Some things are worth fighting for. Protecting your credit is one of them. You know your three-digit credit score is the key to the financial kingdom, so you work overtime to do the right things to keep your score above 700. Trouble is, despite all your efforts mistakes happen.
“As many as 39% of credit reports contain errors. It’s crucial to check your credit score regularly,” says Adrian Nazari, CEO and founder of CreditSesame.com, a financial education website.
You have free access to your credit report every year at annualcreditreport.com from the top three credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. One of the best ways you can track the accuracy of the information on your report is by reviewing it over time and not all at once.
“You can do this by requesting a report from each of the three credit bureaus every four months (for example: April, August, and December) to get a clear picture of where you stand over the year. You should check for inaccurate or questionable information that may be presented on your reports,” says Anthony Copeman, founder of Financial Lituation in Philadelphia which focuses on personal finance for millennials.
Once you have your report and find an error or errors, here’s what to do.
Time is essential. Don’t put fixing the mistake on the back burner. “Multiple inaccurate or unauthorized hard inquiries posted on file, or past due balances from credit facilities can really bring your credit score down. The longer that your report is wrong, the worse your score will get,” says Milos Varaklic, vice president of MDG, an e-commerce platform that uses artificial intelligence to predict the ability of customers to repay their credit.
State your case
When an error is caught, contact all three credit bureaus. You can call, write or the fastest way is by filling out a form on the credit bureau’s website. If going snail mail, write a Request for Deletion dispute letter to them and the creditor that provided the erroneous data. “Within this letter, include all pertinent information such as a copy of the transaction statement and credit report, the reason why you are writing a dispute and why you believe the item is an error,” says Jared Weitz, CEO of United Capital Source in Great Neck.
You don’t want anything getting lost in the mail. Use certified mail and request a return receipt. Do not include original documents that support your case, keep those for your records. Make copies to send.
Expect to include proof of identification, like Social Security number, a copy of a government-issued ID, proof of your current address like a utility bill and your home addresses going back two years, says Sara Rathner, a credit card expert for NerdWallet.com.
What comes next?
Once you submit your report, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureau has 30 days to investigate, update and respond to your request. The bureau notifies the furnisher or supplier of the information, who then has five days to dispute your claim. The furnisher must review and investigate and send their findings to the bureau. “If the bureau finds the false information found in your credit report to be inaccurate or unverifiable, it will be removed or corrected, says Nazari.
If the credit bureau does not respond to your dispute in 30 days, they are required to remove the negative mark from your report, says Copeman.
Depending on the level of error, the company can correct the mistake on their end and will communicate with the credit bureau, says Jacob Dayan, CEO and Co-founder of CommunityTax.com. But make no assumptions. “Stay up to date with the investigation and make sure to check for any updates and changes made to your credit report,” he says.
If you suspect fraud
An error is one thing, but if you see an account or accounts that you didn’t open on your credit report, you have more work to do.
Call the companies where accounts were opened so they can either close or freeze them so no new charges can be made. “Report any suspicious charges so you won’t be liable for stolen money. Change passwords on all of your logins,” says Rathner.
Set up a fraud alert at one of the three main credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion). You don’t have to contact all three. Once you create one fraud alert, that bureau will notify the others, she says.
Report the issue to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov. This site has information that can help you put a plan in place to restore your credit history.