Getting mistakes eliminated from your credit report is your right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
This consumer-friendly law gives you the right to get information that is inaccurate, outdated or unverifiable removed from your credit files. But the credit bureaus will only delete such information if you dispute it first.
See also: Find your true credit score.
Here's what you need to know to effectively dispute mistakes in your credit reports with the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Online Disputing Is Best
All the credit bureaus allow you to dispute mistakes via mail and over the telephone, however, it's best to dispute credit report errors online. The three credit bureaus all have online dispute resolution services that are faster and more streamlined than using snail mail or speaking to someone via phone.
Here are the websites and phone numbers you should use for the credit bureaus when you contact them to dispute errors:
Equifax or 888-800-8859
Experian or 866-200-6020
TransUnion or 800-916-8800
Properly Categorize Your Dispute
When you notify the credit bureaus that something in your credit files isn’t correct, you have to categorize the nature of your dispute.
In general, you must decide whether your dispute pertains to the “ownership” of an account or if it involves the “account information” and/or “status” of an account.
Anytime you complete the required dispute investigation forms supplied by the credit bureaus (either online or mailing in forms), you must check off at least one box on the form indicating exactly what information you think is wrong.
For example, if you find a certain account listed on your credit report that doesn’t belong to you, you would dispute the ownership of such an account and check off a box such as:
- This account does not belong to me.
- I have no knowledge of this account.
- This is not my account; it belongs to a relative or another person with same/similar name.
If you want the credit bureaus to fix the “Account Information” or “Status” of something in your credit reports, you would check off any number of boxes, such as:
- My account balance is incorrect.
- I have never paid late.
- I have paid this account in full.
- Too old to be on file, please remove.
There may be slight differences in how the bureaus word these phrases. But in general, these are the types of statements you will encounter when you dispute either the "Ownership" or "Account Status" information that is listed in your credit files with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Don't Make "Frivolous" Disputes
It's best to dispute errors one at a time — because contesting a slew of alleged mistakes all at once may cause your dispute(s) to be thrown out.
By law, the credit bureaus can opt not to investigate your claims if they deem your dispute(s) to be "frivolous" or "irrelevant." This is one reason why many people using certain "credit repair" services find that they don't work as well as intended.
When the credit bureaus get whiff of a "credit repair" agency being involved, they will sometimes (legally) ignore multiple disputes on the grounds that they are "frivolous."
When you personally dispute information, each credit bureau also allows you to add a very brief explanation of your dispute and to provide documentation that backs up your claims.
For example, suppose you check the reason for your dispute as: "I have never paid late." If you then want to explain your position, you might add a statement such as: "The creditor said they misapplied my payment." If you had a letter from the creditor acknowledging this error, you would also supply that to the credit bureau.
The Burden of Proof Is on You
Remember: In the event of a mistake, the burden is on you to notify the credit agencies about that error. It's not enough to simply say something is incorrect, you have to state why certain information is erroneous or outdated. Once you do, your claim will be investigated. In an ideal world, inaccurate or outdated information would simply be removed from your credit reports when you dispute such data and supply independent proof of your claim. However, the world of credit is far from ideal. Perhaps that's why less than 2 percent of consumer dispute requests with the credit bureaus result in a deletion because of errors, according to the Consumer Data Industry Association. By following the tips mentioned above, you can greatly improve your chances of getting inaccurate information removed from your credit files once and for all.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach®, is a personal finance expert, television and radio personality, and a regular contributor to AARP. You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.
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