Anybody, who has ever attempted to acquire a loan or mortgage, knows a good credit rating is very important for the approval of your application and the interest rate you will be charged. Even for lease agreements and sometimes even to get a new job, a person’s credit rating is an important factor.
Yet, a person’s credit report can contain inaccurate information, which can cause your credit score to be lower than it should be. Therefore, it is important to get those inaccurate ‘blemishes’ off your report as quickly as possible.
Credit report agencies keep track of all financial activities with all banking, lending, and insurance institutions. They also track, what addresses you have been registered at, and what alternate names you might have used. Yes, essentially big brother is watching you. But sometimes data is reported or recorded inaccurately. Sometimes a loan, mortgage, or credit card has long been paid off and/or closed, but is still shown as open on your report. And unfortunately, sometimes a person will fall pray to identity theft.
It is important for everybody to manage their credit responsibly and to at least occasionally check their credit report. This can be done for free through annualcreditreport.com. At this website you can check your credit report with the three major credit reporting agencies once a year for free.
These agencies are Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. It is advisable to alternate the institute you use and not check all three at once. This way, a credit report can be checked for free every four months, which allows for more opportunities to check for problems
Once a problem has been detected, resolving it should not be put off. It may take quite some time to persuade the credit reporting agencies to correct their records. The dispute process can be tedious and overwhelming as well.
Consumers are protected by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). It governs the rules for the dispute resolution. According to the FCRA, once a consumer notifies a credit reporting agency of a problem on the credit report, this agency has to initiate an investigation. For investigation purposes, evidence is collected from the creditors and other individuals involved in the dispute.
The agency has 30 days for the investigation. Once it is clear that the information is indeed inaccurate, it is the credit reporting agency’s duty to correct or remove this information from the credit report within 30 days. If the credit report is corrected because the information was indeed flawed, the agency has to inform the consumer in writing about the results. Additionally, the agency has to provide the consumer with a copy of the new and corrected credit report free of charge.
To file a dispute with one of the credit reporting agencies, where the inaccurate information is reported, a consumer has to write a letter to the agency. The address information is on the credit report.
The dispute letter should include the consumer’s full name (first, middle, and last) plus any suffixes like Sr., Jr., I, II, III. The complete and accurate mailing address and date of birth should also be provided. This way, it will be easier to correctly identify one consumer from another with a similar name. Additionally, the Social Security number should be provided. This is needed in order to access the credit report. The report also needs to be signed and dated.
Most importantly of course is the proper documentation of the disputed item(s). The questionable item(s) on the credit report should be listed as stated on the report, including name and account number of the creditor(s). For each disputed item a specific reason should be provided as to why the information is wrong. If applicable, a copy of any proof to the correct nature of the information should be included as well. This could be something like a pay-off notice from the creditor or copies of the cashed checks. Furthermore, a copy of the credit report should be included with the dispute letter, with the disputed information highlighted. If several items are disputed, they should be numbered and respectively referenced by number in the dispute letter.
Another approach to resolving a dispute is to contact the creditor directly. If the creditor agrees with you, the creditor can report the correct information to the credit reporting agency. If the creditor is unwilling to assist you, or denies the inaccuracy of the information, the FCRA mandates they may not report the information to the credit reporting agencies without including a notice of the dispute, once they have received a dispute notice from the consumer in writing. Moreover, a creditor is not allowed to continue to knowingly report inaccurate information. Furthermore, if the creditor does not cooperate, you still can file a dispute with the credit reporting agency.
If the dispute with the credit reporting agency does not result in a resolution, the consumer can request the addition of a “Statement of Dispute” to the respective item on the credit report. Such a statement includes both, the creditor’s and consumer’s version of the status of the account. This lets future creditors know about the consumer’s attempt(s) to correct the issue and the factual details of the dispute resolution attempt(s).
Next, the consumer should file a dispute with the credit reporting agency’s National Consumer Assistance Center. The number can also be found on the credit report. The required “Reinvestigation Request” form can be completed by phone. This will allow for a second look at the disputed issue(s).
The outcome of the reinvestigation might be the same. Still, a consumer can make further attempts to have the disputed item(s) removed from the credit report through deletion by the credit reporting agency. For this purpose, documents to proof the inaccuracy of the item(s) in question have to be submitted to the credit reporting agency. However, if the creditor insists, the information can still be added to the report again, even after it has been deleted.
As a final resort, consumers can contact their State Attorney General Office for further assistance. Furthermore, if the FCRA was violated, the consumer can sue the parties involved. If the law suit is successful, the court can not only order the correction of the credit report, but also grant a monetary award for damages as well as reimbursement for fees involved with the law suit such as attorney fees.
Another step should be to contact the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). There a complaint can be filed in regards to the creditor and credit reporting agency. Information about FCRA violations is vital for the enforcement of the FCRA.