Disputing a credit report can be a confusing process. Consumer credit reports can vary in the way they look and the order information is listed depending on which of the three major national credit-reporting bureaus provided the report. Consumers can obtain their free credit reports once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com. However, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union are currently offering free weekly online credit reports to help offset the recent economic challenges that have affected people around the world.
If you believe that there is inaccurate information on your credit report, it’s important to know what you can dispute and the steps to take.
Before Disputing, Review Your Credit Reports
Start by getting a highlighter and a pen out and go through your credit report item by item, page by page; highlight the items that are reporting incorrectly and make a note next to the item to help you in the dispute process following these guidelines:
- Incorrect personal information – Name, addresses, social security numbers, date of birth reporting incorrectly.
- Negative items that are beyond the statute of limitations for reporting – There are specific reporting laws with regard to how long a negative item must report on a consumers credit report.*See below the Statute of Limitations for Reporting
- Inaccurate reporting of account or other information – for example, a collection was paid 2 years ago, but it still shows a balance. Or an account was included in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy but it is reporting as a charge off account with a balance still owing.
- Mixed or split credit files – for example a father and son have the same name, Sr. and Jr. Or credit from someone who has the same name is on your credit report.
- Duplicate reporting of an item – for example two collections for the same debt.
- Fraud or Identity Theft information – where you may see inquiries, accounts or collections you never applied for.
Dispute Credit Report Inaccuracies:
You may write to the credit reporting agencies with the information you have highlighted with a request for correction/deletion depending on your specific dispute. Mailing your letters certified or return receipt is recommended. Sample disputes letters can be found on page 113 of credit.org’s ebook, Consumer Guide to Good Credit, available for free download in English and Spanish. You may also dispute some items online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Statute of Limitations for Reporting:
Negative entries on your credit report have different reporting limits. Typical retention periods are stated below, and may vary by state:
- Chapter 7 Bankruptcy: 10 years from the date of entry of the order of relief or adjudication.
- Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: 7 years from the date of filing if discharged. However, if the case is dismissed for non-payment and the Chapter 13 plan was not completed, the derogatory trade line item could then stay on for seven years from the date it became delinquent.
- Unpaid tax liens: report indefinitely while unpaid.
- Paid tax liens: report for 7 years from the date of payment.
- Unpaid child support: varies by state and does not always report but in general will show as a judgment while unpaid. The judgment may be renewed in some states, so it will continue to report as long as a balance remains. Once paid, may remain for 7 years.
- Civil suits and judgments: 7 years from the date of entry or 7 years from the paid date.
- Late payments: 30, 60, 90 or 120 days late payments may be reported up to 7 years from the date of delinquency.
Knowing these limits is an important step to determine if the information is obsolete and if a dispute is an appropriate course of action to pursue.
How to Dispute Credit Reports
Individual credit bureaus may have their own process for disputing credit report information. Experian, TransUnion and Equifax all have their own processes, so depending on which report you need to dispute, you may need to reach out individually.
Most credit bureaus have different options for reporting credit report inaccuracies, including via online, phone, or mail. Some have a dedicated dispute center on their website.
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