Everyone makes mistakes, even the credit bureaus. But if Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian put wrong information on one of your credit reports, it can be a big problem. Credit report errors can damage your credit scores, costing you money, and generally making life harder than it needs to be in the process.
According to a study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 26% of participants identified at least one error on their credit report, making them appear riskier to lenders. Those potential negative impacts can be a massive hit to your process if you are trying to get better lending terms or interest rates.
That's why knowing what's on your credit report is so important. In this article, I will reveal the things you need to look for on your credit report and how to fix them if they are not accurate.
How Can You Get a Free Credit Report?
Before you can check for credit reporting errors, you need to get copies of your three credit reports. One way to do this is to visit AnnualCreditReport.com. You can use this website to claim a free credit report from each credit bureau once every 12 months.
The website above won’t let you access credit scores for free, only your reports. If you want to view your credit scores without paying a fee, you’ll need to try another resource. Here are some of my favorite places to get a free credit score online:
- Credit Karma — Access free weekly credit reports and scores (VantageScore 3.0) from TransUnion and Equifax
- Experian — Access a free Experian credit report with FICO Score 8 each month.
How to Read Your Credit Report
If you’ve never checked your credit report before, you might feel intimidated. But I have good news. Consumer credit reports are designed to be user-friendly. They’re usually easy to read and navigate.
Most credit reports are broken down into four sections:
- Personal Information: This section of your report contains details like your name (including former names, like maiden names), past and present addresses, date of birth, social security number, and your employer.
- Credit History: This is the biggest and typically most crucial section of your credit report. It lists details about the accounts you have opened (past and present). Collection accounts may appear here, too, if you have any. Under each account, there will be information like your account number, current payment status (e.g., current, 30-days past-due, charged-off, etc.), your balance, and — for credit cards and lines of credit — your credit limit. Accounts may also show date-related details, like the date opened or the date a closed account is going to be removed from your credit report.
- Public Records: In the past, this section of your credit report contained records of any judgments, tax liens, or bankruptcies in your name. But the credit bureaus changed their reporting policies a few years ago, and now the section only lists bankruptcy records.
- Inquiries: This section contains a list of all the businesses that requested your credit report in the last two years. Hard inquiries — the type that occurs when you apply for financing — could possibly hurt your credit score for up to 12 months.
What to Look for in a Credit Report
As you go through each credit report, keep an eye out for the following types of mistakes:
- Accounts that don’t belong to you
- Incorrect account details (e.g., late payments, balances, dates, etc.)
- Personal information that isn’t accurate (e.g., your name, address, date of birth, etc.)
- Unauthorized credit inquiries
If you discover any credit reporting errors, highlight them on your report or make notes. You’ll need this information when you contact the credit bureaus.
How to Fix Mistakes on Your Credit Report
You can’t fix mistakes on your credit report. Only the company that creates your credit report — a credit bureau — has the power to change that information. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Federal law gives you several rights when it comes to your credit information.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) lets you dispute items on your credit report that you believe is incorrect. When you dispute an item, the credit bureau investigates your claim. In most cases, a bureau has up to 30 days to verify that the information on your report is accurate. If it can’t, it must delete the item from your report.
You can dispute credit reporting errors online, over the phone, or via mail. Typically, old-fashioned mail is best. Write a simple letter explaining the problem and ask the credit bureau to delete the mistake from your report. Along with your dispute letter, you can send a copy of your credit report and highlight the errors, if you like.
The Federal Trade Commission recommends sending dispute letters to the credit bureaus by certified mail with a return receipt requested.
Contact Information to Submit Disputes
|P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
|P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
|P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
Once the credit bureau finishes its investigation, it will send you an update with your results. This update will inform you whether the items you disputed have been deleted, updated, or verified as accurate.
If the information you disputed gets deleted, you should be in good shape. But recheck your three reports to confirm. You should check your credit reports several times a year, anyway.
Sometimes an item you disagree with will be verified. If this happens, it will remain on your report and may continue to hurt your credit score. You can repeat the dispute process again if you still disagree. It may help to send additional proof of why you believe the information is incorrect if you can.
It’s not fair to have your credit score damaged by something that isn’t your fault. But you can take action to try to fix these problems if they happen to you. Coping with bad credit can be difficult. But it’s possible to change your situation. Whether your low credit scores are a result of errors or real financial missteps on your part, you can still take steps to improve your credit for the future.