The quickest way to boost your credit score is to remove inaccurate and negative information from your credit report.
If you haven’t checked your credit report in a couple of years, there could be inaccurate information that is hurting your credit that can be removed.
This is another reason to get a free copy of your credit report every six months or so.
When I checked my credit report after letting it go a couple of years I found two debts marked as charged-off that weren’t even mine.
Disputing these items raised my credit score by 70 points.
How to Dispute Credit Report Inaccuracies
The credit reporting agencies have made the process of disputing an inaccurate item simpler.
This is good because the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus to report only accurate information.
If you call their attention to credit report errors, the bureaus must fix your credit file.
But they won’t fix the problems overnight. After you send your dispute letter, it may take a couple of months for the credit bureau to investigate and correct the error.
So don’t get freaked out if you haven’t heard anything in a month.
Fixing your credit file can take even longer if the negative information resulting from identity theft.
Three Ways to Dispute Errors
There are generally three ways to dispute an inaccuracy: online, by phone, or by mail.
I’d use the online dispute process which is the fastest.
All three of the credit reporting agencies have online forms you can fill out to file a dispute letter. It’s very easy.
Here are links to the credit reporting agency’s dispute centers
Keep in mind: If an inaccuracy is listed on all three credit reports, you must dispute it with all three credit agencies separately.
Don’t Dispute Accurate Entries
Some people will claim you should dispute negative information even if it is completely accurate in hopes that the creditor will be unable (or unwilling) to verify the disputed item.
I am advising you against this strategy for a few reasons:
- First, it’s against the law.
- Second, if the debt is a large amount you can assume the creditor will take the time to prove it’s yours and it’s accurate.
- Third, if you attempt to file multiple disputes at once, the credit agency will lock you from filing a dispute for a while. This would hurt your ability to dispute actual inaccuracies.
Once The Investigation Is Complete
Once the investigation is complete you will receive an email (if you disputed online) telling you about the dispute results.
If it’s a slam dunk case, the email should say the bureau has corrected the inaccurate information.
Also, you will receive a free copy of your corrected credit report (this is required by federal law).
Note: this does not count as the free credit report you can get once a year from annualcreditreport.com.
Depending on the item that was corrected your credit score should also change to reflect the correction.
Again, getting inaccuracies corrected can greatly improve your score. In most cases, it’s an easy process.
Does Some Inaccurate Information Hurt Your Credit Score More?
You can refer to my list of negative credit items when deciding which inaccuracies to dispute first.
Here’s a brief overview:
I’d look for inaccurate information within your payment history first because this makes up about 35 percent of your credit score.
If your credit card account shows multiple late payments — and you made the payments on time — I’d dispute that first.
Then look at your account balances on each credit report.
Sometimes lenders don’t report when you’ve paid off an entire balance or rolled a balance onto another card.
Inaccurately high balances affect your credit utilization ratio which comprises 30 percent of your FICO score.
Find the section on your credit report showing credit inquiries.
Multiple hard credit inquiries within a year can hurt your score, so make sure these are reported accurately.
More importantly, inaccurate credit checks could be a sign of identity theft.
Someone who’s applying for credit in your name could have your Social Security number or other sensitive information.
It’s also possible your report is showing information from someone with a similar name and the same date of birth.
Speaking of name mix-ups, don’t forget to look over the “Personal Information” section of your credit report.
This is the section that lists your current and previous employer(s) and your previous and current address(es).
Both of these can impact your credit score and they are often inaccurate.
The calculation of your credit score takes into account how stable you appear to be.
If your credit report shows 15 previous addresses and five employers in the past two years, for example, this could lower your score by a dozen or so points.
While personal details such as address and employer do have some impact, it’s not very big, so this should be the least of your worries if you have inaccurately reported debt or late or missed payments.
Nonetheless, small inaccuracies such as multiple listings of the same address (this is very common) can cause other problems over time and should be fixed.
Making Your Best Case to Remove Credit Report Errors
If you dispute information in your credit report, the credit bureaus have to investigate.
If they can’t fix the issue, they’ll have to remove the negative item from your credit report.
You can help this process play out more quickly by providing complete and thorough details when you dispute credit report errors.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says you should include account numbers and the current address of the lender for credit accounts you’re disputing. You should also include phone numbers when possible.
You should also be specific. Rather than saying “this account is wrong,” you should specify exactly what’s wrong with the disputed information.
- If the credit account shows incorrect information about late payments, indicate that in your dispute claim.
- If you paid off your student loan last year and the lender still shows a balance, include dates and copies of your statement if possible. (Don’t send your originals!)
- If your current address is listed incorrectly — or if you have three different versions of your current address listed as previous addresses — be specific about which address is correct.
Yes, you’ll spend more time preparing your dispute, but by making life easier for the major credit bureaus, they can respond and resolve the problem more quickly.
Sharing Personal Information
We’ve all grown warier of sharing personal information online — and for good reason: Identity theft is a growing problem.
But you may need to share some personal information when you file a dispute so you can confirm your identity with the credit bureau.
For example, don’t be surprised if a bureau asks for your driver’s license number or even the last four digits of your Social Security number.
You should never be asked to share a bank account or credit card numbers, however.
Where Should I Send Dispute Letters?
If you’ve read other posts on my blog you already know I recommend fixing credit problems in writing.
Sending letters is old fashioned, but it also provides a paper trail which can be useful later.
Disputing credit reporting errors is a rare exception to this rule.
I’m OK with disputing mistakes online because federal law (FCRA) protects your rights by putting the burden on the credit reporting companies to fix the mistakes you point out.
Plus, the three bureaus send return receipts via email and let you track your dispute process online.
That being said, if you’d rather mail in your dispute letters, here’s where to send them:
You can download a dispute form from Equifax at this address: www.ai.equifax.com/CreditInvestigation
Then you should mail the dispute form to:
Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30348
In case you need to call, the telephone number is (866) 349-5191.
Find details online at www.experian.com/disputes/main.html.
Then you can mail your dispute letter to this address:
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
Phone number: (888) 397-3742.
Find a dispute form and other information online at www.dispute.transunion.com. (You’ll have to open a free account and log in.)
Mail your dispute form and dispute letter to:
Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
You can also call: (800) 916-8800.
Credit Monitoring: A First Line of Defense
The Federal Trade Commission provides an easy way to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year.
Checking your report regularly will help you find errors before they limit your borrowing power.
In normal times I always recommend spreading out your three free reports throughout the year so you can get one every four months.
Since the bureaus often report the same data, spreading out your reports increases your likelihood of finding mistakes early.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the FTC is allowing consumers to get free credit reports once a week at annualcreditreport.com.
This once-a-week policy is scheduled to expire in April 2021.
These apps won’t show your actual credit report data but they can offer insights to help you detect problems you need to dispute.