Multiple organizations advertise their capability to “fix” errors on your credit report. A quick internet search results in hundreds of options to assist you, for a fee. However, the bottom line is: save your money, and use it to pay your bills. There is nothing these individuals or companies can do for you that you can’t do yourself for free.
Credit Report Defined
First things first. A credit report is merely a third party’s (three third parties, actually: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) compilation of how you’ve paid your past credit obligations, based on information supplied by creditors. These credit aggregators collect, and distribute, this information to authorized requestors with a legitimate business purpose, which include a credit request on the part of the consumer, current or prospective employer, insurance company, and a handful of other reasons. This is important because if you believe something on your report is inaccurate, a credit reporting agency is not the problem. The organization reporting your payment history is the source of the issue.
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to obtain a copy of your credit report at any time, including once a year for free. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to obtain all three reporting agencies’ results. Review these reports carefully to ensure the accuracy of the information there.
Understand that “I forgot”, “I moved”, or any other excuses for actually paying your bills late do not justify a dispute. You are responsible for paying your bills on time. If you do not, anyone looking at the report will see you failure to pay for the next 7-10 years! These entries are legitimate.
How to Dispute Errors on Credit Report
If, however, actual errors exist, you can follow a dispute process to get the false information removed. First, directly contact the creditor whose information is inaccurate. During this process, keep records of all calls, dates, and the names of the people you spoke with. The creditor has thirty (30) days to investigate and remove the faulty information, or to provide evidence of its accuracy. If removed, you can then request that corrected copies of your credit report be sent to any creditors that received inaccurate reports within the last six (6) months, or any employer or prospective employer within the last two years.
Alternatively, you can dispute with the credit reporting agency. Their contact information is at the conclusion of this article. Again, the creditor has thirty (30) days to respond. If they do not reply, the disputed information will automatically be removed from your report. If the creditor provides evidence of accuracy, however, the information remains.
If the dispute remains unresolved, or you disagree with the creditor’s version of events, you may add a one hundred (100) word personal statement directly on your report regarding the negative item, which remains on the report for seven (7) years. This statement can be revised or removed at any time. I have a customer who got into a serious car accident, and had several bills go unpaid. When he recovered, he brought everyone current, and was able to negotiate elimination of late fees and penalty interest. He then placed a notification on his credit report stating he’d gotten into an accident, and that no lender took a loss. He also maintains a letter of explanation to provide to any creditor that asks.
If you cannot get the dispute resolved, you may also report your situation to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or your state’s Attorney General’s office.
Sadly, identity theft has exploded over the last decade or so, and you may have become a victim. Someone may have taken your legitimate information, opened accounts in your name, and left them unpaid. In that case, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies, your creditors (to close accounts and open new ones), the police department (you will need a case number to resolve disputes), and the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline (included at the end of this article) to file a complaint.
So as you see, there is nothing listed above you cannot accomplish yourself. If you do wish to hire someone to undertake this work on your behalf, keep the following in mind:
- Any company should fix first, and you should pay second. No money should be required upfront.
- Your legal rights should be disclosed.
- If they tell you not to contact credit reporting agencies directly, run the other way.
- If they suggest any illegal actions, discontinue using that firm or individual.
Once all of the information on your report is accurate, the only way to “fix”, or improve, your credit report is to pay your bills on time, every time.
Equifax PO Box 740241 Atlanta GA 30374-0241 800-685-1111 www.equifax.com
PO Box 2000
Chester PA 19022-2000
Federal Trade Commission 877-438-4338
|Money Management International
Kevin Herbst has volunteered with non-profit credit counseling groups for 15 years. He has worked in banking his entire career, the last 15 lending money to businesses. He is also an author: see www.theendofheroes.com for more information.