Question: I have an erroneous hit on my credit which reduced my FICO score from 840 to 724. The company refuses to acknowledge the error. What can I do?
— Dick in Washington
Howard Dvorkin answers…
This is a common problem, Dick. It’s so common, in fact, the federal government has estimated, “5 percent of consumers had errors on their credit reports that could result in less favorable terms for loans.”
If there’s any good news, it’s this: When a costly problem becomes so widespread, someone usually does something about it. In this case, that’s a law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA requires the Big Three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to help you make sure your credit reports are accurate. Here’s how that works for you…
Can I Fix My Credit Report If There’s A Big Mistake On It?
Can I fix my credit report if there’s a big mistake on it? A reader found a costly error but doesn’t know who to tell. It’s hard enough to get out of debt and build a healthy credit score. So it’s absolutely infuriating when you pull your credit report, and see mistakes that dragging down your score.
Over the past two decades I’ve seen it all. Someone else has a debt but your names are similar so it gets reported as yours. You’ve recently paid off a debt but someone forgot to record the pay off. Some debts might even be listed twice for a bunch of technical reasons I won’t even bore you with. So how do you get the big three credit bureaus to fix mistakes? These massive organizations with intimidating names like Equifax, Experian, TransUnion. Well, thankfully you’re not alone.
Federal law forces these credit bureaus to work with consumers and fix these mistakes. About 5% of all U.S. adults have had at least one mistake on their credit reports at one time or another. There’s a dispute process you can use and I explained it on Debt.com’s website.
I also give advice on how to get the best results, but I’ll share one right now with you. Stay calm. It’s easy to get mad when you have to spend your free time fixing someone else’s mistake. But let’s face it, we’re all human and if you vent to the people trying to help you it can only hurt you. Learn how to dispute your credit reports in the least amount of time at Debt.com.
How to “dispute”
If the company refuses to correct the error themselves, you can file a “dispute” with the credit bureaus that issued the report where the mistake appears. Here’s the problem: If this mistake appears on the reports from all three credit bureaus, you will need to make three separate disputes.
I recommend you go old school and send your dispute by certified mail, with a return receipt requested. It’s called a “paper trail” for a reason, and it’s your best defense.
Provide your name, address, and account number at the top of the letter. Then briefly detail what the error is and what the correct information should be. Include copies of any documentation that supports your case — but keep the originals for your records.
What happens next
Once a bureau receives your letter, the aforementioned FCRA gives them 30 days to respond to you. That law also says the bureau must verify the information with the creditor. If the information can’t be verified, it must be removed from your credit report.
The credit bureau will then send you a new copy of your credit report, so you can confirm the information was removed. If the information can be verified but you still believe it’s wrong, you have the right to include a 100-word “consumer statement” in your credit report with your explanation of the error.
How mistakes are made
I must tell you, Dick, that not all mistakes are corrected. If the creditor can verify what they reported is correct, then the error may remain — even if you know it’s wrong.
How could this be? Here’s a common example…
You made your mortgage payment on time, but your lender reports it as missed. Why? Because the company added an additional flood insurance assessment onto your monthly payment. Even if the assessment was added in error — because the lender did not receive your National Flood Insurance Program policy renewal promptly — the payment technically was missed because you didn’t make the required payment for that month.
These kinds of situations happen. If this is similar to the situation you face, I suggest you work with a state-licensed attorney who can file the dispute on your behalf. Credit repair attorneys are well-versed in getting mistakes removed. You could have more success working with a professional than you would have making the dispute on your own, although Debt.com offers you advice on both.
Check out our DIY Step-By-Step Credit Repair Plan report, or contact us to be introduced to an attorney who can help you.
Have a debt question?
Email your question to email@example.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and/or policies of Debt.com.