In today’s world, you need a credit report to get a mortgage, take out a loan and, sometimes, even to secure a job. This means it’s never been more important to check whether the details held about your financial history are correct.
Luckily, every US citizen is entitled to one free credit report a year (and during the pandemic, it’s one a week) from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies. You can submit a request for your credit report online or by dialing a toll-free phone number. If you choose the online method, you’ll get access to your report right away. By phone, it usually takes up to 15 days.
But what if you take advantage of this service and your report contains errors? Your best bet is to raise the issue with the company that created it as soon as possible.
In this article, we’ll lay out how to file a dispute with Experian, one of the three big credit bureaus.
A Guide to Errors in Credit Reports
Mistakes in credit reports are more common than you might think. A study by the Federal Trade Commission showed that 20% of people found errors on their reports from at least one of the three major credit bureaus. And around 5% of these were inaccuracies that could seriously affect a person’s final credit score.
As Howard Shelanksi, director of the FTC Bureau of Economics, explains, “The results of this first-of-its-kind study make it clear that consumers should check their credit reports regularly. If they don’t, they are potentially putting their pocketbooks at risk.”
Why Your Credit Report Might Contain Errors
Compiling a credit report involves a company like Experian contacting all the lenders you’ve borrowed from in the last seven years. It will check how promptly you were able to repay your debts and, if you’ve defaulted on any payments, this will show up in your report.
However, creditors might have incorrect information about your financial history because:
- Your data was mixed up with someone else’s (this can happen if a company has several clients with the same name).
A thief has stolen your identity and run-up credit in your name.
- If they aren’t investigated and resolved, these sorts of situations can easily damage your financial reputation. And that’s why it’s so important to check your credit reports regularly and challenge anything that doesn’t look right.
- You can file disputes with Experian for free. But keep in mind that if the information is proven accurate after opening a dispute, it can’t be removed from your credit report.
Types of Errors to Watch Out For
When you receive your credit report, check the following carefully:
- All personal information—watch out for misspelled names, wrong account numbers, or incorrect IDs
- Balances and payment dates—compare these against your own records
- Any accounts you’ve had in the last seven years—check that none of these are missing
- Accounts you’ve already closed—make sure none are shown as still open
- Names connected to accounts—you might be listed as an account’s owner when you’re just an authorized user
- Balances and credit limits of accounts—these might be incorrect
- The same debt or account appearing more than once in the list
- Number of years recorded—the report should cover only the last seven years
What to Do if You Find Inaccurate Information in Your Credit Report
First, decide how you want to proceed. You can either file a dispute online or by mail. Most legal experts say the latter is safer, as it means you can keep a paper trail and prove all the actions you’ve taken.
How to File a Dispute with Experian Online
Using Experian’s website is the quickest and easiest method of disputing your credit report.
To do this:
- Go to the online dispute center and click “Start a new dispute online.”
- Read through the report and choose which entry you want to dispute. You’ll likely find these in the section marked “Potentially Negative.”
- Using the dropdown box, pick the reason for the dispute. It might ask you to enter additional information or upload supporting documents. Review the dispute and click “Submit.” You’ll then see a confirmation page and a link to upload your documents.
- Wait for Experian to contact you. The company will send an email to let you know the status of the dispute, as well as notify you about its development. (If Experian doesn’t manage to resolve the dispute within 30 days, the entry you’ve disputed will be deleted.)
- Check the “Completed” section of the dispute center to see the results.
Pros and Cons of Filing a Dispute with Experian Online
- This is the quickest way to begin the dispute process.
- You can easily upload scanned copies of documents.
- You can check the progress of the dispute from your computer or device in just a few clicks.
- You don't get receipts for sending documents, which can be important at a later stage to prove you've opened a dispute and followed all necessary steps on time.
- Companies like Experian are often overwhelmed with online disputes and may not prioritize yours.
- This method can end up being slower than mailing if the company dismisses your dispute and you end up having to send a letter anyway.
How to File a Dispute with Experian Credit Reporting by Mail
You might feel that opening a dispute via snail mail is the safest option. While this is typically a slower process than filing a report online, it can end up being more effective because it involves sending paper copies of your documents. The company can’t ignore a letter if you have a receipt to prove that you sent it; the company is legally obliged to follow up with you on the contents of the letter.
To open a credit report dispute with Experian by mail you should:
- Download this printable form, which will take you through the information you need to provide.
- Fill in your personal details, including:
- Your contact information (full name, address, and telephone number)
- Your date of birth
- Your Social Security number (if you don’t have one, write that on the form)
- All addresses you’ve lived at during the past two years
- A copy of a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license
- A copy of a financial statement from a service provider or an insurance statement
- Fill out a separate box for each dispute. Use the first box to indicate if any of your personal information is incorrect.
- Include copies (not originals—they can’t be returned) of any documents that can support your dispute.
- Mail the form and documentation to Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013. Make sure to send it by certified mail and keep your receipt—you may need to provide proof later that you sent the documents and of the date on which you did.
- Ask for a return receipt so you can prove that the company received the documents.
- For more support and advice, check out this guide from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which includes a helpful template for disputes.
Pros and Cons of Filing a Dispute with Experian Credit Reporting via Mail
- You can keep a paper trail with dated receipts for all the documents you send.
- The company is legally obliged to contact the creditors related to the dispute. If the dispute is verified, you'll never have to see this information again on future credit reports.
- You need to be prepared to respond promptly and have the necessary documents copied and ready to send as soon as you open the dispute.
- This method is more time-consuming and laborious as you'll need to scan, print, and physically send all the necessary documents.
Information to Provide When Submitting a Dispute
As well as all the personal information listed above, you’ll need to supply:
- Your report confirmation number
- All account numbers for any disputed entries
- A copy of the original credit report that includes the information you believe is incorrect
- Copies of any documents that can support your claim
- The date on which you opened the dispute (on the first letter or form you send)
How Long Credit Reporting Bureaus Have to Resolve Your Dispute
Experian has 30 days from the date you open the dispute to try to verify the information you’ve challenged on your report. They must either prove that it is correct or remove it if it is inaccurate. If the company hasn’t made a correction or verification after 30 days, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to sue.
What to Do if Your Final Credit Report Is Bad
If after all that, you have a low credit score, all is not lost. It’s possible to repair your rating with the following methods:
Start making payments on any outstanding debts. Create a timeline and budget to help with this.
Keep paid-off accounts open. Even though you might want to remove temptation by cutting up your credit cards once you’re out of debt, having at least one account that’s not in the minus figures can boost your credit rating.
Resist taking out any new loans. This can make you seem more unreliable to lenders.
Get to know your credit utilization ratio. This is the amount you owe compared to how much credit is available to you. To make this calculation, simply divide your overall debt by the total of all your credit limits and multiply it by 100 to get a percentage. A rate below 30% is considered acceptable.
Image from: https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-education/improving-credit/credit-repair/
How to Improve Your Credit Report
Owe a manageable amount of money? You could consider taking out a debt consolidation loan. If you go down this route, your new lender will group all your existing debts together and expect a single payment, usually monthly.
To get a debt consolidation loan, you’ll need a good credit rating. If yours is any lower than 670, you’ll likely get lumbered with an extremely high-interest rate. This is another reason why it’s so important to investigate your own credit reports and fix any errors before allowing someone else to run a credit check on you.
Be aware of the risks of taking out a debt consolidation loan. You’ll simply be replacing your old loans with a new larger one and will need to stick to a strict budget to keep up with the payment plan. It won’t save you from your own ingrained spending habits, so make sure you’re ready to change your lifestyle significantly.