Disputing Incomplete and Inaccurate Information in Your Credit Report

If your credit reports contain errors or outdated information, here’s how to dispute those items with the credit reporting bureaus.

A credit report is a detailed record of how you've managed your credit over time. Credit reporting agencies, like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, collect data from creditors, lenders, and public records to produce the reports. The agencies then sell the reports to current and prospective creditors, and anyone else with a legitimate business need for the information. For example, lenders use credit reports—or the credit score that results from the data in it—to help them decide whether to grant you credit and, if so, under what terms. The better your credit report, the more likely your credit request will be granted, and the lower your interest rate will be. Many landlords, employers, and insurance companies will also consider your credit history when making a decision.

So, your credit report is either a valuable asset or a liability, depending on its contents. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) (15 U.S.C. § 1681 and following) requires credit reporting agencies to adopt reasonable procedures for gathering, maintaining, and distributing information. It also sets accuracy standards for creditors that provide data to agencies. Even with these safeguards, credit reports often have errors and inaccuracies.

Because your credit reports can have a considerable influence on decisions others make about you, it's essential to know what’s in your reports and take steps to ensure that the information is accurate. Under the FCRA, you have the right to dispute all incomplete and inaccurate information in your credit report with the agency that made the report.

In this article, you’ll learn:

What’s In Your Credit Reports

A credit report may include basic information about a consumer’s debts, creditworthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living. The data in the reports from the different credit reporting agencies can vary to some degree, depending on which company produces the report.

Credit reports usually have multiple sections, which have the following types of information.

Personal Information

This section typically includes information like your full name and any aliases. It also has your Social Security number (for security reasons, this number will be truncated on the copy provided to you), current and previous addresses, phone number, birth date, and current and former employers.

Public Record Information

Public records are maintained by government agencies and are accessible to anyone. Local, state, and federal court filings are public records. So is the data kept at land records offices.

Credit reporting agencies use private companies to search public records for information like lawsuits, including divorces and evictions, court judgments and judgment liens, foreclosures, and bankruptcies. Federal law also requires credit reporting agencies to report child support delinquencies submitted by child support enforcement agencies.

Credit Information

This section includes a listing of open credit accounts and closed accounts. It also has account numbers, the date you opened and, if applicable, closed the account, the type of account (like mortgage, revolving credit, or student loan), the monthly payment, your credit limit or loan amount and current balance, any co-signers, and your payment history.

Inquiries

This section includes the names of companies and individuals who have obtained copies of your credit report, called "inquiries." These are the names of creditors and others who have requested a copy of your report during the previous year or two. Credit inquiries usually fall into two categories: “soft” and “hard” inquiries.

Soft inquiries. Soft inquiries show up only on the report that you see, not on the report that creditors get. Types of inquiries in this category include creditors that request your credit report for promotional purposes (like the pre-approved credit card applications you get in the mail), current creditors that review your report periodically to check up on you, and notations when you’ve requested a copy of your own credit report. Soft inquiries don't affect your credit score.

Hard inquiries. Hard inquiries appear on the report sent to prospective creditors and employers, and they also appear on the report you get. These inquiries consist of creditors that have requested your report after you have applied for credit with them. They may remain on your file for up to two years.

What’s Not In Your Credit Reports

Credit reports don’t have information about your race, religious preference, medical history, personal lifestyle, political affiliation, friends, or other information that isn't related to credit. Also, ordinary credit reports don’t contain information about your income, investments, or bank accounts.

How You Can Check Your Credit Reports

You can get a free copy of your credit report from each major credit reporting agency (again, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Get Free Weekly Credit Reports During the Coronavirus Crisis

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are also offering free weekly online credit reports through April 2021, so you can manage your credit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whenever You’re Entitled to Additional Free Reports

In some situations, you're entitled to receive additional free credit reports. For example, if you're turned down for credit, your credit limit is reduced, you are offered less favorable credit terms than you requested, you’re a victim of identity theft, or you’re unemployed and seeking employment.

Equifax Must Provide Free Copies of Your Credit Report

A data breach at Equifax in 2017 compromised the personal information of at least 147 million consumers. As part of a court settlement related to the hack, everyone—whether they were affected by the breach or not—can get six more free credit reports from Equifax each year, beginning in January 2020, for the next seven years.

Checking Your Nationwide Specialty Credit Reports

Several nationwide specialty credit reporting agencies also exist. These agencies keep records on particular types of transactions, like tenant histories, insurance claims, medical records or payments, employment histories, and check writing histories. These agencies must give you a free report every twelve months if you request it. To get a specialty credit report, you’ll have to contact each agency individually.

Review Your Reports for Mistakes, Inaccuracies, Items That Shouldn’t Appear

After you get your credit reports, be sure to review them and dispute any inaccurate information you find. If you’re planning to make a big purchase, like a house or a car, or a significant financial commitment, such as refinancing your mortgage, you might want to review information from all three agencies well in advance.

How Long Does Information Stay on Your Reports?

The FCRA limits how long a credit reporting agency can report negative items in your credit report. Items that aren’t negative, but neutral or positive, can be reported indefinitely. Review the rules below and then check your credit report for negative items that are too old to be reported.

