You can send your dispute to the credit reporting bureau by snail mail or online. If you use mail, Cunningham advises sending your letter by certified mail, with the return receipt add-on requested, so you can document that the bureau received the letter. As well, keep a copy of the confirmation of receipt.

However, it may be faster to send the dispute via the Internet. "You can dispute online. It's quick, it's secure, and it's the same process," Griffin says. "And you will receive confirmation the dispute was received."

At the same time, let the creditor know you're disputing the report, "so you're coming at this from both sides," Cunningham says. Include copies of the disputed charges and proof you've paid them, just as you did for the bureau.

5. Wait. Once the credit reporting bureau receives your dispute, its team must begin to investigate it immediately and must finish the investigation within 30 days. The bureau will notify the creditor initiating the report that it is investigating your dispute.

"That triggers another investigation on the part of the creditor reporting," Cunningham says. "The creditor has to investigate and confirm the accuracy."

If the creditor finds the information is inaccurate, it must notify all three major credit reporting bureaus so they can correct information in your files, she says.

When Experian receives a dispute, Griffin says, "we go back to the source of that information, typically a lender, and have them review records and either verify to us the information is reported correctly and should remain the same, or that they agree with the dispute and the information should be updated."

What if the lender doesn't respond? Griffin says, "If they don't respond in the mandated 30 days, the information will be deleted."

6. Get your results. In all likelihood, the dispute will be settled in much less time than 30 days. In most instances, just seven to 10 days are required, Griffin says. "The 30 days go back to the era when everything had to be mailed," he adds.

If you've built a good case in your dispute and you prevail, the credit reporting bureau must remove the inaccurate information from your report, Cunningham says.

But if the decision doesn't go your way and the investigation does not confirm your side of the dispute, you have another option. "You can ask the credit reporting agency to include a copy of the statement of dispute in your file, and that will go out with future credit reports," she says.

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This action may or may not make a difference to a future lender, Cunningham adds. But at least it shows you've done all you can to state your case.

Where to start

The best place to start the dispute process is on the credit reporting bureau's website. Here is the current contact information for each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus: