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FTC: 1 in 5 people have credit report errors

A new federal study shows that credit reports -- so important in our financial lives -- are far from infallible. Here's how to fix the mistakes.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 11, 2013 5:20PM

This report comes from Gerri Detweiler at partner site Credit.com.

 

Credit.com logoThe information in your credit reports is what's used to create your credit scores, so you don't want to let mistakes on your credit reports potentially throw your credit scores out of whack.

 

A Federal Trade Commission study released today shows that one in five consumers have errors on their credit reports and 5% of consumers have errors serious enough that they could result in less-favorable loan terms. 

"These are eye-opening numbers for American consumers," said Howard Shelanski, director of the FTC's Bureau of Economics, in a statement. "The results of this first-of-its-kind study make it clear that consumers should check their credit reports regularly. If they don't, they are potentially putting their pocketbooks at risk."

 

Here's how to dispute credit report mistakes, step by step:

 

Man making faces from behind laptop © James Braund, Digital Vision, Getty ImagesStep One

Order current copies of your credit reports. Make sure you have fairly current copies (ideally, less than 60 days old) of your credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Since the agencies don't share information with one another, you can't assume that the same mistakes -- or lack of them -- appear on all your reports.

 

Step Two

Dispute the mistake. Sounds straightforward, right? But you have a couple of choices to make here. The first is whether to dispute the item with the credit reporting agency (or agencies) whose report shows the error, or with the company that is furnishing that information to the CRA (the "furnisher").

 

Dispute the mistake with each of the credit reporting agencies that are reporting the inaccurate information if:

  • It's something not supplied by a furnisher that you can contact. For example, a wrong address or incorrect public record information such as a judgment would require you to work with the CRA.
  • The information reported doesn't belong to you.

Dispute the mistake with the furnisher if:

  • You have documentation that will show the furnisher that they are making a mistake in how they report the information to the credit reporting agencies -- for example, copies of correspondence documenting a billing error.
  • You've already disputed the item with the CRA and it has confirmed the information is "correct" and you want to go to the source.

Note, though, that you always must dispute the item with the credit reporting agencies that are reporting it before you can sue for credit damage. For that reason, some consumer law attorneys recommend sending a dispute to the CRAs and filing a copy of that dispute with the furnisher.

 

Your second choice is whether to dispute the item online or by mail. Filing online is fast and easy, and you don't have to spring for a stamp, but you'll want to make the extra effort to mail your complaint if:

  • It doesn't fall neatly into one of the CRA's dispute categories. If you dispute it online, you'll likely have to choose a reason for the dispute from a menu that gives you a few standard choices. If you need to provide a more detailed explanation, a letter may be your best bet.
  • You're giving up your rights online. Before you dispute a credit report mistake online, read the website terms and conditions to make sure you aren't agreeing to mandatory binding arbitration, which means you forfeit your right to have your day in court if it is not resolved.
  • You have proof of your side of the story. If you have documentation that the information is wrong, you'll want to include it in your written dispute.
  • This is your second attempt to get it right. If you received a response from the credit reporting agency that says the data is correct but you know it's not, you may want to follow up with a letter.

Always send written disputes by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy for your records. You may even want to get your letter notarized if you want the CRA's attention.


Here are the addresses and links necessary to file a dispute with the major credit bureaus:

 

Equifax

P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Dispute online

 

Experian
P.O. Box 9556
Allen, TX 75013
Dispute online

 

TransUnion
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022
Dispute online

 

Step Three

Wait for a response. The CRA or furnisher has 30 days to get back to you with a response. If the information is corrected or deleted, skip to Step Six. If not, go to the next step.

 

Step Four

Escalate your dispute. If you are told the information is correct but you know it's wrong, you'll need to escalate your dispute. Send a letter to the CRA and/or furnisher stating why you believe the conclusion is wrong, and send copies to the Better Business Bureau, your state attorney general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Send copies of your dispute to those agencies.

 

Step Five

Talk with a consumer law attorney. If your attempts to fix the problem don't work, then you may want to talk with a consumer law attorney with experience in consumer credit disputes. The website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates is a good place to start.

 

Step Six

Keep records of your dispute. Put all your records of your dispute (copies of your credit reports, letters of correspondence, printed copies of emails or online responses, etc.) into a file and put it in a place where you can get to it if the same data appears on your file again.

 

Step Seven

Monitor your credit reports. At a minimum, order your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, and use a credit monitoring tool (Credit.com's Credit Report Card is free and is a good way to keep tabs on things). If you monitor your credit reports and scores closely, you'll be alerted quickly to any problems. Credit reporting agencies are not supposed to reinsert items that were deleted as the result of a dispute without notifying you first, but it can happen.

