Your credit report is likely to contain errors that lower your score, but these mistakes can be disputed. Here's how.
Your credit report has as much as a one-in-four chance of containing errors serious enough to prevent you from obtaining a loan, but these mistakes can be successfully disputed, according to federal regulators and consumer advocates.
“Your credit report contains information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy,” say officials at the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with protecting American consumers.
The reports are used to evaluate your applications for credit cards, mortgages, jobs, insurance and renting a home - but anywhere from 3 percent to 25 percent of credit reports contain significant mistakes, according to the Credit Karma Blog. Research by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group indicates that your credit report has an 80 percent chance of containing an inaccuracy of some kind.
“It’s more important than ever to correct mistakes in your credit report,” said Catherine McBreen, president of Millionaire Corner. “In the current economic environment banks are afraid to lend to people with less-than-perfect credit ratings. A clerical error could be keeping you from buying a house. Some mistakes could even keep you from getting a job.”
Advocates urge consumers to regularly check their credit reports to screen for mistakes that can damage their credit rating and to uncover cases of identity theft. Americans are entitled by law - the Fair Credit and Reporting Act - to obtain a free credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, the trade commission said.
You are 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 the information in your credit report. Free reports are also available to unemployed individuals planning to look for a job within 60 days, individuals on welfare, and people who have inaccurate reports as a result of identity theft.
Responsibility for correcting errors falls on both the credit reporting companies and the entity providing credit information to the company, according to the Fair Credit and Reporting Act. Both parties should be contacted in efforts to correct your report.
Consumers are advised to contact a credit reporting company in writing to inform them about inaccuracies. The correspondence should contain copies of documents supporting your claim. The letter should be sent by certified mail with “return receipt requested” to enable you to document when the letter was received.
The credit reporting companies are required to investigate items in question within 30 days, unless they consider your dispute to be “frivolous.” The credit reporting company is also required to forward all information to the company providing the data. After completing the investigation, the credit reporting company must send you a written report and a free copy of your report if it has been changed as a result of the dispute. You can also request that the credit reporting companies send notices of any corrections to anyone who has received your report in the past six months. You can have a corrected copy of your report sent to any employer or prospective employer who’s received a copy of your credit report in the past two years.
When you review your credit report, Credit Karma advises counting the total number of accounts listed on your credit report to make sure your file has not been mixed up with someone who lives at the same address or has a similar name to yours – or to make sure that someone has not stolen your identify to open an account in your name. Clerical errors – such as mislabeling a home equity line of credit or misreporting a credit limit – can impact a credit score.
Credit reporting companies can report accurate negative information for seven years, and bankruptcies for 10 years, though there is no time limit on reporting information about criminal convictions. Information reported for jobs paying more than $75,000 or for applications for more than $150,000 or credit or life insurance does not have a reporting time limit.