How to Dispute Errors on Your Credit Report and Improve Your Credit Score
Your credit score is a powerful tool in your financial life. It influences the interest rates you’ll receive on loans, your ability to rent an apartment, and sometimes even your chances of getting a job.
Given its importance, it’s critical to ensure that your credit report – the key data source for your credit score – is accurate and free from errors. This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to dispute errors on your credit report and consequently improve your credit score.
Understanding Credit Reports
A credit report is a detailed summary of your credit history, prepared by a credit bureau. The three major bureaus in the United States are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Your credit report includes information about your identity, your existing credit, public records, and inquiries about your credit. This information is then used to calculate your credit score.
Errors can sometimes occur on your credit report due to reasons like reporting mistakes by lenders, identity theft, or a mix-up of individuals with similar names. These errors can negatively affect your credit score, making it more difficult for you to secure credit at favorable terms.
Identifying Errors on Your Credit Report
The first step towards disputing errors on your credit report is identifying them. To do this, you need to review your credit reports regularly. You’re entitled to a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com.
When reviewing your reports, look for:
- Personal information: Ensure that your name, address, and Social Security number are correct.
- Credit accounts: Verify that all the listed accounts are ones you’ve opened. Check the account balances and payment history for accuracy.
- Public records: Confirm that any listed bankruptcies or other public records are yours and are reported correctly.
- Inquiries: Check that you recognize all the credit inquiries listed, as unrecognized ones could be a sign of identity theft.
Disputing Errors on Your Credit Report
Once you’ve identified errors, the next step is to dispute them. Here’s how:
1. Write to the Credit Bureau:
Prepare a dispute letter to the credit bureau that includes your name, address, a description of each error, and an explanation of why you’re disputing the information. Be sure to request that the errors be corrected or removed.
Attach copies of documents that support your dispute, such as payment records or court documents. Never send original documents. You can find a sample dispute letter on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website.
2. Write to the Information Provider:
In addition to writing to the credit bureau, also write to the organization that provided the incorrect information (for example, your bank or credit card company). Explain the error and include copies of supporting documents.
3. Send your Letters by Certified Mail:
It’s a good idea to send your dispute letters by certified mail and request a return receipt. This provides proof that the credit bureau and information provider received your dispute.
What Happens Next?
Once the credit bureau receives your dispute, they must investigate the issues within 30 days (under the Fair Credit Reporting Act). The bureau will also forward all your dispute information to the information provider. If the provider finds the disputed information is inaccurate, it must notify all three nationwide credit bureaus to correct your credit report.
After the investigation, the credit bureau must give you the results in writing and a free copy of your credit report if the dispute resulted in a change. If an item is changed or deleted, the credit bureau cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies its accuracy and completeness. You also have the right to get a notice telling you if the disputed information has been reinserted.
How to Improve Your Credit Score
Disputing errors on your credit report is one way to improve your credit score, but it’s not the only way. Here are other steps you can take:
- Pay Your Bills on Time: Your payment history is the most significant factor in your credit score. Consistently paying your bills on time can dramatically improve your score.
- Keep Your Credit Utilization Low: Try to use only a small portion of your available credit. A good rule of thumb is to keep your credit utilization below 30%.
- Don’t Close Old Credit Cards: The length of your credit history is a factor in your credit score. Keeping old credit cards open, even if you don’t use them, can help improve this factor.
- Limit Hard Inquiries: Each time you apply for new credit, a hard inquiry is made, which can slightly lower your credit score. Apply for new credit sparingly to limit the number of hard inquiries.
- Maintain a Mix of Credit Types: Having a mix of credit types, like credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, and mortgage loans, can be beneficial to your credit score.
In conclusion, maintaining an accurate credit report is critical to a healthy credit score. By regularly checking your credit reports, promptly disputing any errors, and employing good credit habits, you can improve your credit score and increase your chances of securing credit when you need it.