In last week’s blog, we talked about getting your credit report and score. It’s very important to check your report regularly because unfortunately 25-30% of the reports have errors. Plus it takes time to get the changes made. Unfortunately, you have to be the one to stay on top of the situation to ensure that the changes were made.
A second reason to check regularly is to ensure that no one else is using your information to open up credit.
How do you look for errors?
Check your personal information including name, address, phone number, birth date, and Social Security number to make sure everything is accurate. Information regarding late child support, lawsuits, judgments, liens, or other late payments should be stricken from your credit report after 7 years and bankruptcies after 10 years. Credit inquiries from companies to determine eligibility for credit must be removed after 2 years.
Next mark anything that doesn’t look correct including credit card accounts that you closed but still appear as open on the report; accounts that you never opened; activity that you were not involved in; and account histories that show late payments when you know you paid on time.
How to Fix Errors
The FTC has a full page on how to dispute including a sample dispute letter. In a nutshell, you need to write out a description of the errors and/or inaccuracies in extreme detail. Explain why it’s an error, and include a copy of the report where you’ve circled the issue. The more information you can provide, the better. Include a copy of supporting documentation as well.
Next send the letter certified mail with return receipt. You want proof that you sent it in case there’s a claim you never notified them. By law, the credit bureau must investigate and contact you within 30 days of receipt.
In the past, there were ways to dispute online, but this wasn’t as good because it wasn’t possible to add in the supporting documentation. Also, it wouldn’t necessarily clean up the report. The agencies would reduce your issue to a two-digit code and provide only that code on to the requester and not what the dispute was about or who was correct.
The good news is as of 2014, you can upload supporting documentation such as a canceled check, a note marked “paid” when submitting your dispute online, and the credit reporting agency must provide all relevant information, including the dispute itself and supporting documents, to the furnisher.
You can mail in your dispute if you prefer the paper trail.
Also, if there are errors for a specific account, send a copy of the dispute to that account also via certified mail with return receipt. Give the company a chance to fix it on their own.
If the information is found to be in error, then it must be removed from your report. You have the right to ask that a corrected version of the credit report be sent to any company that has requested your credit report in the past 6 months. The credit bureau must also send you a free copy of the corrected version.
Additionally, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, if the information found to be in error on your credit report is not removed and the court finds the violation intentional, you are entitled to actual and punitive damages, as well as court costs and attorney’s fees.
A woman in Oregon sued Equifax and won $18.6 million in punitive damages. She had contacted Equifax eight times between 2009 and 2011 to fix some major mistakes including her social security number and birth date.
Remember, check your credit report and score before:
- You are looking to buy a home
- You want to refinance
- You are looking to rent an apartment
- If you have gone into foreclosure or bankruptcy
- You are planning on leaving your job to become an entrepreneur
- You are applying for a new job
- If you’ve been late on a payment
- You want to help a loved one
- If you’re getting into a serious relationship