Cleaning Up Your Credit Report: An Overview

Here are the steps you'll need to take to clean up your credit report.

Everyone should review their credit reports annually and, if necessary, take steps to clean them up—that is, get rid of inaccurate and old information. To clean up your credit report, you'll need to order copies of your report from the three major credit bureaus (also called credit reporting agencies), review the reports for inaccuracies or old information, and then ask the credit bureaus to correct the information.

What Does it Mean to Clean Up Your Credit Report?

Cleaning up your credit report means getting rid of inaccurate information, outdated information, or fixing anything that is not correct. It does not mean getting rid of delinquent accounts that are, in fact, delinquent. Or getting rid of anything else that has a legitimate right to be on your report. If a company claims that it can "repair your credit" or "clean up your credit report" and thereby miraculously boost your credit score, run the other way. In fact, when it comes to getting rid of inaccurate and old information on your report, you should be able to do it yourself. (See Don't Use a Credit Repair Clinic.)

Do Credit Reports Usually Have Errors?

Yes. Most credit reports have some type of error, whether it be the wrong notation on how an account was closed, out-dated information that should no longer appear on your report, or accounts that simply aren't yours.

Step One: Get Copies of Your Credit Reports

Most people will only be concerned with credit reports from the three major credit reporting companies—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You are entitled to one free copy from each credit reporting agency (CRA) every 12 months. However, in some situations, you can get free copies more often than that. And you can always pay a small fee for your report, although this usually isn't necessary given all the ways you can get free reports.

You should order your report from all three, as they often contain different information. Some people like to stagger the timing, for example, ordering one from Equifax one month, and then ordering one from TransUnion four months later. (To learn more about getting copies of your reports from the three nationwide CRAs, see What's in Your Credit Report?)

In addition to the three nationwide CRAs, there are also specialty consumer reporting agencies. Some of these track information about tenants and are used by landlords, some contain more personal information and are used by employers and insurers, and some track other types of information. You are entitled to one free annual report from these agencies as well. Although figuring out which ones have a file on you can be tricky. If you think your potential landlord might check a specialty consumer agency, however, you can ask which one he or she uses.

Step Two: Review Your Reports

Next, do a careful review of each of your reports—look for anything that is inaccurate or incomplete. To find out what may be reported on your credit report, and what cannot, see Credit Report Basics.

Nolo's Checklist: What to Look for in Your Credit Report, guides you through each section of your credit report and provides tips for what to look out for.

Step Three: Make a List

Make a detailed lis of everything that is wrong, inaccurate, outdated, or even information that is missing. Then, gather supporting documents. For example, if you closed an account that is still reported as open, see if you can obtain a letter or other document showing you closed the account.

Step Four: File a Dispute Online or Send a Dispute Letter to the Credit Reporting Agency

The three nationwide CRAs allow you to dispute information in your credit report online, which is the easiest way to file a dispute. Experian even provides a “dispute” option next to the listed personal information and each tradeline in your credit report, and allows you to add disputed items to a “cart.” You can then checkout and receive email updates on the status of your dispute.

If you prefer, you may send a detailed letter to the CRA, detailing what is wrong and why, and including suporting document. You'll have to send the letter directly to the CRA. Use the particular address the CRA sets forth for these dispute letters. You can find those addresses on the CRAs' websites.

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