By Melanie Sullivan
Your credit report says a lot about you and your credit history. But is it saying the wrong things?
Credit bureaus keep your credit report on file for prospective lenders to view when making credit decisions about you. But since they don't check for accuracy, mistakes are common. Even a simple mistake can cause you to be denied credit, so it is very important to make sure that your credit report says the right things about you.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you the right to dispute information on your credit report that is inaccurate or outdated. You do this by filing a dispute with the credit bureau reporting the information.
The credit bureau must contact the original creditor within five days of receiving your dispute and has 30 days to verify the disputed item. After completing its investigation, the credit bureau must notify you of the results and include an updated copy of your credit report.
If the credit bureau cannot verify the information within 30 days or if the disputed item is found to be inaccurate, it must be deleted from your credit report.
If the item is verified, you can request the name, address and phone number of the creditor that verified the item. If a deleted item is later verified, the credit bureau must notify you within five days that the information has been reinserted on your credit report.
Follow these 10 steps to file your dispute:
1. Send a letter to the credit bureau. Be very specific about your dispute. Send the letter "certified mail, return receipt requested."
2. Mark your calendar for 30 days. When you get the return receipt, mark your calendar 30 days from the date the credit bureau signed for your letter.
3. Send a demand letter. If the credit bureau does not verify the disputed item within 30 days, send the credit bureau a letter asking to remove the item from your credit report. Tell the credit bureau that it has exceeded the 30-day investigation period. Include a copy of your original dispute letter and a copy of the return receipt.
4. Mark your calendar for 15 days. Give the credit bureau time to respond to your demand letter.
5. Send a second demand letter. If the credit bureau fails to respond, send another demand letter. Say that 45 days have passed since you filed your original dispute and demand that the disputed item be removed from your credit report. Include copies of the original dispute letter, return receipt and first demand letter.
6. File your dispute directly with the original creditor. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the creditor to verify disputed information within 30 days. Ask for written proof, including account statements, of the negative information. Ask the creditor to remove the item from your credit report if it cannot verify the information.
7. Mark your calendar for 30 days. (See step 2.)
8. Send a demand letter to the original creditor. (See step 3.)
9. Add a 100-word statement to your credit file. If a disputed item is verified and the negative information remains on your credit report, you can add a 100-word statement explaining the item.
10. Seek legal advice. You have the right to sue a credit bureau or creditor that violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Filing a lawsuit is time consuming and expensive, so it should be a last resort.
Follow these helpful tips for filing a dispute:
- Put everything in writing.
- Dispute each item in a separate letter.
- Always include your name, address and Social Security number for verification.
- Send all letters certified mail, return receipt requested.
- Make copies for your files.
- Be persistent. Several demand letters may be necessary.
- Credit bureaus are required to show disputed items as "Disputed" on your credit report.
- Always provide enough information for the credit bureau to conduct its investigation. A credit bureau may terminate an investigation if a dispute is frivolous or irrelevant.
- Once negative items are removed, you can request the credit bureau to send correction notices to anyone who has received your credit report in the past six months (two years for employment purposes).
Here's what to dispute first:
- Incorrect personal information. Include a copy of your driver's license, LES statement, or phone bill to correct this information.
- Incorrect or obsolete public record information (i.e., bankruptcies or judgments). Send a copy of your discharge papers or canceled checks to show that the information should no longer be reported.
- Accounts that are not yours or accounts that have been paid, closed or discharged in bankruptcy.
- Incorrect or outdated negative statements or late payment information.
- Credit inquiries more than two years old.
Don't ignore mistakes, thinking that they will be automatically removed. It is up to you to dispute incorrect or outdated information. Following these suggestions will help ensure that your credit report dispute is handled properly and that your credit report remains error-free.