If your credit report has errors or is missing information, you can take steps to clean it up. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to dispute all incomplete and inaccurate information in your credit file.
Read on to learn how to clean up your credit report by disputing information in it.
First Steps: Getting and Reviewing Your Credit Report
The first step in cleaning up your credit report is getting a copy of your report and reviewing it carefully. (To learn how to get your report, see the articles in Credit Reports & Credit Scores.)
When you review the report, keep in mind what types of information can legally appear on your report, and for how long. (For details, see Credit Report Basics.) Also look for other errors, for example misspelled names and the like. (For a comprehensive list of items to check for in your report, see Checklist: Things to Look for in Your Report.)
Writing the Dispute Letter
Once you’ve compiled a list of all incomplete and inaccurate information you want corrected or removed, prepare a letter identifying each correction needed and the reasons that support your dispute for that item. You may use Nolo’s eForm, Letter to Request Reinvestigation. It gives you more flexibility than the forms the credit reporting agencies provide. Don’t simply handwrite a letter; handwritten letters on plain paper often are given minimal attention.
Send your letter to the address provided by the credit reporting agency for disputing information (keep a copy for your records). Also, enclose copies of any documents you have that support your claim. It may help to include a copy of your credit report with the disputed items highlighted. Keep your original documents.
Should You Submit Your Dispute Online?
The three nationwide credit reporting agencies allow you to submit your dispute online. In most cases, however, the online option won’t work, or won’t be optimal. This is because you’ll often need to provide documents that support your position (for example, a canceled check, a note marked “paid,” a statement with a zero balance, or a letter abandoning a claim).
Additionally, the online dispute forms are fairly limited and may not have categories that fit your dispute. Although submitting your dispute online may work for some issues, as a general rule, you should mail in disputes that involve documentation.
Credit Reporting Agency Obligations When Receiving Consumer Disputes
Once the credit reporting agency receives your letter, it must either:
- reinvestigate the items you dispute, or
- delete the items from your credit report within three business days after receiving your dispute.
When the CRA Deletes the Disputed Information
If the credit reporting agency chooses to delete the incorrect information within the three-day time frame, it must notify you by telephone, provide a follow-up written confirmation, and provide a copy of a new credit report within five days after the deletion.
When the CRA Conducts a Reinvestigation
If the agency does not delete the information within three business days, it must:
- complete its investigation within 45 days if you disputed the information after receiving your free annual credit report (otherwise it only has 30 days, which can be extended up to 45 days if you send the agency additional relevant information during the 30-day period)
- contact the creditor reporting the information you dispute within five business days of receiving your dispute
- review and consider all relevant information you submit and forward this information to the creditor that provided the information, and
- provide you with the results of its reinvestigation within five business days of completion, including a revised credit report if any changes were made.
The reinvestigation won’t cost you anything.
If you let an agency know that you’re trying to obtain a mortgage or car loan, it can often do a “rush” reinvestigation.
Parts of this article were excerpted from Nolo’s Credit Repair, by Margaret Reiter and Robin Leonard.