In accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, your credit report must be an accurate and current accounting of your credit history. To that end, credit bureaus cannot report inaccurate or outdated information on your credit file. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for blemishes to appear; however, there are several steps you can take to have them removed legitimately.
Know What's in Your Credit File
Before you can dispute your credit file, first you must know what's in it. Because the information contained in your credit report can differ among credit bureaus, it is advisable to pull your credit report from each. There are three national credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You are entitled to receive a free annual credit report from each, but you must request it. Requests may be made online, by phone or by mail.
Review Contents of Report and Identify Errors
Once you obtain your credit report, review it for errors and outdated information as these will be the grounds for having data removed from your credit report. Under the FCRA, negative account information must be removed after seven years. Bankruptcies can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years. While outdated information is supposed to be removed from your file automatically, it doesn't always happen. If any of your accounts contain errors, such as reporting you as being 90 days late on your credit card or student loan when you weren't, or you don't recognize certain accounts, these errors must also be corrected or removed. This is important because negative information can have a devastating effect on your credit score and ability to obtain new credit or favorable interest rates.
Gather Proof and File Dispute
Once you have identified any and all errors, including outdated information, gather proof to back up your claims, such as account statements and canceled checks. Although you can file your dispute online or by phone, you may want to submit your dispute by mail instead so that you can detail the specifics of your case more fully and provide each credit bureau with copies of your supporting documentation. The more information the credit bureau is provided, the better. A dispute should also be filed with the party furnishing the wrong or outdated information to the credit bureaus, whether it's the original creditor or a collection agency. This can sometimes help resolve issues more quickly.
Don't Take No for an Answer
Once the credit bureau and creditor receive your disputes, they are obligated to open an investigation pursuant to the FCRA. It can take up to 45 days for the parties to complete their investigation and notify you of their findings. Depending on the results, you may have all or some of your disputed items corrected or removed. If any mistakes remain, do not give up. It may be necessary to file additional disputes, especially if you get your hands on further proof to back up your claims. If a credit bureau or creditor refuses to budge despite having the necessary evidence, you also have the option of filing suit against them in court.
- Equifax: FCRA Summary of Rights
- Credit: How Do I get My Free Annual Credit Report?
- Bankrate: 8 Steps to Rid Credit Report of Old Debt
- Bankrate: How to Fix Credit Report Errors
- Credit Cards: 10 Surefire Steps to Get Errors Off Your Credit Reports
- Equifax: Correcting Errors on Your Credit File
- Kiplinger: I Beat the Credit Bureaus
- Nolo: If the Credit Reporting Agency Does Not Correct Your Report: What to Do
Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.