Consumers may have good reason to worry about errors in their credit reports. According to a 2004 U.S. Public Interest Research Group survey, 25 percent of reports contained errors that were serious enough to cause consumers to be denied credit, and 79 percent contained mistakes of some other kind. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) requires that the “Big Three” consumer reporting agencies–Experian, Equifax and TransUnion–to maintain information in your credit history that is both correct and timely. FACTA also establishes a dispute process for you to fix your credit report yourself.
Access or order your credit reports through Annualcreditreport.com, the government-authorized website to provide you with all three reports free of charge. Credit.com advises printing out and going over the reports carefully; highlight or underline erroneous information.
Dispute the credit report error in writing, if contacting Equifax or TransUnion (for Experian, go to Step 4). Write a letter to the consumer reporting agency that contains your name and contact information, as well as a description of the credit record and the reason it is inaccurate. For example, perhaps through administrative error, one of your lenders has indicated that you owe more on a loan than you actually do. Alternately, you may notice a record of a credit card account that you did not open or use yourself.
Make copies of everything you send to TransUnion or Equifax, including your letter and any supporting documentation you intend to send. It’s wise to tuck a copy of your credit report into the envelope as well, with the questionable records highlighted, and copies of any supporting documentation you have on hand that lends credibility to your side of the story.
Send your dispute certified mail, return receipt requested. This ensures that it is received by Equifax or TransUnion.
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
2 Baldwin Place
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022
File a dispute online, if you notice an error on your Experian credit report. According to Credit.com, Experian first vets all disputes in this manner. If the credit report you have is more than 90 days old, Experian advises ordering a new one before you file your dispute online.
Keep an eye on your mailbox. Generally, within 30 days, the consumer reporting agency will respond to you in writing after first investigating your dispute. If the error is removed from your credit report, you’ll receive a copy of a new one.
Tips and Warnings
- The best reason to take a look at your credit reports is to spot identity theft, says the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Leslie McFadden, Bankrate.com financial adviser, says that you can also choose to contact a lender directly if you notice an error on your credit report–this may be a more expedient method. However, you won’t be making full use of your consumer rights under FACTA.
Equifax and TransUnion also have an online dispute process, but the FTC points out that it’s always best to put your communication in writing.
- The dispute process established under FACTA applies only to information in your credit reports that is clearly erroneous. Information that doesn’t reflect well on your ability to pay back debt, such as an account that has been sent to a collections agency, cannot be removed until the record itself expires. Most records expire after seven years.