Adding Explanatory Statements to Credit Reports

You can add a brief statement to your credit report explaining a disputed item.

Although you have a right to dispute incorrect, outdated, or incomplete information in your credit report, sometimes the credit reporting agency’s investigation doesn’t resolve the dispute to your satisfaction. If this happens, you have the right to file a brief statement, often referred to as an “explanatory statement,” about the dispute.

The CRA’s Obligations Regarding Explanatory Statements

Once you file a statement about the dispute with a credit reporting agency (CRA), the agency must include your statement—or a summary of it—in any report that includes the disputed information. If the reporting agency assists you in writing the explanation, it may limit your statement to 100 words. Otherwise, there is no specific word limit.

If you request it, the CRA must also give the statement or summary to anyone you identify who received a copy of your file within the past six months—or two years if your file was given out for employment purposes. This service is free if you request it within 30 days after the agency gave you notice of the results of the reinvestigation. Otherwise, you will have to pay the same amount as the agency would normally charge for a credit report (up to about $12).

Why You Should Keep the Statement Brief

It's a good idea to keep the statement very brief. Because the CRA is required to provide only a summary of your statement (not your actual statement) to anyone who requests your file, if your statement is short, the credit reporting agency is more likely to pass on your statement unedited. If your statement is long, the CRA will probably condense your explanation to just a few sentences or codes. To avoid this problem, keep your statement clear and concise.

Statements Explaining Extenuating Circumstances

The CRAs are only required to include a statement in your file if you're disputing the completeness or accuracy of a particular item. While the agencies don't have to include a statement if you're only explaining extenuating circumstances or other reasons why you haven’t been able to pay your debts, they usually will. If the agency allows you to add such a statement, it can charge you a fee.

Are Explanatory Statements Useful?

Don’t assume that adding a brief statement is the best way to deal with this issue. Quite frankly, few creditors who receive credit files read these statements, and credit scoring programs largely ignore them. So, it’s a good idea to explain the negative mark to subsequent creditors directly. Although even then, remember that in any David (consumer) vs. Goliath (credit reporting agency) dispute, creditors tend to believe Goliath.

However, if you have supporting documentation for your dispute, that might help the creditor believe your story. For example, if you didn't pay a bill because of the business’s improper conduct and can provide evidence that other consumers had similar problems with the same business (such as press reports that a government agency is investigating the business), the prospective creditor is more likely to believe your story.

Getting Help

If you need help disputing an error in your credit report, consider talking to an attorney or a legitimate credit counseling agency. You should, however, avoid credit repair clinics.

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