When there’s a mistake on your credit report
Errors on your credit file can be costly. Here’s what you need to look for, and how to fix any mistakes that you find.
Nowadays, the need to keep track of your own credit report is a fact of life. In 2013 the FTC ran a study that showed that 5% of all consumer credit reports had errors in them. The US government now makes sure that we all get a free copy of our credit report per year, so that we can find mistakes and correct them, and to prevent losses to identity theft. But, do you know how to handle mistakes in your credit report?
Getting started: your personal data
On your credit report, the first thing you notice is the huge amount of information it contains. It’s smart to examine it carefully, starting with the most common issues. Start by reading carefully your name and personal data (address and phone numbers). A wrongly-entered name can cause your credit report to not come up.
When it comes to this data, some common errors you may have caused yourself because of inconsistency: sometimes, you use your full name with middle name; others, your name, middle initial and two last names. These changes can cause some of your accounts to not appear as yours.
The same thing happens with how you list your address, or the order you use on your date of birth (in the US it’s always listed MMDDAA, but that’s not the case in every country). There are two major types of mistakes: data and accounts that you know that aren’t yours, and errors on accounts that are yours.
The accounts that aren’t yours may appear for one of two reasons:
- Mistakes related to other consumers: accounts that belong to people with a similar name to yours may appear on your credit report by mistake.
- Accounts opened by identity thieves.
And then, there are plain and simple mistakes:
- Accounts that remain open when they should be closed;
- Accounts that show as delinquent but aren’t -this can happen when a company by mistake put your payment to someone else’s account, later rectified but by then the credit bureaus had already picked up the report for the month;
- Wrong dates for account opening, last payment, or delinquencies;
- One account that appears repeatedly when it’s only one account -this happens often when an account has been sent to a collections agency;
- Incorrect balances -keep in mind that it’s difficult to ascertain sometimes, especially if you’re the kind of consumer how pays off account balances the next month. You’ll have to be sure to check the ending balance of the correct month on your account to be sure;
- Wrong limits to your lines of credit;
- Accounts that you have but are not on your credit report. There are companies that still don’t report to credit bureaus, but it can also be that due to a clerical error: sometimes not being reported comes from someone forgetting to check a box. It pays to contact those businesses not reporting.
How to correct a mistake
You can do it by phone, online or by mail. Personally, I advocate doing it online because it gives me a digital record of my claim, I can take screenshots for my records and, if the credit bureau allows, I get an email confirming that I filed a claim and it’s processing. If you do it by mail, I’d encourage you to mail by certified mail, requesting a signature.
Contact information for the three credit bureaus is
If by phone and if you obtained your credit report from Experian, the number to call to file a claim will be on the credit report.
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
On this page you’ll find the list of things they ask you to submit when you find an error on your credit report.
Here you file online.
By phone, calling 1-800-916-8800
By mail, the address is:
Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
And here are their claim instructions.
To file online.
Their phone number is 1- 866-349-5191.
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
Online, on this page.
Do I need to file a claim with all three credit bureaus?
In theory, once your claim has been approved and your data corrected, the other credit bureaus will pick up the correction and make their own updates. If you’re in a hurry to have your credit cleared with all three, or if you wish to be absolutely certain that it gets done, contact all three bureaus simultaneously.
What happens after I make a claim?
The statutory time to solve a consumer claim is 30 days, but the credit bureau may gain an additional 15 days if you have to submit additional documentation.
The credit bureaus, by law, must notify the information provider of your claim within five days of receiving your claim. That provider, in turn, investigates and either confirms that the information it has is right, or corrects the mistake; then, the bureau informs you of the decision, and your credit report is corrected. The credit bureau also informs the provider of the correction.
If you allow it, the credit bureau will also send your corrected credit report to any company that might have pulled your credit report for employment purposes in the last 24 months.
What if my claim gets denied?
It can happen, if the credit bureau decides that your claim is without merit, or if the information provider proves that the information they provided was indeed correct. In that case, you have the right to contact that company to file a claim for correction with them directly.
However, if they don’t agree with your claim (and don’t correct the mistake), you still have rights. You may ask the credit bureau to list your point of view on the issue, so that anyone who pulls your report will see that you dispute it.