In his book Dirty Little Secrets, bestselling author and personal finance expert Jason R. Rich reveals the secrets of credit reports and ratings and explains what you can do to improve both. In this edited excerpt, the author describes what you need to do to fix any errors you find on your credit reports.
There are two basic ways to correct errors on your credit reports:
- Contact the creditor or lender directly via telephone or mail.
- Initiate a dispute with the appropriate credit reporting agencies, based on which of your credit reports include the erroneous data.
If, however, you're trying to "fix" negative information that's accurately being reported to the credit reporting agencies, you'll need to negotiate with your creditors directly. The credit reporting agencies will only remove data from a credit report that's proven to be inaccurate.
Initiating Disputes With the Credit Reporting Agencies
Thanks to computers, initiating disputes with the credit reporting agencies is a relatively easy process. If the dispute is initiated online, you can typically have the issue resolved within about 10 days, although legally, the credit reporting agencies have up to 30 days to investigate your dispute.
Filing a dispute will force the credit reporting agency to initiate an investigation, during which time the creditor or lender will be contacted and asked to provide proof that the information being reported is, in fact, accurate. If no proof is provided and the information on the credit report is really erroneous, it must be corrected within 30 days.
Follow these steps for initiating a dispute online:
1. Obtain a copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency.
2. Make a note of the credit report number listed at the top of each report. If the credit report you received doesn't have a credit report number, you'll need to obtain a new copy of your credit report from that credit reporting agency or from the Annual Credit Report (www.AnnualCreditReport.com) website. Upon obtaining a credit report, the credit report number you receive will remain active for a period of 90 days.
3. Review each credit report carefully, and identify errors you wish to dispute.
4. Visit the appropriate credit reporting agency's website:
5. Click on the appropriate icon on the credit reporting agency's website to initiate an online dispute.
6. You'll be asked to enter your credit report number, plus additional information about yourself to verify your identity. This information may include your Social Security number, date of birth, the state where you live, and/or your ZIP code.
7. You'll be asked to approve a terms and conditions statement from the credit reporting agency that appears on your computer screen.
8. Once you're looking at your credit report on the computer screen, click on the particular item(s) you believe are inaccurate, then click on the "Dispute Item" option.
9. You'll need to select a specific reason for the dispute and choose one of the options that explains why you believe the information is incorrect. Options could include "Payment never late," "No knowledge of account," "Account paid in full," "Account closed," "Unauthorized Charges," "Belonged to ex-spouse," "Balance incorrect," "Included in bankruptcy," "Belongs to primary account holder," "Corporate account," "Balance history inaccurate," or "Other reason." You can also add your own brief statement (up to 120 characters) explaining why the information is inaccurate.
10. You'll be asked to provide your email address so you can be contacted with the results of the investigation.
11. Upon completing this online dispute process, an investigation will immediately begin. You'll be notified of the outcome within 30 days.
12. If your investigation concludes and the result is not in your favor but you have information to substantiate your claim, initiate another dispute in writing and include copies of your evidence or contact the creditor directly.
To initiate a dispute in writing, first obtain a copy of your credit report containing a current credit report number. Next, determine what information is inaccurate. This information will need to be put in writing in the form of a letter addressed to the appropriate credit collection agency.
The letter should contain the following information:
- Your full name, address, and phone number
- Your date of birth
- Your Social Security number
- The credit report number
- A photocopy of your picture ID (such as a driver's license or passport), plus a copy of a recent utility bill that displays your name and address.
- A separate listing for each error and why you believe the information is incorrect. It's helpful to include a photocopy of your credit report or the trade lines that you're disputing.
Mail your letter, along with any additional evidence, to the appropriate credit reporting agency using the addresses in the following lists (you can also call each credit reporting agency to initiate a dispute using the following phone numbers):
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013
(888) 397-3742 or (800) 493-1058
Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.