Whenever you pull your credit report, you should check the accuracy of the information within it.
You check your credit report at least once a year (you can obtain your annual, free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com), but you might also want to check your file before you plan to make a major purchase. If you know what information appears on your credit report, you can determine whether there are inaccuracies and dispute them before you seek new credit.
Any inaccurate information on your credit file can impact your credit score. If you have been a victim of fraud, or if a creditor incorrectly reports your account as delinquent, it may decrease your credit score and may affect your ability to get credit at a better rate.
When you pull your credit report, check your personal information for accuracy first. Is your name spelled correctly? Is your correct address listed?
Then check the accounts that are listed. Make sure they all look familiar and they all belong to you. If you see accounts you don’t recognize, this could be a sign of fraud or identity theft. (The process of addressing fraud on your account is similar to that of filing a dispute, but we’ll talk more about fraud alerts in my next post.)
Steps for Filing a Dispute
Ask yourself the following questions about your credit report:
- Is my personal information-my name and address-correct?
- Are all of my credit accounts listed?
- Is my account payment history correct for each creditor?
- Are the balances and account age (date opened) correct for each of my accounts? ?
- Is there negative information on my report that should have cycled off (e.g. bankruptcies, liens, judgments, etc.)?
- Are there any inquiries on my account for credit I did not apply for?
- Are there any inactive accounts that show new activity?
If you think any of the information in your credit file is incomplete or incorrect, you can notify the credit reporting agency (CRA) directly, to initiate a dispute-free of charge. At Equifax, you can file a dispute online, by mail or by phone. Click here for more information about how to start an investigation/file a dispute with Equifax.
If you find an inaccuracy with one CRA, you may want to get your credit file from the other two credit agencies to see if their files contain the same error:
After you’ve corrected an error with one CRA, the other agencies should eventually receive the corrected information. However, for prompt correction, it’s best to contact the other two agencies individually to dispute the error. You may also contact your creditor directly to dispute inaccurate information.
What Happens after I File My Dispute?
By law, a CRA is required to investigate a dispute within thirty to forty-five days of its filing. In thirty days (or forty-five if the dispute is based on your annual free credit report), the CRA will notify you of the outcome of your dispute. If you submit your complaint by mail, the notification will be mailed to you; if you file online, you can receive email updates throughout the investigation.
Based on the investigation, the CRA will either update the current status of the disputed information (which may include letting you know if the furnisher of the information verified that it was reporting correctly) or delete the item from your file. If the creditor has verified information that you disputed as accurate, the information will remain in your credit file, but you can add a statement of explanation.
Remember, the credit reporting agencies do not create the information on your credit file; they are simply repositories for the information provided them by creditors. It is best to monitor your credit regularly to make sure all the information is up-to-date and accurate.