Disputing Your Credit Report
Remember that credit is money. ~ Benjamin Franklin
Your credit report is a record of your credit activities. It lists all of your credit card accounts and loans, the balances as well as your payment history. It also shows if any action has been taken against you because of unpaid bills such as a lawsuit or bankruptcy filing. Because businesses use this information to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance and employment, its important that the information in your report is complete and accurate, especially if you plan to make a big purchase like a home.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), is designed to promote accuracy and ensure the privacy of the information used in consumer reports. Under the FCRA, both the credit reporting agency (CRA) and the organization that provided the information to the CRA (usually the credit card company) must correct any errors or incomplete information in your report.
No one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report. The law allows you to ask for an investigation of information in your file that you dispute as inaccurate or incomplete. There is no charge for this. Everything a credit repair clinic can do for you legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA):
- You’re entitled to a free report if a company takes adverse action against you, like denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment, and you ask for your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company. You’re also entitled to one free report a year if you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days; if you’re on welfare; or if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft.
- Each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.
The three companies have set up a central website, a toll-free telephone number, and a mailing address through which you can order your annual free credit report. To order, click on www.annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print the form from ftc.gov/credit. Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually. They are providing free annual credit reports only through annualcreditreport.com, 1-877-322-8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You may order your reports from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies at the same time, or you can order your report from each of the companies one at a time. For more information, see Your Access to Free Credit Reports at ftc.gov/credit.
Otherwise, a consumer reporting company may charge you up to $9.50 for another copy of your report within a 12-month period.
- You can dispute mistakes or outdated items for free. Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider (that is, the person, company, or organization that provides information about you to a consumer reporting company) are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. To take advantage of all your rights under this law, contact the consumer reporting company and the information provider.
If you do encounter a mistake on your credit report, several steps need to be taken to correct the matter:
1. The first thing to do is get a copy of your credit report from each of the three major CRAs: Equifax, http://www.equifax.com; Experian, http://www.experian.com; and TransUnion, http://www.tuc.com as described in the previous section.
2. In a written letter, tell the CRA what information you believe to be inaccurate. Include copies (not originals) of documents that support your position. Provide your complete name and address, identify each item in your report you dispute, and request deletion or correction. Be sure to make copies of your dispute letter and enclosures.
3. Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the CRA received.
4. The FCRA mandates that all CRAs reinvestigate the items in question usually within 30 days unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all relevant data you provide about the dispute to the information provider. After the creditor receives notice of a dispute from the CRA, it must investigate, review all relevant information and report the results to the Credit Reporting Agency.
5. If the disputed information is found to be inaccurate, the credit card company must notify all nationwide CRAs so they can correct this information in your file. Disputed information that cannot be verified must be deleted from your file.
6. When the reinvestigation is complete, the CRA must give you the written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. If an item is changed or removed, the CRA cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the credit card company verifies its accuracy and completeness, and the CRA gives you a written notice that includes the name, address, and phone number of the credit card company.
7. In addition to the CRA, you should also write to the credit card company about the error. Again, include copies of documents that support your dispute. If you are correct meaning the information you disputed is found inaccurate the credit card company cannot use it again. Further, at your request, the CRA must send notices of corrections to anyone who received your report in the past six months.