There’s a plague in the United States, but it has nothing to do with the flu. Instead, it’s a plague of errors on the credit reports of millions of Americans.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 20 percent of Americans had errors on their credit report as of 2013, and more than 5 percent of those errors were serious enough to negatively impact a credit or interest-rate decision. That means that more than 60 million Americans have errors on their credit report, and more than 15 million of those people could receive a denial for credit or pay exorbitant rates because of incorrect credit reports.
While you may find those numbers shocking, the most shocking fact is that they’ve stayed roughly the same for decades. While the three major credit bureaus and their regulating authorities often talk about the necessity to minimize errors, the simple fact is that the burden of ensuring your credit report is accurate falls entirely on your shoulders.
Why Credit Report Errors Are Dangerous
Which would you prefer, a 25-percent interest rate on a loan or a 5-percent interest rate? Do you want to get a denial for your next credit-card application? A low, erroneous credit report could even lead to failing your background and credit check for a new job.
In today’s world, others use your credit report in numerous ways that can seriously impact your life even beyond interest rates and credit approvals. Just consider the legal ramifications if someone steals your identity. What if the thief were to start a company in your name or try to get a tax refund in your name? Before you know it, simple credit-card bills are the least of your worries.
It’s vital that you closely monitor your credit reports from all three bureaus, then move decisively to dispute any error as soon as you spot it, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem.
How to Monitor Your Credit Report for Errors
It’s important to remember that “your credit report” isn’t a single entity. Instead, each of the three major credit reporting agencies in the United States holds its own version of your credit history, and each has its own relationship with your creditors and other information-reporting parties.
That means if you find an error on your credit report from any one of the three agencies, you then need to verify that information on your report from the other two agencies as well.
You can do this in two primary ways:
Use your free, annual credit reports
The Fair Credit Reporting Act, or “FRCA,” requires each of the three primary reporting agencies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. The only official online Web page to start that process is at AnnualCreditReport.com, a website run jointly by the three bureaus.
You can request your report from all three bureaus at the same time or spread your requests throughout the year. Each bureau runs its own 12-month timeline, based on the last time you requested your report from that bureau.
Use a credit-monitoring service
The downside to relying on your free, annual reports is that you’re only viewing your information from each bureau once per year. If an error occurs just after you’ve requested your report, you might have to wait 11 months to find out about it. As an alternative, credit-monitoring services can provide you with updated reports each month. A variety of paid memberships are available, but many credit-card providers also offer their customers free monitoring services.
How to Dispute Credit Report Errors with Credit-Reporting Agencies
If you find any type of error, even just a mismatch in your personal information like address history, you need to initiate a dispute immediately. You’ll need to contact each credit-reporting agency separately because they’re not required to communicate with each other until someone confirms or removes a dispute. Even then, a corrected error within one agency can still linger in another’s records.
Remember that you should always use certified mail when sending information to a credit agency through the post office.
Dispute Credit Report Errors with Equifax
Equifax allows you to dispute errors online or through the mail. To get started online, visit the Equifax Online Dispute portal that will walk you through the process of initiating the dispute and monitoring its progress.
To begin a dispute by mail, send a letter explaining the full circumstances of your dispute and all supporting documentation to the following address:
Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
Dispute Credit-Report Errors with TransUnion
TransUnion allows you to dispute errors online, through the mail or over the telephone.
To dispute an error online, visit the Transunion Online Dispute portal.
To dispute an error over the phone, call 1-800-916-8800. Make sure you have all supporting information at hand before you begin the call.
To dispute an error by certified mail, send a letter explaining your dispute with all supporting documentation to:
TransUnion LLC Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Dispute Credit Report Errors with Experian
Experian allows you to dispute errors online, through the mail or over the telephone.
To dispute errors online, visit the Experian Online Dispute portal.
To dispute an error over the phone, call 1-866-200-6020.
To dispute an error by certified mail, send your letter and documentation to:
Experian National Consumer Assistance Center
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013