Errors are depressingly common on credit reports. Credit bureaus often are working with ambiguous or incomplete information, and the best they can do is compile reports that are approximations of the truth. There may be negative entries on your credit report that really were from someone with the same or similar name as you, or that lived at your address at some other time. Or there may be negative entries that are accurate, but that should have been deleted from your report by now due to sufficient time having passed (generally 10 years for bankruptcies; 7 years for most other things) and haven’t been.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and its various amendments passed since provides you the right to challenge any such errors so as to have them removed from your credit report. Here is a procedure you can follow to have this done:
1. Obtain your credit report.
You are allowed to obtain a copy of your credit report for free once a year. The easiest way to do this is through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)-approved site AnnualCreditReport.com. There you will be able to obtain in one place your current reports from all of the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).
2. Check the reports for errors.
Be sure to look over all three reports carefully. An error on one could easily also be on another, given that sometimes the mistake came from a common source.
3. If you find an error, contact the credit bureau in writing to contest it.
Each of the bureaus will provide you with instructions on how to contest an item. Send a letter explaining fully and clearly why you contend there is an error on your report. Include any relevant documentation you might have, such as cancelled checks, bills indicating paid in full, etc. Send only copies; never relinquish your original documents. Send it all “return receipt requested” so you’ll be able to prove it got through.
Upon receipt of your letter, assuming your contention isn’t frivolous, the credit bureau is required to conduct an investigation of the item. At the conclusion of this investigation, they will either remove the item from your credit report and inform you, or they will inform you that they still believe the item to be accurate.
Even if the item remains, you can have a statement by you added to the report contesting it, so anyone reading the report in the future will know your side.
4. If you are not satisfied with the response of the credit bureau, contact the creditor in writing.
If you contact a creditor to let them know your credit report wrongly claims you owe them money, and they agree that it is in fact an error, they must notify the credit bureau of this so that it can be removed.
5. If the error also appears on one or both of your other two credit reports, repeat the process.
Having an erroneous item removed from one credit report may or may not result in it being corrected on the others. So you’ll need to stay on top of this to make sure it is.
6. Repeat each year.
If you want to really be meticulous about your credit, get the free credit reports from all three credit bureaus every year and go through this process to eliminate any errors you find on them.