Keep Credit Intact: Dispute Report Errors
NEW YORK (3/19/13)--An error on your credit report can cost you more than just the time it'll take to correct it. That error also could result in a lower credit score, which could mean you'll pay higher interest rates on loans or be denied outright. Getting slapped with an undeserved high-interest rate happens to about 5% of consumers who have credit report errors (New York Times.com March 4).
Credit reports and credit scores, while different, work in sync. A credit report shows your credit activity over time. It shows if you owe money and to whom. It also shows whether you make payments on time or if you're late; it shows if you've stopped making payments altogether. Based on information in your credit report, a credit score is a three-digit number lenders use to assess whether or not to offer you credit and at what price. Negative credit information, accurate or inaccurate, can result in a lower score.
If you have a low credit score, you'll pay more to acquire a loan, but that's not the only way a low score affects your finances. A low score also can result in not being able to rent an apartment, get affordable insurance coverage, or get a job.
The first steps in making sure your score is the score you deserve are to review your credit report for accuracy and to report any discrepancies, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), Silver Spring, Md. Follow this advice to make sure your report is clean:
Check your credit report. You can request one free report a year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus by visiting annualcreditreport.com. This is the only website officially authorized to provide credit reports. You also can call 877-322-8228 or complete a request form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Stagger the reports every four months in rotation so you can keep tabs throughout the year. Review your report at least three months before you make a potentially affected financial move so you have time to dispute any errors and have them corrected.
Review your report for accuracy. Look for errors, large and small, as well as omissions such as an account that you paid but didn't get credit for. Verify the basics such as name, Social Security number, and address.
Know your rights. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you free access to your credit report within 60 days if you've been denied a loan, insurance, or a job based on information in your report. It's up to you to initiate the dispute process.
If you find an error, file a dispute with the credit reporting agency. File the dispute in writing so you will have a paper trail. In your dispute, include your full name and address, what you want investigated, the disputed items, and an explanation of why you think the information is inaccurate. FCRA generally requires credit reporting companies to investigate items in question within 30 days to 45 days of when the dispute was filed.
Understand that accurate negative information won't be removed. Negative information that is true will stay on your report. Credit reporting agencies can report most negative information for seven years; bankruptcies can remain on your report for 10 years.
For help reviewing your credit report ask the staff at your credit union or call an NFCC member agency certified counselor. Call 800-388-2227 to be connected to an agency in your area, or visit DebtAdvice.org.
Stay clear of credit repair companies. There is no such thing as a quick fix and there's nothing that a credit repair business can do for you that you can't do for yourself--for free. Most credit repair companies charge high fees and rarely deliver results.
For more information about disputing credit report errors, read "Clean Up Your Credit Report" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.