You have the right to dispute any inaccuracies in your credit report. Once you challenge an item in your report, the credit reporting agency has a duty to either delete the information or further investigate the matter and then get back to you. Unfortunately, a credit reporting agency will sometimes respond that the creditor reporting the information verified its accuracy and completeness. Then, that information will remain in your file.
If you dispute an incorrect item in your credit report, and the credit reporting agency refuses to fix it, you’ll have to take additional steps to remedy the problem.
If the credit reporting agency refuses to change your report—and you still believe the information is inaccurate or incomplete—you’ll need to take more aggressive action. Here are some ideas to help you in your efforts to clean up your credit report.
Contact the creditor that furnished the incorrect information, and demand that it tell the credit reporting agency to remove the data from your report. You can use Nolo’s Request to Creditor to Remove Inaccurate Information or write your own letter. If you get a letter from the creditor agreeing that the information is wrong and should be deleted from your credit file, send a copy of that letter to the agency that made the flawed report.
If you already contacted the creditor directly, it doesn’t have to deal with this dispute again unless you supply more information. But if you escalate your complaint, like to the president or CEO, because you believe the dispute was not properly investigated, and you demonstrate a strong basis for your belief, the company is likely to respond.
If the company can’t or won’t assist you in removing the inaccurate information, call the credit reporting agency directly. Credit reporting agencies have toll-free numbers to handle consumer disputes about erroneous items in their credit files that aren’t removed through the normal reinvestigation process. (Go to the Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion websites to find contact information for these three nationwide credit reporting agencies.)
If you have more information that backs up your claim, you can submit a new dispute to the credit reporting agency. Be sure to provide fresh, relevant information. If you dispute the same error without giving the agency any additional information, it will probably decide that your dispute is frivolous, which means the agency doesn’t have to investigate the matter further.
You can file a complaint about a credit reporting agency with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB will forward your complaint to the agency and try to get a response. If the CFPB thinks another government agency would be better able to help you, it will forward your complaint to that agency and let you know.
If the creditor that furnished the incorrect or incomplete information fails to revise it or advise the credit reporting agency of a correction (or if it advises the credit reporting agency of the adjustment, but then reports the erroneous information again later), you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Or, if the creditor is a large financial institution, you may file a complaint with the federal agency that oversees that type of financial institution. The CFPB also oversees many types of financial agencies, so you can file a complaint there too.
If you aren’t sure which agency to contact, start with the FTC or CFPB, which will likely forward your complaint to the proper agency. Generally, these government agencies won’t represent you individually. But they could send an inquiry to the company, and if there are enough complaints or other evidence of wrongdoing, they might take legal action.
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.
After all, they 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 you were seriously harmed—say, the credit reporting agency continued to give out incomplete or inaccurate information after you requested corrections—consider filing a lawsuit. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) (15 U.S.C. § 1681 and following), you may sue a credit reporting agency 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. Depending on the violation, you might be able to win actual damages, statutory damages, punitive damages, court costs, and attorneys’ fees.
You might also consider suing the creditor that supplied the inaccurate information. But these types of lawsuits are complicated, and the FCRA provides creditors with many ways to avoid liability. You’ll need to consult a lawyer if you want to pursue this type of lawsuit.
You have the right to add an explanatory statement to your credit report. Once you file a statement about the dispute with a credit reporting agency, the agency must include your statement—or a summary of it—in any report that includes the disputed information. If the agency assists you in writing the explanation, it may limit your statement to 100 words. Otherwise, there isn’t a specific word limit. But it’s a good idea to keep the statement very brief. That way, the credit reporting agency is more likely to use your unedited comment.
If you need help fixing your credit report, consider talking to a consumer protection attorney. A lawyer can help you enforce your rights against an agency or creditor that violates the FCRA.