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How to Fix Mistakes on Your Credit Report

 
By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
March 7, 2011

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Financial experts recommend that you check your credit report at least once a year — not only to look for signs of identity theft, but also to avoid errors that could pull down your credit score.

Errors on credit reports are common. In fact, some studies have found that as many as 80 percent of credit reports contain outdated or false information. One of the most common errors occurs when an account that doesn’t belong to you shows up on your credit report. This is especially likely to happen if you have a fairly common name.

Other common credit report errors include outdated or wrong personal information on a credit report and inaccurate or outdated credit limit information. Sometimes, credit reports also won’t show that a delinquency or collection has been resolved, so it is important to catch mistakes early before you are penalized.

It used to be a slow and cumbersome process to check your credit report for errors and correct mistakes. But these days, staying on top of the information contained in your credit report is much easier. Follow these seven simple steps to check your latest report and make sure that it’s accurate:

1. Get a free copy of your credit report. Request a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. The information in each report often differs, so it’s important to request a copy from all three credit bureaus. Consumers are entitled by law to get a copy of each of their credit reports once a year. All three reports can be downloaded for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.

2. Check for errors. Once you’ve obtained copies of your credit report, go through it line-by-line to look for errors. Look for inaccuracies, such as:
• misspellings of your name,
• missing credit accounts,
• inaccurate credit limit information,
• credit accounts that belong to someone else and are mistakenly attributed to you,
• data about tax liens or other delinquencies that are not yours,
• records of credit applications that you didn’t submit,
• out-of-date employment information or
• an out-of-date home address.

Highlight any errors in each credit report, so you can easily find them later.

3. Check your credit dings. If your credit report contains negative remarks reflecting previous credit blunders, it’s important to check these for accuracy. For example:
• If you have a late payment on a credit card, is this accurately described as either 30, 60 or 90 days past due?
• Does the report contain records of delinquencies already remedied?
• Is an old collection still showing up, even though it has since been settled?

4. Submit a dispute. It used to be that credit report disputes could only be disputed by mail. But, nowadays, the three major credit bureaus will allow you to submit your corrections online.
Use the links below to go to the dispute sections of:
Experian,
Equifax and
TransUnion.

If you prefer to submit a dispute by mail or by phone, the information about how to do so can also be found using these links.

When submitting the dispute, list the incorrect information and briefly explain why the information is incorrect. It’s especially important to offer supporting facts in your dispute and back them up with any documentation you might have.

5. Contact the creditor that sent the wrong information. Contacting the source of the wrong information can often be the fastest way to resolve the error, so send a letter to the business or creditor from which the information originated. Include a copy of your communication(s) with the credit rating agencies, along with any supporting material you may have. Be specific about what you are requesting — whether it’s deleting an incorrect item or correcting out-of-date information.

6. Keep good records. Keep written records of all your activity so that you can go back and refer to them later, should the need arise. In addition to keeping copies of letters and online submissions, write down main points of your phone conversation(s), along with the date, the phone number and the name of the person you talked to.

7. Be patient. After you submit a correction, the credit bureau has 30 days to verify the information and update the credit report. In the case of a dispute, or if the credit rating agency is unable to verify the credit ding within 30 days, or doesn’t respond, the item will be removed from the credit report and you’ll receive either an e-mail or a written confirmation, depending on how the information was reported. If the source of a negative item verifies the information, the item will stay on the credit report. However, you do have the option to add a 100-word personal statement to explain the situation.


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