Many consumers think that fixing errors on their credit reports is as simple as filing a dispute online. After all, Transunion, Equifax, and Experian provide the option, so it must be that simple, right?
The credit bureaus spend very little time investigating claims. I recently received a credit report in response to a dispute that was filed online. It was as if the credit bureau hadn't even read the text of the dispute, let alone conducted an investigation. This is not unusual.
One of the most important things to understand about correcting your credit report is that it will take a lot of work. It also requires the proper documentation. A recent article at Fox Business describes ten "surefire" steps for correcting your credit report. While these steps may not be "surefire," they are your best bet.
1. Get your credit report directly from the credit bureau. You will want to include a copy of your report with your dispute. You will also want to have the most current version of your report. Many third-party credit report services provide you with "merged" or composite reports that blend the data from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian into one report. This makes it difficult to know which report is inaccurate. Even worse, sending a merged report to a credit bureau forces the person investigating the dispute to do legwork. It's almost guaranteed that no legwork will be done.
2. Make note of every error. If you see an item on your report that looks like a small error, check again. That incorrect middle initial might be a red flag for identity theft.
3. When you are disputing an error, mark the credit report and highlight the error. Again, you want to make your dispute as easy to investigate as possible.
4. Always submit a written dispute. The online forms do not give you the ability to define the exact nature of your dispute. Additionally, send your written disputes via certified mail so that you have a record of receipt. A detailed, written dispute with supporting evidence will go a lot further in court than an online form.
5. If you are disputing multiple things, send multiple letters. This is another "don't make them work too hard" tip.
6. Write the letter yourself and keep it simple. Having an attorney write the letter doesn't trigger the duty to investigate. Using lots of legal jargon simply makes the letter difficult to read. When dealing with credit reporting disputes, plain language wins the day.
7. Include evidence. I mentioned this on number 5, but it does bear repeating. If you paid a debt that is being reported as unpaid, then include proof of payment with your letter. If you're disputing a tradeline that does not reflect a bankruptcy, include your notice of discharge. Providing evidence with your dispute letter makes the investigator's job very easy. It also simplifies things if you ultimately have to sue. You will have a stronger case if you can show that you provided the necessary evidence, yet no investigation was conducted.
8. Also send your dispute to the person or company whose data you are disputing. This puts the creditor on notice of the dispute and may help resolve the problem. For example, sending proof of payment to the party claiming non-payment may just do the trick.
9. Save a copy of the letter and be sure to keep the certified mail "green card" when you get it back in the mail. I would even make a copy of the stamped envelope in which you sent the dispute. If you end up suing someone, you'll be glad that you preserved your evidence.
10. If your dispute is ignored, send it again. Odds are that you will have to be very persistent to resolve an issue. Additionally, you may want to consider hiring an attorney that understands the Fair Credit Reporting Act.