Your Credit report is an account of your personal financial habits, and your reliability to pay off debt and credit. The better your credit score is, the more financial flexibility and options you will have.
The problem is, your Credit Report might not be a good representation of your financial situation if it is riddled with mistakes. Some mistakes are harmless, but many can negatively impact your credit. Getting these mistakes corrected should be a priority, especially if you are planning on using your credit to get a loan in the near future and need to raise your score fast.
Fixing mistakes is a common method of credit repair that can often quickly improve your score; however, if your score is lower because of your own mistakes or bad habits, and not because of reporting errors, you may need a more comprehensive plan to improve your credit score. Either way, it is relatively fast and easy to get started on your own and see whether reporting mistakes are weighing down your score.
Getting Your Reports
If your credit score seems a bit lower than it should be, you should investigate by getting the most recent versions of your credit reports from the three different bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. That way, you can find any inconsistencies or mistakes that could be behind a lower credit score.
One convenient way to request all of your credit reports for free is through AnnualCreditReport.com. By law, you can get one copy per year of your credit report from each bureau for free. If you want additional credit reports, you will have to pay a fee each time you request it from each bureau, but for starting the search for mistakes or other negative items, your free report will do.
Finding Reporting Mistakes
Identifying mistakes requires having a strong understanding of your current financial situation. You need to know all of the lines of credit you have open and closed, what debts you are currently paying off, and all of the bills you pay on a regular basis.
Before really delving into your credit report, have all of this information at the ready, along with any payment histories, receipts, and notices from each organization you make payments to: bills, utilities, banks, credit cards, subscriptions, etc. This way, you can compare your records with your credit report.
The first time you go through your credit report, look for common reporting mistakes that happen. This can include: multiple listings for a single action, listings that belong to a different person with the same name as you, and just general errors in the report.
As you start finding mistakes, create a comprehensive list of them, and include in your list how they are inaccurate. Some inaccuracies might include the wrong amount due for a credit card even though it is an account that you made payments on, or there might be charges that you didn’t make at all. Being extremely detailed in this process makes your life much easier when you reach out to the bureaus to get the mistakes removed.
Fixing Mistakes on Your Credit Report
Once you have identified all of the mistakes on your credit report, it’s time to go about fixing them. Prioritize the more recent ones, as they’ll have the largest impact on your score. Older negatives on a credit report are slightly less important, as they often aren’t weighed as heavily. If you do have mistakes that are close to seven years old, don’t bother with them, as they will drop off on their own at the seven year mark.
The easiest way to dispute mistakes on your credit report is to use each credit bureau’s online dispute system. Equifax and Experian only accept online disputes, and TransUnion accepts disputes online, by phone, and by mail. Below are links to all three dispute sites:
- Equifax Disputes
- Experian Disputes
- TransUnion Disputes
When you file a dispute, the credit bureau launches an investigation to try and find out the truth. In an online dispute, you will have to include information including what is inaccurate, the account number listed on the credit report, why it is inaccurate, and possibly supply additional documents needed to support your case. These additional documents can include things like statements from lenders and creditors, copies of checks sent, bank statements or court documents.
Some situations will require paperwork, like a police report or an FTC Identity Theft Report if the mistakes on your report stem from a stolen identity. In some situations, if you don’t provide the correct information, the dispute will be rejected, forcing you to start over.
The Waiting Game
It takes about 30 days to hear back from a credit bureau about a dispute, so get ready for a long wait. During this time, the credit bureau reaches out to the bank or other companies believed to be the source of the mistake, and asks for the information again, but in more detail. Then, that information is looked over closely to check for errors, both on the side of the bureau and their source. This can include things like a misspelled name, incorrect social security number, checking the wrong box on a form, or just a random mistake.
If the source doesn’t respond within 30 days, or is unable to produce information proving that the dispute isn’t a mistake, then the listing is dropped from your credit report like it was never there. If there is some truth to the listing, but it was listed inaccurately, the listing is updated to look like it had been correct all along.
If your dispute is rejected, it’s not a done deal. You can continue to dispute mistakes over and over, but try to come more prepared. A dispute can be rejected if you didn’t provide enough detail about the mistake, or if you failed to send the correct documents to back up your case.
What to Do After It’s Done
It’s a good idea after a dispute is settled to reach out to the information sources — all of your lenders and creditors — and try to fix any mistakes your accounts with them have. They might still have incorrect information in their records even after a dispute investigation, which could lead to them continuing to send the wrong info to credit bureaus.
By reaching out and correcting the information source, you can cut off future headaches and prevent additional mistakes, as well as ensuring the boost to your score doesn’t disappear in another month.
If a lot of mistakes have been removed off your credit report, monitor your credit score and make sure it is rising. If it doesn’t, it might be worth getting an updated credit report from each bureau you had disputes with. That way, you can make sure things are getting updated and more mistakes aren’t being made on your credit report.
Fixing reporting mistakes on your own isn’t always easy, but it is one of the fastest ways to improve your score.
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