  • Delinquent accounts. A delinquent account can be reported for seven years after the date of the last scheduled payment before the account became delinquent. Even if you later pay off a delinquent amount, the tradeline for that account in your credit report may show that you were previously delinquent. For example, if your payments for March and July 2020 were each one month late, the report may continue to show (for seven years from the date after each payment was due) that you were 30 days late twice in 2020, even though the tradeline for that account also shows your payments for the rest of 2020 were made on time.
  • Bankruptcies. Under the FCRA, bankruptcies can’t be reported for more than ten years. Because Chapter 13 bankruptcies involve repaying some debt, Chapter 13 bankruptcies stay on reports for up to seven years. By contrast, Chapter 7 bankruptcies get reported for the entire ten years (from the date of filing). If your case was dismissed (and therefore you didn't get an order discharging your debts), the bankruptcy could be reported for up to ten years, although some agencies drop it after seven.
  • Foreclosures. A foreclosure appears for seven years.
  • Lawsuits and judgments. A lawsuit or judgment can be reported for up to seven years from the date a lawsuit was filed and seven years from the date a judgment was entered against you, or until the governing statute of limitations has expired, whichever is longer. Most statutes of limitation are shorter than seven years, so seven years is the likely maximum time judgments or lawsuits will show up in your credit report. And, because you eliminate any statute of limitations when you pay a judgment, paid judgments may be reported no more than seven years after their dates of judgment.
  • Charged-off accounts. Charged-off accounts, sent to collection, or any other similar action, like a repossession, can be reported for up to seven years plus 180 days from the delinquency. This time frame applies to accounts sent to collection within the creditor company, as well as those sent to a collection agency.
  • Child support. Overdue child support can be reported for seven years.
  • Credit, life insurances, and some jobs. If you apply for $150,000 or more of credit or of life insurance, or for a job with an annual income of at least $75,000, credit reporting agencies may report bankruptcies, lawsuits, paid tax liens, accounts sent out for collection, criminal records, overdue child support, and any other adverse information beyond the usual time limits. As a practical matter, however, credit reporting agencies often delete all items after seven or ten years.

How to Initiate a Dispute Online, By Mail, or By Phone

You may initiate a dispute about an incomplete or inaccurate item in your credit report online, by mail, or by phone.

Initiating a Dispute Online

The three major credit reporting agencies allow you to dispute information in your credit report online.

  • Equifax. Go to Equifax.com. Click on “Submit a Dispute.”
  • Experian. Go to Experian.com. Click on “Disputes” and then “Start a new dispute online.
  • TransUnion. Go to TransUnion.com. Click on “Find out how to dispute an item on your credit report” and then “Start Dispute.”

Initiating a Dispute By Mail

If you prefer not to use the online process, you can mail in your dispute. After 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.

Send your letter to the address that the agency provides for disputing information. Search the websites listed above to find the proper address. Keep a copy for your records. Also, enclose copies of any documents you have that support your claim. Retain your original documents. It might help to include a copy of your credit report with the disputed items highlighted.

Initiating a Dispute By Phone

To initiate a dispute by phone, call the credit reporting agency that has inaccurate information on your credit report. Visit the websites above to find the phone numbers.

What Happens After You Submit Your Dispute

Once the agency receives your dispute, it must either reinvestigate the items you dispute or delete them from your credit report within three business days after receiving your dispute.

If the Credit Reporting Agency Deletes the Information

If the agency chooses to delete the incorrect information within this 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 business days after the deletion.

If the Credit Reporting Agency 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 days)
  • within five business days of receiving your dispute, contact the creditor reporting the information you dispute
  • review and consider all relevant information you submit and forward it 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.

Frivolous Disputes

In most situations, a credit reporting agency has to investigate an item once you dispute it. But if your dispute is frivolous or irrelevant, the agency doesn’t have to investigate further. So, if you challenge everything or almost everything in the report—without regard to what you believe is accurate or inaccurate—or you repeatedly ask for reinvestigation of the same item, the credit reporting agency might not have to investigate your dispute at all.

What You Can Do If the Agency Doesn’t Respond to Your Dispute

If the credit reporting agency doesn’t respond to your dispute within time limits imposed by law or at all, you have a few options, like:

  • Dispute it again. If you submit the dispute again, be sure to provide some new information. If you dispute the same error without giving the agency any further information, it might decide that your dispute is frivolous.
  • Add an explanatory statement to the report. If an agency’s investigation doesn’t resolve the dispute to your satisfaction, you have the right to file a brief statement, often referred to as an “explanatory statement,” about the dispute to your credit report.
  • Submit a complaint to the CFPB. You may also submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), along with a copy of the dispute information you sent to the agency.
  • Leave the error on the report. In rare cases—and only if the error isn’t hurting your credit score, causing you to be denied for credit, or is scheduled to fall off your credit report soon—it might not be worth the effort to keep trying to correct the error. However, you should continue to review your credit reports for future errors and dispute those errors if they're serious.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you’ve exhausted all other options for correcting your credit report, and the agency still won’t fix the error or errors, consider talking to a consumer law attorney or debt settlement lawyer who can help you enforce your rights. You have the right to sue a credit reporting that violates your rights under the FCRA, including continuing to report incorrect information.

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