Your credit report is incredibly important. Not only do potential lenders check it when you’re trying to secure credit, but landlords, cell phone companies, utility companies, insurance companies, etc. have also been known to check your credit prior to doing business with you.
Given the above, it’s in your best interest to check your credit reports regularly and clear up any errors or out of date information. In addition to protecting your credit score, checking your credit report is also a good way of detecting against identity theft before things get out of control.
Fortunately, if you find errors on your report, it’s relatively easy to correct them. For example, I had a medical bill that was erroneously sent to collections. My insurance company had paid it years ago, so I was surprised to see it there. While this error had a huge negative impact on my credit score, I was ultimately able to get it fixed.
How to get your free credit reports
You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once per year. To order your reports online, visit annualcreditreport.com. Note that this site is the only place where you can get your reports completely free. Sites such as FreeCreditReport.com and MyFICO.com have strings attached, as you have to enroll in free trial and then cancel before you get charged.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are additional circumstances in which you can get free access to your credit reports:
“Under federal law, you’re also entitled to a free report if a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment, based on information in your report. You must 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.”
Finally, it’s worth noting that each of the three bureaus will provide you with a free credit report if you place a fraud alert on your file.
How to dispute errors on your credit report
Now that you’ve reviewed your credit report and found some errors, you need to decide how you want to dispute it. For starters, all three credit bureaus offer online dispute resolution. This is a great place to start, though you can’t necessarily fix all of your problems online.
Contact numbers and online dispute sites:
- Equifax: (800) 685-1111 (Online Dispute Resolution)
- Experian: (888) 397-3742 (Online Dispute Resolution)
- TransUnion: (800) 888-4213 (Online Dispute Resolution)
Fixing errors on your credit report by mail:
As convenient as online dispute resolution might be, sometimes you’ll need to send your dispute through the mail. If you’re unsure, call the credit bureaus (numbers above) to verify what you need to do for your specific case.
When we were disputing an error on my credit report, I called Equifax to get some more information on what to send with the claim. Some items you may need to include (depending on your error):
- Copy of driver’s license or state ID card
- Copy of Social Security card
- The full name of the creditor or collection agency
- The account number in question
- A concise description of why you’re disputing it
- Any paperwork you have that supports your case
It definitely pays to call ahead and get specific guidance for your for how to handle your dispute if you’re going to mail anything to them.
Sample credit report dispute letter
In case you’re unsure what to include in your dispute letter, the FTC has a sample dispute letter to help you out.
Your City, State, Zip Code
Name of Company
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. The items I dispute also are circled on the attached copy of the report I received.
This item (identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.) is (inaccurate or incomplete) because (describe what is inaccurate or incomplete and why). I am requesting that the item be deleted (or request another specific change) to correct the information.
Enclosed are copies of (use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation, such as payment records and court documents) supporting my position. Please investigate this (these) matter(s) and (delete or correct) the disputed item(s) as soon as possible.
Enclosures: (List what you are enclosing)
And remember… Always send copies of your documentation. Keep your originals!
Credit bureau mailing addresses
What follows is a list of addresses for the major credit reporting agencies.
Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-0949
P.O. Box 2000
Springfield, PA 19022-2000
You should receive a letter in approximately 4-6 weeks regarding the status of the dispute. Mark the date you sent your dispute on your calendar, and keep detailed records in case there are any further problems.
Dealing with accurate negative information
If there are legitimate negative items on your credit report, there’s not much that you can do. In most cases, negative information will be removed from your credit report seven years after the date it was last reported. As you slowly rebuild your credit history, you should see your more and more positive information on your credit report, the negatives will gradually drop off, and your score should rise accordingly.
Fixing your credit report takes a bit of time, but it’s worth it. I’m certainly glad to have the medical collection taken off of my credit report. Of course, it pays to have proper documentation as you go through the process. In my case, I had proof of payment, so it was just a matter of filing my request and waiting.
Have you been through this? Do you have any tips to add?