Dealing with supposedly all-powerful financial institutions such as the “Big Three” may seem intimidating. However, with the right tools and information, disputing incorrect entries on your credit report doesn't have to be a daunting task ending in a brick wall. There is a process that our firm uses on behalf of our clients to ensure the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) cannot ignore your requests without facing legal consequences under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Outlined here are the not-so-secret steps we take and a few helpful resources to get your started.
Why should I care about the accuracy of the information on my credit report?
Your credit history impacts your ability to obtain more credit. The financers see it as a measure of your trustworthiness and if they can expect their investment in you to provide them with a means of return. If you have negative information on your report, such as a history of late payments or defaulting on loans, lenders may be more hesitant to extend you more credit in the future. This may cause you to have to pay higher interest rates on loans or even be denied a mortgage or vehicle financing. You should not be held accountable for negative information on your report that is not accurate.
How do I get a copy of my credit report?
The best way to download copies of your official reports is through AnnualCreditReport.com. Prior to the pandemic, the FTC mandated that each bureau provide you with one free copy of your report each year. However, from now until April 20, 2022, you are able to download each report once a week, free of charge.
What if the information is correct, but I don't like it?
Unfortunately, you cannot dispute truthful and accurate information just because it is negative in nature. The bureaus are allowed to keep information on all your account history for a period of 7 years.
What should I do if I notice incorrect information on my credit report?
The first thing you should do is to confirm that the information is inaccurate. Many times, consumers will open accounts with retail stores that do business with third-party creditors. It is possible you do not recognize the name of the bank backing your retail credit card or the debt may have been sold to another company. If you still do not recognize the account, it is possible you are a victim of identity theft. For more information about making an ID Theft report, visit identitytheft.gov.
If your report is showing that you still owe a debt that has been paid off or settled, you have the right to request the bureaus remove that information and update your report.
Step One: Gather your documentation
You need to provide as much evidence as possible to prove that the account is settled. This may mean requesting a Paid in Full letter from the original creditor, providing banks statements showing a zero balance on the account, or sending copies of court documents stating that the account has been settled and closed.
You also need to provide proof that you are who you say you are and that you have the authority to dispute the information in the first place. You should provide two forms of identifying documentation: a photo ID and proof of residence. Make sure you send copies of these documents and not the originals. The most common documents are a driver's license and a utility bill in your name which displays your current address. Other options include a lease agreement, a mortgage statement, a passport, or tribal card.
Finally, you need to write a statement detailing what information you believe to be incorrect and why. This can be in the form of a letter and needs to include your name, current address, phone number, date of birth and full social security number. Providing this information will allow the bureaus to quickly access your account and verify your identity. Giving the bureaus as much information about the disputed account as possible will make it easier for them to locate and remove. Here is an example of the letter our firm sends on behalf of our clients.
- Evidence of Inaccurate Information
- Copy of Photo ID
- Copy of Proof of Residence
- Letter Detailing Dispute Addressed to Each Bureau
Step Two: Mail the Disputes
Mail all the above documents to these addresses. Make sure you keep copies of all correspondence and a record of the dates the disputes were sent to ensure you are able to make a detailed legal complaint if the bureaus fail to resolve the issue. If possible, it is best to send the documents through certified mail with a request for a return receipt so that you have evidence the mail was received by the intended recipient.
Step Three: Wait
Once the bureau receives your dispute, they are allowed 30 days to conduct a “reasonable investigation.” This means they will contact the original creditor to confirm you no longer owe any debt. If the bureau isn't satisfied with the evidence you provided, they may ask you to send more information.
After this 30-day period, the bureau is required to send you the results of their investigation in writing. If they remove the disputed account, they must provide you with a free updated report and send notices of the corrections to anyone who pulled a copy of your report in the last six months, if you request it. If they conclude that the dispute does not warrant a correction, they must reply to your request in writing and inform you why they have denied your request.
What should I do if I took all these steps, never received a response and the account is still on my report?
You have the option to make the request again. Send copies of all the documents you sent in the initial dispute, along with an updated letter. Here is our example:
If you do not receive a written response or if this still does not resolve the issue, it may be time to seek legal help. Here at Peterson Legal, PLLC, we specialize in holding these credit bureaus accountable for failing to follow through with their obligation to conduct reasonable investigations. You may be entitled to monetary damages as a result of their negligence. Call us for a free case consultation and we will guide you in the best direction. (612)367-6568
Where can I go to find out more information?
The federal trade commission website also outlines the dispute process in a consumer-friendly way: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/disputing-errors-your-credit-reports
Each bureau provides information about the process on their website and includes information about how to contact them with specific questions.
You are always welcome to contact us with any questions or to find additional support.