Just remember: Removing errors is a DIY project. So don’t get baited by credit repair servicers (“Pay us before we do any work on your behalf;” “Don’t contact the credit reporting companies directly” ) — these pitches are usually scams. Instead, try these seven tips for fixing credit report mistakes.
1. Do it now. As soon as you find out there’s an error (check your credit report at least annually), take immediate action to repair the damage. The longer you put off reporting the error, the harder it’ll be to find the evidence to prove you’re right and they’re wrong.
Plus, you can lose consumer protections if you wait longer than a month to send a written dispute of certain mistakes, like when you get an incorrect debt-collection notice.
2. Don’t assume the mistake you know about is the only mistake in your credit history. About 5% of U.S. consumers have a credit report error in one of their three major credit bureau reports, the Federal Trade Commission says.
Find out what each of the three big bureaus is reporting about you by ordering a free credit report.
3. If your credit report error involves identity theft (you see credit card accounts you didn’t open or loans you didn’t take out), call each of the three credit reporting bureaus and ask them to put a fraud alert on your file. Then, fill out a Federal Trade Commission identity theft report and call the police to report the theft. The FTC and police reports help prove you had your identity stolen.
4. Complain to everyone who screwed up. Write or file an online dispute with the credit reporting company and the business that made the mistake in the first place. If the mistake was made by:
- A finance company, like a credit card issuer or mortgage lender: Call and ask what their procedures are for correcting errors.
- Debt collection company: Follow the instructions on the collections notice to formally dispute the debt, which forces the debt collector to verify the debt.
For credit bureaus, use these websites:
- Equifax. You’ll need to your credit report number.
- Experian makes you get a credit report identification number (it appears on your Experian credit report) before you want to file a credit report dispute online with them.
5. If all this complaining does nothing, and according to a 60 Minutes investigation it’s quite possible nothing is exactly what will happen, consider contacting your state attorney general’s office to see if they can offer any guidance.
6. Back up your story with proof. If you could get a late payment report removed by just calling and saying you paid on time, we’d all do it. You’ve got to prove your case by sending copies (never trust the credit bureau with the originals!) of the records that show you’re right and the company that made the error is wrong.
Of course it’s harder to prove you didn’t do something (like when you don’t owe an unpaid $300 debt to a dentist in a state you’ve never even been to) than to mail a bank statement showing the credit card company cashed the check they say they never got.
Either way, set up a file folder where you keep:
- Copies of complaints
- Receipts of certified mail
- Screen prints from online filings
- Notes from phone calls
- A calendar reminding you when you’re supposed to hear back from or respond to companies.
7. If at first you don’t succeed, keep complaining until you do. If you don’t get satisfaction after your DIY attempts to repair the error:
- Ask the credit reporting agency to put a short statement in your credit report saying you disagree with the report.
- File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau will look into your error and report back on what it finds. (This is a new service that started less than a year ago. Read about it here.
- Complain to the Federal Trade Commission 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
- Call or write to your state attorney general (that’s who enforces your state credit reporting and debt collection laws).
Did you know you have an insurance score, too, which helps determine how much you pay in premiums? And that your credit report affects it? Learn about it here on HouseLogic.