Resolving mistakes on your credit reports can be difficult, to say the least. What should be a straightforward process can be time-consuming and the credit bureaus are certainly not the easiest companies to deal with.
If you know what you’re doing, and how to win – this is time well spent. Disputing negative items on your credit reports can boost your credit score and help you qualify for credit and loans with much more favorable interest rates.
There are three main credit bureaus you’ll be dealing with: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Save up your patience, because you’ll probably need it.
As you go down this road, don’t expect any quick responses from any of the three bureaus but be persistent (I cannot stress this enough) because your hard work will eventually pay off – big time.
A 2013 FTC study found that 1 in 5 consumers have errors on their report, and 5% have mistakes serious enough to result in less favorable loan terms.
Here’s what you can do to dispute these mistakes — and win.
Ordering Your Credit Report
The first step, of course, is actually ordering copies of your credit reports from the 3 major bureaus. You can do this for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Note: I highly recommend reading this post on avoiding credit report scams and fees first!
Make sure you type the address into your address bar as there are many fakes out there! Once you’ve gone over the reports and identified the mistakes, you can contact each bureau directly.
It’s worth noting that you should never pay a credit repair service to do this for you, as you can do the exact same thing yourself at no cost.
These companies cannot erase legitimate bad marks, and most will simply dispute accurate negative information. They will take your money regardless of the outcome as well.
The Best Way to Make a Dispute
There are actually four ways you can make your initial dispute. All 3 bureaus allow you to make a dispute online, although the Federal Trade Commission states that it’s best to prepare the dispute in writing and mail it to the credit bureau by certified mail with return receipt requested.
This way, you may send a copy of your credit report with the mistakes highlighted, along with any documentation supporting your claim.
You will also have proof that they received your letter. A sample dispute letter is included below.
Option 1. Dispute by Mail – Highly Recommended
This may be your best option, although many people report great success with the online dispute process. Here’s how to dispute by mail:
- Experian: Mail your dispute to Experian Disputes, PO Box 9701, Allen, Texas 75013.
- TransUnion: Go here and click on Dispute, then “Mail” and print out the request for investigation form and mail it to the address on the form. TransUnion doesn’t require a formal letter, just their own form.
- Equifax: You don’t need a confirmation number and you can easily mail a letter regarding the dispute, including the company name of the disputed item, to Equifax Information Services, PO Box 740256, Atlanta, GA, 30374.
Option 2. Dispute Online
- Experian: Go here and click “Click here to request a dispute online.” You will need to include your Experian report number, found on your free credit report.
- TransUnion: Go here and click “First Time? Click here.” Fill out your personal information to create an account and then you will be able to dispute your report.
- Equifax: Go here and enter your zip code to be guided through the process.
Option 3. Dispute by Phone
You can also dispute by phone, although this method isn’t recommended. It’s not at all reliable and it depends entirely on the knowledge and authority of the representative you reach. Equifax and TransUnion seem to be the easiest to deal with by phone, though. Here’s how you do it:
- Experian: You must have your Experian report number and expect to be on the phone for a long time. You can try 1-714-830-7000 or 1-800-493-1058.
- TransUnion: Go to transunion.com and click on “Phone.” You will need your TransUnion account number, the company name of the disputed item, the account number of the disputed item and the reason for the dispute.
- Equifax: You will see a toll-free number listed on your credit report.
Option 4. Dispute through Small Claims
This isn’t often included in a list of ways to dispute a negative item on your credit report, although it can be very effective.
You can mail a protest letter to the credit bureau and see if your creditor responds within 30 to 45 days.
The information must be removed if the bureau isn’t notified that the charge is valid, or if the company ignores the request. You don’t need an attorney for small claims court and the fees are minimal.
The main problem with this option is you must have a good way to prove to the court that the negative mark is their fault, not yours.
You have a decent chance of success if you can show that it isn’t your bill, you never ordered the product, you were improperly charged a cancellation fee, you don’t know the company, you were double-billed, you didn’t receive a promised discount, the item was included in a bankruptcy, you paid it already, or the company used misrepresentation.
If you go this route, start by writing a demand letter to the credit bureau and the disputed credit, which will show the judge later that you exhausted administrative remedies first.
Wait 45 days, as the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the bureaus to respond to your request within 30 days. At this point, if there is no response the item must be deleted.
