Guiding your life’s biggest financial moments

Personal Finance

How To Repair Your Credit Reports

Kiplinger logo

Inaccurate information on your credit reports could hurt your credit score, and errors are not uncommon. Complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – exploded in 2020, and the majority involved incorrect information, according to a report by the US Public Interest Research Group.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to challenge information on your credit reports that you believe to be inaccurate. Unfortunately, however, you can’t just send a complaint to CFPB and watch the errors magically disappear. You need to take specific steps for the credit bureaus to eliminate the errors.

You can download or print your credit reports from each of the three bureaus for free at www.annualcreditreport.com on a weekly basis until April 2022. Typically, credit reporting agencies receive information about you from your creditors on a monthly basis. And while your credit reports should look the same, there will be some differences, as some lenders don’t report to all three agencies. For example, if you have a line of credit with Affirm, which offers payment plans for online purchases, it might show up on your Experian report and not on your Equifax or TransUnion report. When you check each report, make sure that your address is correct and that the lender information and payment history are correct for all of your accounts. For example, each entry should indicate when you paid your bills and whether the payments were made on time.

Contestation of an error. If you find an error, you have three options: call the toll-free number listed on the report, complete the office’s online dispute form, or write to the office. (If an error appears on two or three reports, you will need to contact all offices that report the error.) Experts suggest starting with the online form. This is usually the easiest to do, and you can attach documents, such as bank or credit card statements or letters from your lender, to support your claim that the information in your report is wrong.

Once a credit bureau receives your dispute, the bureau is required to investigate and contact the lender. The lender will then ask the credit bureau to either update the information that you are disputing or to leave the information out because the lender thinks it is correct. Once the lender has responded to the credit bureau, they are required to communicate the results of their investigation to you. Ideally, the credit reporting agency will respond to you within 10-14 days of filing your dispute, but it can take up to 30 days.

If a lender corrects a mistake, that should resolve your dispute. But things can get complicated if a lender claims the information on your credit report is correct. If you are convinced that the information is incorrect, you can file a new dispute. Credit expert John Ulzheimer suggests filing this dispute by mail, as this will allow you to provide more details than the credit bureaus’ online forms can handle.

Alternatively, you can go directly to the lender and outline your case. Gerri Detweiler, credit expert and co-author of Responses to debt collection, did so when she applied for a car loan and discovered that her mortgage lender reported that she had made six late payments. After being transferred several times, she eventually reached a representative of the mortgage lender who confirmed that the information was inaccurate. From there, the mortgage company asked each of the credit bureaus to correct the information on their reports. Detweiler’s mortgage company also mailed him a letter confirming his situation was resolved.

If you come to an agreement or resolution with a lender, be sure to get it in writing and keep it for your records. This is important because even though you can resolve your error more quickly by going directly to the lender, you may lose your right to legal aid if the lender mismanages your dispute.

If your credit reports contain errors resulting from identity theft, bureaus should prevent fraudulent items from appearing, provided you follow certain procedures. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you must provide the following documents to the credit bureau (or bureaus, if the problem involves more than one report): A copy of a police report, a letter detailing the fraudulent information, and proof identity, such as your social security number. If the credit bureaus determine that you have been a victim of identity theft, they will notify the lender. For more information on what to do if you are a victim, go to www.identitytheft.gov.

Warnings. Correcting a mistake on your credit report doesn’t necessarily mean your credit score will improve (correcting your address, for example, probably won’t have an effect). However, successfully disputing a late payment should help as payment history counts for 35% of your FICO score. If you have a debt in collection – an old medical debt, say – that gets double-reported, you should file a lawsuit, Detweiler says. Receivables that have been collected are sometimes sold to other collection agencies, which can result in duplicate accounts on your report.

When reviewing your reports for errors, keep in mind that the credit cards you have with retailers, such as Home Depot and Target, may appear under different names on your credit report. Retail credit cards are issued by financial institutions, such as Citibank and Synchrony Financial, so an account you don’t recognize may be legitimate.

Finally, keep in mind that the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) law enacted last year requires lenders to report your account as up to date if you have been affected by the pandemic and are up to date on your account when you have entered into an agreement to defer or make partial payments.

“Some lenders have followed the rules of the CARES Act better than others,” says Matt Liistro, founder of National Credit Fixers, a credit repair company. If your account has been falsely reported as overdue, your best bet is to call the lender with your payment agreement in hand so they can contact the credit bureaus about the error.

If disputing an error (or mistakes) becomes overwhelming, you can outsource the work to a credit repair agency. Note, however, that credit repair companies cannot get specific information removed from your report. Also be sure to check with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) if any complaints have been made against a credit repair agency before seeking their help.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply