If you dispute an item in your credit report, and the credit reporting agency refuses to correct it, there are additional steps you can take to remedy the problem.
(Learn more about disputing items on your credit report in your Cleaning Up Your Credit Report topic area.)
Why the CRA Might Not Correct Your Credit Report
You have a right to dispute any inaccuracies in your credit report. Once you dispute an item in your report, the credit reporting agency (CRA) has a duty to either delete the information or further investigate the matter and then report back to you. (To learn how to dispute an item and the CRA’s duty to respond, see How to Correct Errors in Your Credit Report.)
Sometimes the credit reporting agency will respond that the creditor reporting the information verified its accuracy and completeness, and that the information will remain in your file.
What to Do if the CRA Doesn’t Correct Your Report
If this happens, and you still believe the information is inaccurate or incomplete, you will need to take more aggressive action to clean up your credit report. This may be frustrating and time-consuming.
Here are some ideas to help you in your efforts to fix your credit report.
Contact the Creditor or Debt Collector Directly
Contact the creditor or bill collector associated with the incorrect information and demand that it tell the credit reporting agency to remove the information. Write to the president or CEO. (You can use Nolo’s Letter to Creditor to Request Removal of Incorrect Information to do this.)
If you already contacted the creditor directly, it does not have to deal with this dispute again, unless you supply more information. However, if you escalate your complaint because you believe the dispute was not properly investigated, and you demonstrate a strong basis for your belief, the furnisher is likely to respond.
If the creditor is local, pay a visit. Sit down in the office of the customer service department, vice president of marketing, or president or CEO. Stay until someone agrees to meet with you and hear your problem. Remember: You have the right to demand attention; if this creditor has verified incorrect information, that incorrect information should be removed from your credit report.
If you get a letter from the creditor agreeing that the information is incorrect and should be removed from your credit file, send a copy of the creditor’s letter to the credit reporting agency.
If a creditor cannot or will not assist you in removing the incorrect information, call the credit reporting agency directly. Credit reporting agencies have toll-free numbers to handle consumer disputes about incorrect items in their credit files that are not removed through the normal reinvestigation process. (To find the contact information for Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, see The Three Nationwide Credit Reporting Agencies.)
File a Complaint About the Credit Reporting Agency
You can file a complaint about a credit reporting agency with the Federal Trade Commission using its online form. Go to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. You can also contact the FTC by phone (at 877-382-4357) or by mail (at FTC Consumer Response Center, CRC-240, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580).
File a Complaint About the Creditor
If the creditor that furnished the incorrect or incomplete information fails to correct it or advise the credit reporting agency of a correction, or if it advises the credit reporting agency of the correction, but then reports the erroneous information again later, you can file a complaint either with the FTC (see above) or, if the creditor is a large financial institution, with the federal agency that oversees that type of financial institution. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau oversees many types of financial agencies, so you might be able to file a complaint there. Visit its website at www.consumerfinance.gov and click on Submit a Complaint.
If you are not sure which agency to contact, start with the FTC -- it will likely forward your complaint to the correct agency.
Generally, these government agencies will not represent you individually, but they may send an inquiry to the company, and if there are enough complaints or other evidence of wrongdoing by the company, they may take legal action against the company.
Complain to Your State Consumer Protection Agency
Some states have laws that apply to credit reporting agencies or creditors furnishing information to these agencies. File a complaint with your state’s attorney general or consumer protection agency.
Consider Suing the Credit Reporting Agency
If you were seriously harmed, for example, the CRA continued to give out incomplete or inaccurate information after you requested corrections, consider suing. The FCRA lets you sue a credit reporting agency, or any other person or entity that violates the law, for negligent or willful noncompliance with the law within two years after you discover the harmful behavior or within five years after the harmful behavior occurs, whichever is sooner.
You can sue for “actual damages,” including court costs, attorney’s fees, lost wages, and, if applicable, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In the case of truly outrageous behavior, you can recover “punitive damages” meant to punish malicious or willful conduct. Under the FCRA, the court decides the amount of the punitive damages.
Consider Suing the Creditor
You might consider suing the creditor that supplied the inaccurate information. However, these types of lawsuits are complicated, and the FCRA provides creditors with many ways to avoid liability. You will need to consult a lawyer if you want to pursue this type of lawsuit.
Contact Your Congressional Representative or Senator
After all, they are the ones that write the laws and need to know when there are problems with the laws or their enforcement. Your congressperson can also call the CFPB or FTC and ask it to investigate.
If All Fails, Consider Adding an Explanatory Statement.
You can always submit a brief statement explaining the inaccuracy in your report. The credit reporting agency has to include it in your report. To learn more, see Adding Explanatory Statements to Credit Reports.
Read more articles and Q&As on Repairing and Rebuilding Your Credit.
This is an excerpt from Credit Repair, by Margaret Reiter and Robin Leonard (Nolo).