If they do not respond, it’s time to proceed to small claims court. Bring any documentation, including these letters. If you win in small claims court, serve a copy of the judgment to the reporting agency and the creditor.
How to Actually Win Your Dispute
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus to conduct a reasonable investigation when a consumer files a dispute, although this rarely happens.
Unfortunately, the credit bureaus often rely too much on debt collectors and lenders that originally gave the incorrect information to investigate the dispute. If they verify the errors as correct, those mistakes will be stuck on your credit report, no many how many times you dispute.
There are steps you can take to get your dispute properly investigated, though. Here’s what you need to do.
1. Look for even small mistakes
While you’re probably quick to notice the big mistakes, like a court judgment that isn’t yours, look for small mistakes that may be missed, like an incorrect address or your name misspelled. This may indicate a mixed file or even identity theft. This may also cause wrong information to get into your reports when lenders pull it, as they may get different information than you see on your personal file.
2. Highlight mistakes
Print off your credit report and photocopy the first page and the page with the mistake. Highlight any errors, even if it’s minor. For multiple errors, put a number next to each one, which makes it easy to refer to them during your dispute. Make a few copies of the marked up report; one for your personal records and a few for your dispute letters.
3. Write your own dispute letter
While plenty of people have great success with the online dispute process, you’ll have the best change of getting your dispute handled properly by writing your own dispute letter.
The online process is all about getting things done as quickly as possible for the bureau, and most online dispute forms won’t give you enough space to actually back up your dispute.
You’ll just get the opportunity to check the reason, such as “not mine” or “paid,” without telling your side of the story.
Writing your own dispute letter also allows you to explain your case, especially if it’s convoluted. Unlike an online dispute form, which does not allow you to submit proof, you can include documentation and evidence that will be important later if you need to go to court.
It’s also worth noting that most online dispute forms include an arbitration clause that forces you to give up your right to sue the bureau if there’s a problem, which may be an issue later on.
4. Separate your disputes into multiple letters
Do you have more than one error on your report? If so, don’t try to dispute them all at once.
Write a separate dispute level for each one and mail it separately, which increases the chances of success.
Make sure you also write a separate dispute letter to each bureau that’s reporting the mistake. The bureaus are under no obligation to tell each other of the dispute until one has confirmed the mistake as inaccurate.
5. Keep things simple
The best dispute letters are simple and easy to read. Don’t attempt to cite a legal argument or use big words and it’s best to avoid form letters, although we’ve included one just to give you an idea.
Make your letter brief and to the point using plain language to describe the error and why it’s incorrect.
Include the information necessary to back up your claim so they can’t come back at you later that you didn’t give them enough information.
6. Include any relevant evidence
One of the most important things you can do is including any evidence you have to back up your dispute. This includes even small details, which means the credit bureaus can’t say you didn’t get them enough data to investigate the claim.
All three bureaus are known to lose or claim to lose correspondence from consumers so make copies of everything you send, including documentation.
7. Make disputes to the bureaus and the creditor
Don’t stop with sending your dispute to the 3 bureaus; send the same information to the lender, collection agency or company furnishing the information. This will help to resolve your dispute quickly and make sure the creditor has all of the information they need to investigate as well.
When the bureaus process your dispute, they will assign it a code and send a paragraph to the furnisher, or lender, to investigate. They will almost never include the documentation you provided so do this yourself.
Mail everything by certified mail and go so far as to write the certified mail number on the top of each letter to match it with the dispute.
8. Keep detailed records
Take control of the situation by keeping meticulous records of everything. Write down who you called, when, what they said, maintain written correspondence, credit reports, denials for credit, etc.
9. Don’t take no for an answer
If you’ve already disputed the same error many times and the bureaus continue to verify it, don’t give up. It may be time to talk to a lawyer who’s experienced in Fair Credit Reporting Act cases. If you keep pushing the issue, you’ll eventually win and get the errors removed for good.
Sample Dispute Letter
This letter is basically what you’re aiming for: simple, to the point and with documentation to back up your claim.
123 Main Street
Anywhere, US 12345
June 19, 2013
Ref #: 000-111-2222
To Whom It May Concern:
I would like to dispute the following item on my credit report:
A Mortgage Company
Partial account number 1234
My credit report shows a 30-day late payment in the amount of $792.29 for June 2012. However, I was not late. I am enclosing copies of my statements for May, June and July 2012 that clearly show my payment for June 2012 was not 30 days late.
Please correct this as soon as possible.