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If you’re staring at an error on your credit report, you’ll be happy to know that you can file a dispute with the credit bureaus to have it removed. But be aware: Some errors are easier to resolve than others.
How Credit Report Disputes Work
The Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles all consumers to dispute inaccurate information on their credit reports with the credit reporting agencies. (You can check your credit reports for errors for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and by viewing your free credit report summary each month, on Credit.com.)
You can typically file a dispute online or via a written letter; contact information can be found on a bureau’s website or the credit report in question. Once a dispute has been formally filed, the bureaus generally have 30 days to investigate your claim and remove the item, unless, of course, they believe the dispute to be frivolous. (You can go here to learn more about the dispute process.)
“In most cases disputes are completed within 10-14 business days, and often within just a few days,” Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian, said in an email. However, “some issues may be more pervasive and take additional documentation,” he added. “Identity theft, for example, may require filing a police report and submitting it so that Experian can remove the information proactively from your credit history.”
And other issues — like a seemingly inaccurate credit card balance or an account status — may be readily resolved, simply because they’re errors in the first place, Griffin said.
“I hear from people who pay off an account and then check their credit report the next day expecting the status to have changed,” he explained. “It can take a full billing cycle for information to be updated, so it could simply be that the lender hasn’t yet updated the information with Experian. Anytime a change is made, such as paying off a balance or closing an account, you need to allow time for the updates to be made before assuming there is an error.”
Getting Disputes Resolved
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If something is inaccurate, you can up the odds of removal by sending as much paperwork as possible verifying the error. (All three major credit reporting agencies currently allow consumers to upload supporting documentation when they file disputes online.) For instance, if a debt collection account is erroneously marked as outstanding, you may want to send along an invoice that shows you’ve paid. And, if you’re an identity theft victim, you can supply a copy of your Federal Trade Commission or FBI compliant along with your police report regarding the crime.
It can also help to be as specific as possible when describing the error in question.
‘”This is not right,’ for example, isn’t very helpful because it doesn’t explain exactly what is wrong,” Griffin said. Instead, he added, it would be more beneficial to say “the account is not mine,” “the payment was never late” or “the account is fraudulent.”
And, if you’re truly lost when it comes to getting an issue resolved or your credit report is riddled with errors, you may want to consider outside help. A good credit repair company will explain exactly what it can and cannot do on your behalf, will never guarantee a “100-point rise in your credit score” (this is illegal, in fact), and will never ask for payment until after you’ve received services from them. (You can learn more about