The big three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- process huge amounts of information. A 2004 study found that 25 percent of the credit reports surveyed had errors that were serious enough to cause consumers to be denied credit.
Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider (that is, the person, company, or organization that provides information about you to a consumer reporting company) are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. To take advantage of all your rights under this law, here's what to do to fix mistakes in your credit report.
Get a Copy of Your Credit Report
The three major credit reporting companies are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You should order your report from all three, as they often contain different information. To order directly from one of these credit bureaus, visit its website.
You can get one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. For details, see How to order Free Credit Reports.
You are entitled to an additional free copy of your credit report each year if:
- You've been denied credit because of information in your credit report.
- You're unemployed and looking for work.
- You receive public assistance.
- You believe your file contains errors due to fraud or identity theft.
- You've been denied employment (or another adverse employment decision has been made) based at least in part on information contained in a credit report.
Credit Reports for a Fee
If you do not qualify for a free report (for example, if you have already ordered your free report for the year), you'll pay a $10 fee or less (depending on your state requirements).
How to Clean Up Your Credit Report
After you get your credit report, read through it carefully.
As you read through your report, make a list of everything that's out of date. The following old information should not appear in your credit report:
adverse information that's more than seven years old, including lawsuits, judgments, paid tax liens, accounts sent to collection, criminal records (except criminal convictions, which may be reported indefinitely), late payments, and overdue child support
- bankruptcies reported more than ten years after the date of the last activity (usually the date you received your discharge or the date the case was dismissed, although credit bureaus sometimes start counting from the earlier date of filing), and
- credit inquiries (requests by companies for a copy of your report) that are more than two years old.
Note that some adverse information regarding U.S. government insured or guaranteed student loans, or national direct student loans, may be reported for more than seven years.
Next, look for incorrect information, such as:
- incorrect or incomplete name, address, phone number, birthdate, Social Security number, or employment information
- bankruptcies not identified by their specific chapter number
- accounts that are not yours or lawsuits in which you were not involved
- incorrect account histories, such as a history of late payments when you paid on time
- any closed accounts that are listed as open -- it may look as if you have too much open credit, and
- any account you closed that doesn't say "closed by consumer."
Request Removal of Bad Information
After reviewing your report, complete the form the credit bureau provided to dispute entries in your report. List each incorrect or out-of-date item and explain exactly what is wrong. Once the credit bureau receives your request, it must investigate the items you dispute and contact you within 30 days. If you let the bureau know that you're trying to obtain a mortgage or car loan, it can often do a rush investigation.
If you are right (that the information is inaccurate or incomplete), or if the creditor who provided the information can no longer verify it, the credit bureau must remove the information from your report or modify it based on the results of the investigation. Sometimes credit bureaus will remove an item on request without an investigation if rechecking the item is more bother than it's worth.
What to Do If the Credit Bureau Disagrees
If the credit bureau responds that the information is correct, contact the bureau directly to discuss the problem.
If you don't get anywhere with the credit bureau, ask the creditor to tell the credit bureau to remove the information. Write to the customer service department, vice president of marketing, and president or CEO. If the information was reported by a collection agency, send the agency a copy of your letter too.
By law, creditors cannot ignore information they know contradicts information in their file, and cannot report incorrect information when they learn that it is, in fact, incorrect.
If you feel a credit bureau is wrongfully including information in your report, or you want to explain a particular entry, you have the right to put a brief statement in your report. The credit bureau must give a copy of your statement -- or a summary -- to anyone who requests your report. Be clear and concise.