Credit reports often contain mistakes. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to an accurate credit report. This page explains the steps that you can take to correct mistakes in your credit report. You can also follow these steps to remove entries that are too old.
Should I hire a credit repair agency to “fix” my credit report?
Most experts would say “NO.” Credit repair agencies often charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for simple services that you can do for free, by yourself or with help from a trusted community organization. Even worse, credit repair agencies sometimes do things that are illegal, which can get you into serious trouble. Many people wind up in worse financial shape after using a credit repair agency than they were beforehand.
How do I correct mistakes in my credit report?
Step One: (If you want to remove old information from your credit report, skip to step two.) Contact your creditor. The quickest and easiest way to fix an error on your credit report is to have your creditor do the work for you. For example, if your credit report states that you made a late payment to ABC Credit in June 2004, but this is untrue, contact ABC Credit. An ABC Credit representative can look in the computer, see that you did not make a late payment that month, and report the mistake to the credit reporting agencies. The credit reporting agencies should immediately correct your credit report.
Know Your Rights!
Your creditor has a legal obligation to update and correct the information it supplies to credit reporting agencies. Don’t hesitate to ask your creditor to help you solve your problem.
Step Two: File a written dispute with the credit reporting agency. You can use this sample dispute letter (PDF) as a model. Enclose copies of any supporting documents. Do not enclose original documents. Send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy for your records. That way you will have proof that you disputed the mistake, and you will know exactly when the credit reporting agency received your dispute. You should also send a copy of the dispute letter to your creditor.
You can send your dispute letter to the credit reporting agencies at the following addresses (Please note that we have done our best to provide correct addresses, but they change frequently.)
Equifax: P.O. Box 740256 / Atlanta, GA 30348
Experian: P.O. Box 4500 / Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: P.O. Box 2000 / Chester, PA 19016
Know Your Rights!
The credit reporting agency must investigate your dispute within 30 days. If the credit reporting agency cannot verify the disputed information within 30 days, it must delete the information from your credit report. Also, the credit reporting agency must send you a letter with the results of the investigation.
Step Three: Follow up. If you have not heard from the credit reporting agency in about 40 days, you should send a follow-up letter asking the credit reporting company to confirm that it has deleted the information. You can use this sample follow-up dispute letter (PDF) as a model.
Step Four: Don’t forget that there are three major credit reporting agencies. Make sure to check all three credit reports, and follow these steps with all of them.
What can I do if my creditor verifies the information?
If you think your creditor made a mistake, you might want to send a dispute letter to your creditor. You can use this sample credit card dispute letter (PDF) as a model. As always, send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy for your records. If the dispute is resolved in your favor, you can remove the information from your credit report by following the steps outlined above.
If the dispute is not resolved in your favor, or if you agree that you owe the debt, all is not lost! Your creditor might agree to erase the information from your credit report or to refuse to verify the information if contacted by a credit reporting agency. Your creditor is most likely to do this if you have paid the debt, agree to enter into a repayment agreement, or if the debt is several years old. (Be persistent and ask to speak to supervisors.) If you make this kind of agreement with your creditor, make sure to get it in writing. Otherwise, your creditor might not follow through. Once your creditor has agreed to change the way it reports the information, follow the steps outlined above.
Finally, if you have suffered emotional or financial harm because of the inaccurate information on your credit report, you may be able to file a lawsuit to enforce your rights.
What can I do about public records?
A common type of public record that might appear on your credit report is a “default judgment.” To improve your credit report, consider trying to get the default judgment removed, or “vacated.” (If possible, try to get your creditor to agree to this in advance.) For instructions, see Vacating a Default Judgment. Once the default judgment is vacated, you can dispute the entry with the credit reporting agency, following the steps outlined above.
If you can’t remove the public record entirely, but you have paid all or part of the judgment, you should at least make sure your credit report reflects the payment. Your creditor should have filed a document called “Satisfaction of Judgment” or “Partial Satisfaction of Judgment.” Make sure this document is in your file, and that the credit reporting agency receives a copy of it.
Does this also apply to housing court records?
Yes. For more information, see Housing Court Records and Your Credit Report.
Can information reappear in my credit report once it has been removed?
Yes – but only if your creditor certifies that the information is complete and accurate. Unfortunately, information that you have worked hard to remove from your credit report has a way of sneaking back in even without this certification. Three to six months after you successfully dispute an item from your credit report, you should order your credit report again to make sure that the credit reporting agency did not wrongly replace the information. If it did, file another dispute!
Know Your Rights!
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit reporting agency must take reasonable measures to prevent the reappearance of deleted information. Also, the credit reporting agency cannot replace the deleted information unless the person who provided the information certifies that it is complete and accurate. The credit reporting agency must send you a notice that it is reinserting the information, tell you who provided it, and give you an opportunity to file a statement disputing its accuracy.
What if the credit reporting agency refuses to remove the information?
You always have the opportunity to add a personal statement to your credit report to explain the negative information. Keep your statement brief, under 100 words, and send it to the credit reporting agency. If the agency accepts your statement, it will be included every time someone requests your credit report. You can also ask the credit reporting agency to send your statement to anyone who received a copy of your credit report in the last six months.
Know Your Rights!
Credit agencies are required to accept these statements if they explain why information on your credit report is incorrect. They are not required to accept statements that explain why you had credit problems in the past, but many will do so.
Can I file a lawsuit to assert my rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
Yes! If you have tried and failed to remove inaccurate information from your credit report, and you have suffered emotional or financial harm because of that information, you may be able to file a lawsuit against your creditor and the credit reporting agency. For more information, call the NYC Financial Justice Hotline at 212-925-4929.
Sources: FDIC Money Smart Financial Education Curriculum; Federal Trade Commission; Evan Hendricks, Credit Scores & Credit Reports: How the System Really Works, What You Can Do; National Consumer Law Center, Guide to Surviving Debt; New Economy Project.
Disclaimer: This site provides general information for consumers and links to other sources of information. This site does not provide legal advice, which you can only get from an attorney. New Economy Project has no control over the information on linked sites.
Copyright ©2006 by the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, Inc.
All Rights Reserved