 

More on Credit.com and MSN Money:

 

11Comments
Feb 11, 2013 7:42PM
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What this report doesn't state is that you'll have to perform Step Two over and over and over and over and over... (ad infinitum)... until you're bankrupt, because, to the system, you're nothing but a number, and the system doesn't give a damn about you.
Feb 11, 2013 7:47PM
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Daahhh!  Companies have no incentive to buy your credit information if it doesn't contain dirt that allows them to charge you more for their services.   And, of course, if you want to dispute it you have to clear it up with the credit reporting agencies first.  Those agencies have no incentive to fix it or even provide accurate information to begin with since companies won't pay for the service if it doesn't allow them to charge you more.  Credit reporting agencies provide nonsensical information like "paid as agreed" which the insurance company then uses in the claim  "number of paid as agreed" accounts is the reason why you aren't getting the best rates!  It's just one big consumer reporting fraud scam that you have to put up with to protect lenders from the scammers that borrow money with no intention of paying it back.
Feb 11, 2013 8:10PM
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The three are a joke!!! They never fix nothing. In fact you send your dispute to another country not any of the three credit beauers to a thing to fix your problems. Look at Brian Williams report yesterday on the news channel, because it addressed this same problem
Feb 11, 2013 9:12PM
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I have been trying to fix my credit reports for more than five years and have completely given up.  There is a judgment showing which is not mine.  The judgment was actually vacated by the court and I have provided certified copies of the order vacating the judgment and still it appears on my credit report.  For this reason, my credit card lowered my credit worthiness and I pay higher car insurance.  I consulted an attorney, but really can't afford it.  There have always been plenty of things in error on my credit report and I have spent many hours fixing those, but it's the non-existent judgment that really hurts me.  I should have a very high credit score, but I don't because of this.  I'm thru spending hours and obtaining certified court copies for something they just won't correct.
Feb 12, 2013 10:09AM
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Credit collectors will hunt you down if your name matches the name of the person that actually has the bad credit.  I received calls from collectors for months.  I told them I wasn't the person they were looking for (My credit was excellent). They wanted my social.  No way.  Come to find out later while getting a loan I had a mark on my credit report.  The name was correct but the social security number on the report was not mine?  How did this get on the report?  Go figure.  If they can't resolve the problem they will put the bad credit on you if your name matches the culprit.  I'm sure there are thousands of people out there with perfectly ruined credit!
Feb 11, 2013 10:55PM
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You are really scrood if there's an error on your report. The really bad part is there's no effective agency, gov't or otherwise, short of  blue chip attorney, to set it straight.
Feb 11, 2013 11:42PM
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Equifax really screwed me over on my credit report last year. I was fresh out of college and setting up accounts. 
First I had to set up a gas bill, tried to do it online and was denied. Ended up calling them to have them tell me that when they brought up my SS# on their credit report a different name came up. Had to go to the office personally and take care of it, waste of time.
Second, I was trying to apply for a credit card, but kept getting denied for some reason. Finally got an entry-level card from CapOne. Before I got to use it I kept getting calls from them saying they needed to verify my info before I could use it. Needed me to verify certain things to identify me (based off of the credit report) like a street near me, or what city I lived in, when I opened school loans, etc. Of course when they said I didn't answer my own info correctly I was baffled. 
This went on for a couple days trying to tell them my info. After trying to pry answers out of CapOne's rep (from India) I finally learned they were looking at my Equifax credit report. So I looked it up and sure enough they had SOMEBODY ELSE'S NAME listed on it, living halfway across the country, who had 4 (THAT'S FOUR) delinquent loan accounts.
Then I had to PAY MONEY to fax Equifax corrected info on what needed to be fixed TWICE, because they couldn't get it right the first time. WHY AM I paying for THEIR mistake?
The whole event was a pain in the ****. I thank you for reading my rant if you've made it this far.
Feb 12, 2013 2:41PM
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 I work for a company that does the disputing for you. Many people do not realize that in order to get the best results, the letters should be worded a certain way and in a certain format.
Feb 12, 2013 2:37PM
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The entire system is a crock. it's all private companies that make life hard for you then you have to pay them to remove information the have wrong. But I never asked to be in your file to begin with.
Feb 12, 2013 5:59AM
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The credit reporting agencies only give information that in turn has been given to them.

When a debtor lets them know there is disputes, the reporting company must only say the information is correct and does not need give proof. The Attorney General  for your state followed by court action ( if needed ) is the best way to go.

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