Errors can happen on a credit report. What causes these errors? Sometimes it can be something as simple as a father and a son who have the same name and the only difference is a “Sr.” or “Jr.” What if son paid a few bills late and this incorrectly appears on Dad’s credit report?
Worse than the above scenario is a customer who may have been the victim of identity theft. Perhaps their social security number and date of birth were compromised on a website and sold to criminals. Each year we read of many major corporations who have had their databases compromised. Equifax, eBay and JP Morgan Chase are just a few examples of large corporations that have been targeted by hackers. Where then does a customer turn?
The Federal Trade Commission has several recommendations for those that genuinely believe that false and erroneous information appears on their credit report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act mandates that the credit bureau and creditor have a collective responsibility to correct and update any incorrect information in the customer’s credit report.
The individual with erroneous information on their credit report should send correspondence to the credit bureau that has displayed this erroneous information. This could be either Experian, Transunion, or Equifax or could potentially be all three. Mail correspondence isn’t required, however, as the individual can file their dispute online.
If the customer is sending their dispute via mail, the Federal Trade Commission has a sample dispute letter available on their website and this letter can act as a starting point for anyone seeking to eliminate inaccurate information from their credit profile.
In order to increase the chances of incorrect and incomplete information being deleted from the credit report individuals are encouraged to support the claim with any proof that the data is incorrect. Examples of this proof could be cancelled checks or bank statements showing that the bills were paid on time or the fact that the debt is no longer even valid. In some cases, the customer might have paid off the debt and it is still reporting as open on the credit report. Combining the letter or online dispute with substantiation that the information is inaccurate will increase the chances of having incorrect information deleted from the credit report.
The FTC recommends that this substantiating documentation not just be sent to the credit bureau but also to the creditor with whom the customer is disputing the incorrect information. This may increase the chances of incorrect information being deleted from the credit file. If this doesn’t work the customer is able to leave a note in their credit file next to the “incorrect” trade line stating that the customer disputes the accuracy of this information.
Generally, the credit reporting agency must investigate the disputed items within 30 days of the dispute being filed. However, the law has an exception for the credit agencies wherein they don’t have to investigate a dispute that they deem to be frivolous. in the event that a credit bureau is going to investigate a disputed item, they are required to forward everything received from the customer over to the creditor.
Once the investigation is complete, the bureaus are required to give the customer notification of the outcome of the dispute in writing. They are also required to provide a copy of the credit report to the customer in the event that the dispute resulted in a change to their credit report. Statute also requires that the credit bureau provide one copy of a credit report to everyone for free each and every year. A customer who is disputing information on their credit report that results in a copy of their credit file being sent to them will still be allowed their one free credit report per year. What this means is that a customer who is disputing credit information in their file may end up with multiple credit reports per year at no charge.
Because credit scoring can affect so many aspects of a person’s life, the government has a system in place to ensure that incorrect information on a report can be disputed and ultimately deleted. Hope is not lost in the event of identity theft or an incorrectly reported late payment. There is a dispute process in place and will work if done properly. The Federal Trade Commission’s sample dispute letter can be a great place to start.
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