Published: November 9, 2011
Author: Jane Crandall
You’ve spent a lifetime building and maintaining a strong credit history. Errors on your credit reports can be frustrating or worse. They can be devastating if those errors result in not being able to use the credit you have built to manage your life or run your business. Here are some steps to help you correct those errors and get your good credit back where it belongs.
First, a little bit of background. There are three major credit reporting companies or agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Trans-Union. These reporting companies produce credit reports based on what they receive from information providers regarding accounts, loans, debts, judgments, or other obligations you have taken on. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681, Credit Reporting Agencies), agencies and providers are required to correct any inaccurate or incomplete information they report and provide.
If you discover that a credit reporting agency or information provider is reporting or providing inaccurate information about you, the first thing to do is document everything. Begin keeping a log the moment you realize something is amiss and record all actions you take and all information you receive regarding this matter. This should include notes on the dates you receive any documents (such as a notice from a credit card company regarding a card you do not hold), all phone calls regarding the matter, and all actions you take, including the dates that you mail any documents out or provide any documentation to authorities. Be sure to include details such as the names and numbers of anyone you speak with, the nature of any discussions, and any follow-up or confirmations you receive.
Once you have begun your log, the next steps are to contact the three credit reporting companies and the provider of the inaccurately reported item or information. The Federal Trade Commission has a website designed to help consumers facing this issue. The FTC recommends that you first contact any of the three major credit reporting companies mentioned above that are reporting the inaccurate or incomplete information. Not all companies report the same information, so it is important to get a report from each company. Consumers are entitled to one free credit report from each company every 12 months. The FTC recommends using the service set up by the companies to provide these annual reports, rather than going to the company directly, or to another, unrelated service or website. You can contact the recommended service on web at www.annualcreditreport.com, by phone at 877-322-8228, or by completing and mailing the Annual Credit Report Request Form (follow the instructions on the form for completing and mailing the form).
Your initial report to the agencies should be in writing and include all of the following:
Detailed information on the inaccurate information
Detailed information on why you dispute the information
What you would like the agency to do (remove or amend the item)
In your letter, be clear on what is wrong, why it is wrong, and what you want the agency to do about it. Be sure to also include copies (not originals) of any documents you have that support your claim, including a copy of your credit report with the disputed item clearly noted.
What will the agency do with this information? Federal law addresses the procedure an agency must follow when a consumer disputes the accuracy of a credit report. 15 U.S.C. § 1681i, Procedure in case of a disputed accuracy. The agencies are required to investigate your dispute within 30 to 45 days (though it may happen more quickly than that). They are also required to report your dispute to the information provider.
Contact the information provider
Next, the FTC recommends contacting the information provider that reported the inaccurate information to the agency. You should provide the same information to the provider as you did the agency. Most information providers will have an address for disputes noted on a bill or at the company’s website. If you cannot find an address, contact the company for information on where to send a dispute.
Any written correspondence you send out should be sent in a trackable way, such as U.S.P.S. certified mail with return receipt, Fed Ex, UPS, or another provider. You should also feel free to follow up with phone calls or e-mails. Be sure to include all of these communications in your log. In all of your communications, whether by phone, e-mail, or letter, be professional and courteous. Your personal credit rating is just that...highly personal. Threats to it, especially those that may be the result of fraud or dishonesty, can result in anger, frustration, and the urge to blame or “get back” at the people who have done this to you. Remaining professional in the midst of everything, will help your case and ultimately help you.
Once the agency has completed its investigation, it will report to you the results, and provide you with a corrected credit report, if any changes were made to the report. You can request that the agency send a correction notice to anyone who received a copy of your credit report in the past six months.
If a dispute is not resolved in your favor (or in the way you would like), you can request that a Statement of Dispute be added to your file and that this statement be given to anyone who requests your credit report or who has received your credit report recently. You should anticipate paying for this service.
Wisconsin law allows consumers to place a security freeze on a credit file. Wis. Stat. § 100.54, Access to credit reports. The security freeze is designed to not allow any credit or loans to be extended in your name without your approval. Consumers should be aware, however, that a security freeze may delay the timely approval of applications for loans or credit while the freeze is in place.
Time is on your side
If you have a negative item listed on your credit report that is accurate, the FTC notes that only time can assure the item is removed. Some types of credit items may stay on your credit report for 7 to 10 years. For other types of items, there is no time limit.
For more information on credit report errors, contact Jane Crandall at 608.283.6739 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was edited by Attorney Saul Glazer, who can be reached at (608) 260-2473 or email@example.com.
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