Part II – Disputing Your Credit Report
In Part I of our blog series on the FCRA (see the blog post immediately below), we discussed the importance of credit reports and detailed how to go about receiving a free credit report from each of “The Big 3” consumer reporting agencies (CRAs): Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. In Part II, we are going to walk you through what to look for on your credit report and how to properly dispute incorrect information if you come across any.
First, carefully review each of your credit reports. Because each report comes from a different company (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion), each will have a different format. Despite the format, however, each credit report contains the same fundamental information – a detailed summary of your payments to your credit accounts (mortgages, credit cards, student loan payments, etc.); personal information, including your name, social security number, phone numbers, and addresses; and inquiries made into your credit history by other creditors. Credit reports can be pretty thick documents with a lot of information. It’s important to go through them carefully to look for any inaccuracies that may be harmful to your credit.
Be sure to review every single account that is listed in each of your reports. Do you recognize the account? If so, is the creditor reporting your payments accurately? Another key component of your credit report is the section that lists your personal information. Does the report have your social security number correct? Are all of the addresses listed addresses that you have used at one point or another in the last several years?
If you find an inaccuracy on one of your accounts or if you find an account that is not familiar to you, review that account very carefully to learn all the information you can about it. If you find an inaccuracy, it is even more important to review the section that details your personal information. If someone has used your personal information to open a fraudulent account, they may have tied the account to an address that you are unfamiliar with and that address should appear in the personal information section.
If you find a harmful inaccuracy – incorrect information that damages your credit, like an inaccurate report that you are late on a payment or that an account is in collection – the next step is to write to the CRAs to dispute the inaccuracy. This is a vital step and can seem counterintuitive. Often, a person’s first instinct is to contact the creditor or furnisher that is reporting the inaccuracy. To refresh and to make sure you are following the lingo, if, for instance, you see that on your Experian credit report that the Acme Company is reporting that you are 90 days late on your payment to them, when in fact you have never missed a payment on that account, Acme Company is the creditor or furnisher (the one providing the information to the CRA) and Experian is the CRA. Many times, people’s reaction to finding bad information in the example above is to call Acme Company and to dispute the incorrect information directly with them. You may contact the creditor/furnisher, but in order to trigger the protections of the FCRA, you have to dispute the inaccuracy with the CRA. So, in the example above, the first step would be to contact Experian by writing a dispute letter.
Though the CRAs have several methods to dispute information in your credit report (over the phone, electronically or via letter), IT IS VERY IMPORTANT to send a letter. At this stage, you want to begin to document every step you take to fix the problem. You don’t want to rely on the CRA to keep records for you. That is why you should always send letters to the CRAs via certified mail, return receipt requested – so that you get a receipt that the CRA received the letter – and that you keep copies of all letters sent to the CRAs. It’s also a good idea to keep a log, just a scrap piece of paper, a notebook or a Word document, where you keep tabs on what you did and the date that you did it. Documentation is important because if the CRA refuses to correct the information, then your only remaining option may be to bring a claim under the FCRA. If it gets to that point, your documentation will strengthen your case immensely.
When drafting your letter, be sure to put your full name, your mailing address and include your date of birth and social security number. Create a subject line, before the body of the letter, where you specifically identify the account or accounts in your credit report that you are disputing (RE: Dispute of Acme Co. Account No. 12345). In the body of the letter, clearly but briefly explain the dispute. Be sure to provide copies of any and all documents that you have that support your dispute. You want to give the CRA enough information to clearly prove that the information they are reporting is incorrect.
Under the FCRA, CRAs have a duty to investigate all disputes and to inform you of their decision. The CRA must contact the creditor who has provided the disputed information in its investigation. Generally, you will get a response within 30 days from the CRA as to whether the CRA has changed your credit report or whether it has declined to make any changes. If the CRA declines to change your report, you should request that the CRA note that you dispute the account on your credit report. If you believe you can obtain more documents that help prove that the inaccuracy is incorrect, then work on obtaining those documents and send them to the CRA with another dispute letter. If you believe that you provided ample proof to the CRA that the account was incorrect and that you are simply being ignored, then you should contact a lawyer who is experienced with the FCRA.
You may want to also dispute the inaccuracy directly with the creditor/furnisher who is providing the bad information to the CRAs. Just like you’ve done with the CRAs, write the furnisher a clear but brief letter describing your dispute and provide copies of all documents that help prove you are right. Send the letter via certified mail and keep copies. You can also send the creditor/furnisher a copy of the dispute letters to the CRAs, perhaps with a cover letter.
It’s important to note that even if your dispute is successful and the CRAs remove the incorrect information, you’re not necessarily out of the woods. Sometimes, the same bad information that you successfully disputed will reappear on your credit reports. Yet another reason why it’s so important to keep tabs on your credit reports.
At any stage in this process, feel free to contact an experienced FCRA lawyer. Treinen Law Office – located in Albuquerque, New Mexico – routinely handles FCRA cases. If you believe your credit reports are inaccurate, give us a call at (505) 247-1980 or fill out a free application on our website.
For more helpful information on this topic, check out these sites: