A recent study indicated that roughly 80% of credit reports are inaccurate. At least 25% contain errors so important that it may impact credit decisions. It's hardly surprising, then, that your credit report might contain inaccurate personal information, including information about debts that do not belong to you, addresses and names that are not yours, and more. Here are some common mistakes, why they happen, and what you can do to fix them.
The information that may be mistakenly contained in your credit report can range from the most mundane to the quite serious. They include:
wrong or outdated address
wrong birth date
incorrect social security number
outdated or incorrect employment history, and
reporting you as deceased when you aren't (yes, that happens!).
There could be a number of reasons these mistakes may appear on your credit report. The misinformation might be due to:
Human error. Sometimes a simple data entry mistake, made by an employee typing your information into the system, causes problems later on down the road. Your last name may be spelled “Johnson,” but is entered as “Johnston” instead.
Identity theft. Other times, something more calculated is happening. For instance, if the address being reported as yours is totally different from where you have ever lived (or is a P.O. box), this may be a sign that someone else has stolen your identity, especially if there is current credit activity reported with that address.
Confusion. You may have the same name as someone else with a different birth date, or share a similar social security number with another person. This can result in erroneous cross-reporting of debts with that person.
You. When you filled out that credit application, you may have made a mistake writing in your social security number or address. Or you may have used a different variation of your full legal name, such as calling yourself “Beth” instead of “Elizabeth.”
Regardless of why the mistakes ended up in your credit report, you have the right to fix them. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires both credit reporting agencies and your creditors to accurately report your credit information, as well as preserve your privacy. Here are the steps you should take to remedy the problem:
Order an updated copy of your credit report. Carefully review it for any potential errors. The FCRA requires each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) to provide you with one free credit report every 12 months. (To learn how to get your credit report, see our topic area on Credit Reports & Credit Scores.)
Write a letter to every credit reporting agency that issued an inaccurate credit report. Specifically identify each error, supply the correct information, and include supporting documentation. You should include a copy of the report, highlighting the problem information. Keep copies of everything you send to each credit reporting agency, including the letter itself.
The credit reporting agency then has roughly 30 days to investigate, after which they must send you a written response, as well as an updated, free credit report if corrections were made. They are also required to notify any person or company that supplied the erroneous information. These information suppliers are then obligated to do their own investigation, report the results to the credit reporting agency and correct any mistakes on their end.
If the wrong information isn't corrected, include an explanation on your report. Demand that the credit reporting agency include a statement that you dispute the information in your file and in all future credit reports that it issues. (For other steps to take, see If the Credit Reporting Agency Does Not Correct Your Report: What to Do.)
Send a dispute letter to the creditor involved in the misreported information. Also send a dispute letter to any other person or company that gave the wrong information to the credit reporting agency.
(Learn more about how to dispute errors and inaccurate information on your credit report.)