There’s an old Woody Allen line that 90 percent of life is just showing up. So it goes with your credit report: knowing where you stand is the first and most important piece of the puzzle.
At the very least, reviewing your credit report can alert you to possible errors, mistakes, and billing and bureaucratic bungles that can adversely impact your credit score. Make no mistake: fixing credit report errors is a solo mission. If you do notice an error in your credit report, it’s up to you to fix it.
The good news is that correcting a mistake on your credit report is highly doable. The keys are due diligence, alertness, persistence, and keeping your documents in order. Let’s have a look.
Step One: Get a (free) copy of your credit report. Getting a copy of your credit report has never been easier. To get your free copy, visit a site like AnnualCreditReport.com. The Federal Trade Commission approves it and it won’t spring hidden fees and charges when you sign up, like some other sites do. You can get a specific credit report from one of the three credit scoring agencies: Transunion, Equifax and Experian.
Step Two: Review your credit report. When you get your credit report, review it thoroughly. Ideally it’s best to get reports from all three providers, as their scores and calculations differ. Check for discrepancies among the different credit report providers. Look for notices of late payments – credit card companies are getting particularly aggressive and are dinging consumers left and right for tardy payments. Check for credit inquires, as well. Nobody can check your credit report without your permission and too many credit inquiries can bring your credit score down.
Step Three: Address mistakes. When you find an error, the fastest route to correcting it is through your credit report provider. For example, Transunion takes credit “dispute submissions” via phone, online or by snail mail. Online is your best bet; credit report specialists can get on the problem right away, and you can track the progress of your dispute online. If you file by mail, it can take days before you even get a response from the credit report company. You can reach out directly to the creditor in question, but going through a credit report provider generally yields better results. For instance, your creditor may or may not take required action unless you push hard. Creditors always respond when a credit report company comes calling.
Step Four: Be patient. When a credit report provider accepts your dispute, they’ll contact your creditor and alert them of the dispute. Your creditor has 45 days to review your claim dispute. If the item on the report that is in dispute cannot be verified, then it will be removed from your credit report and your credit score will be updated, often immediately. Keep in mind that if you are in the midst of a credit report dispute, getting a loan or other new credit may be difficult. It may be better to wait until the situation is resolved, and your credit score is updated in your favor.
Step Five: If you disagree with the outcome. Even if the investigation goes against you and your credit dispute is rejected by the credit report company, you still have options. For example, you can write a “consumer statement” that explains your side of the story. Creditors will see your note and take that into consideration when weighing whether or not to give you credit. Beyond that, you can always ask for a new investigation. That’s especially useful if new information crops up to support your case. Make sure to keep all your records handy if you relaunch a dispute.
Overall, the keys to fixing errors on your credit report are knowing where you stand, keeping good records, working with your credit report provider and being patient. Ultimately, though, what you get out of a credit report dispute process depends on how much work you put into it.