that issuing a dispute is rather straightforward. But where to start? Let’s take a look at how to find credit reporting errors, how to get them removed from your credit report, and what you can do if you have legitimate financial errors in your credit history.
There is a common myth that ordering your credit report or even just checking your credit score can negatively affect your credit. Fortunately, that’s not the case. It’s recommended that you check your credit score often and request credit reports regularly to make sure the information is up to date.2 The three major consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) can give you a free credit report every 12 months – and until at least April 2021, each are offering free weekly online reports.3 You can also get free credit scores and a monthly look at your TransUnion credit report via MyCredit Guide, a free service, for anyone, offered by American Express.
Taking advantage of the free credit checks you’re entitled to won’t hurt your credit score, and it can help you spot errors that might otherwise hurt your credit score and credit history if they were to go unnoticed.
After you receive your credit reports, the next step is to carefully look for incorrect or incomplete information. You’ll want to make sure the following information is accurate, and remove any incorrect items from your credit report as soon as possible:
If you spot any personal information that doesn’t match your own, accounts you’ve never opened, incorrect balances or payment history, or credit inquiries you didn’t authorize, it could point to identity theft or fraud – and it may also be hurting your credit score. It’s important to file a dispute to remove such errors from your credit report as soon as possible, and take steps to recover your credit score and prevent fraud. For more info on fraud and how to report it, check out “How to Report Credit Card Fraud.”
Each of the big three bureaus provide ways to dispute errors on your report by phone, mail, or online. The online process may be a bit more straightforward because it generally provides a template to work with, but government agencies such as the FTC and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offer template letters if you prefer to file a dispute by mail.
When filing your dispute, it’s important to clearly:
After you file the dispute to get errors removed from your credit report, you’ll likely hear back in a month. Incorrect information will usually be updated or deleted. For more information, read “How to Dispute Your Credit Report at All 3 Bureaus.”
If your dispute results come back and the incorrect information wasn’t rectified or you disagree with the results, there are still some steps you can take:
There could be something legitimate on your credit report that’s lowering your credit score, like a closed account or missed payment. Unfortunately, the credit reporting bureaus typically won’t remove verifiable information no matter how many times you dispute it. Instead, such information usually goes away after 7–10 years.
However, you can still try to get certain legitimate information removed – but there’s no guarantee. For example, if you have an account that’s delinquent, past due, or closed, you may be able to negotiate a “pay for delete” account. If successful, you may be able to pay your debt in full or in installments in exchange for the furnisher deleting the item from your credit report.
You can also ask the furnisher for a goodwill deletion. It’s exactly what it sounds like: you ask them to remove the negative item out of pure goodwill. It won’t always work, but they may cut you a break if you are able to explain your circumstances and provide them good reason to believe it won’t happen again – like having an otherwise clean credit history, for instance.
It’s important to review your credit report often and keep an eye out for any mistakes. If you find an error on your credit report, be sure to dispute it as soon as possible. Getting something removed from your credit report – especially if the info isn’t yours – can help prevent damage to your credit score, and maybe even protect you from fraud.
1 “Report to Congress Under Section 319 of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003,” Federal Trade Commission
2 “Will requesting my credit report hurt my credit score?,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
3 “Disputing Errors on Credit Reports,” Federal Trade Commission
4 “Disputing Errors in a Credit Report,” National Consumer Law Center