Stick It to the Man: How To Dispute a Credit Report Error (and Win!)

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Take Credit

Do your shoulders tense up every time Credit Karma sends you an email urging you to check your credit score? You're not alone. As much as you may dread having to deal with credit scores, having an accurate credit report is essential: It can impact your ability to borrow money, the interest rates you'll get, your chances of landing a job, acquiring insurance, securing a rental property, and more. If you've noticed an error or discrepancy in your credit report, it's important to dispute it as soon as possible. Follow these steps to learn how to successfully dispute a credit report and win.

Related: 7 Simple Ways to Save Money Now

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Step 1: Contact the Credit Bureaus

If you find an error in your credit report, the first step is to report it to the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnionin writing. Include any supporting documentation such as receipts, emails, and text messages to help prove your case. To do this, you can file a dispute by providing evidence of the mistake(s). The bureaus are then required to investigate your claim and respond to you within a 30-day period.

Pro tip: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests sending your dispute letter by certified mail and paying for a return receipt so you have a record of when the bureau received it. 

Related: Credit Card Pitfalls: 10 Things You Should Never Charge

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Step 2: Contact the Business or Creditor at Fault

To cover all your bases, you should also write to the business that provided the inaccurate information by stating the errors you are intending to dispute. (See a sample letter here). Specify each piece of erroneous information that requires correction and provide context for why it should be fixed. Be sure to include your full name, address, and contact information, and attach copies of supporting documents to substantiate your request.

If you are unable to locate a dispute address for a merchant on your credit report or online, reach out to the business directly and find out where you should be sending your dispute claim.

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Step 3: Monitor Your Credit Report for Changes

After submitting your dispute letter and all supporting documentation to the credit bureau, you should receive a reply within 30 days. In the meantime, keep routinely checking your credit report to see if any changes have been made. You can also reach the three nationwide credit bureaus online or by phone to submit claims or request updates, according to the FTC:

  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
  • Equifax: 1-866-349-5191
  • TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800

Note: You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months by visiting

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Step 4: Keep Copies of Everything You Sent and Sit Tight

After filing your dispute, be sure to keep copies of everything you sent in case you need to provide documentation at a later date. According to the FTC, the credit bureau must investigate each claim within 30 days at no cost to you. However, if the bureau deems your request to be "frivolous" or "irrelevant," they will halt the investigation and notify you accordingly. In such cases, you may need to provide additional evidence to support your dispute.

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Step 6: Request That Your New Credit Report Be Sent to Relevant Parties

After submitting your dispute, the credit bureau will then forward all the evidence you submitted to the business responsible for reporting the wrong information, and will notify you in writing once the investigation is complete. If the dispute leads to a change, a free copy of your credit report will be included. In addition, you have the option to request that the credit bureau send a copy of your new credit report to your employer (if they received a copy in the past two years) or to any other entity that obtained a copy within the past six months, such as a mortgage lender or landlord.

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Step 7 (If Needed): File Another Dispute

If you haven't heard back from any of the credit bureaus within 30 days of filing your initial dispute — or if you received investigation results but disagree with the findings and believe there is still information that is incorrect or incomplete — you may file another dispute with the credit bureaus. Be sure to include a brief statement outlining the previous dispute and any other pertinent details of your case. You can also choose to add a "consumer statement of 100 words or less" to your credit report, and it will show up every time it is accessed.

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What Errors Can You Dispute on a Credit Report?

According to Equifax, you have the right to dispute any of the following items on your credit report:

  • Personal details such as your name, address, Social Security number, or date of birth.
  • Account information that you deem inaccurate or incomplete, such as late payments being reported despite having paid on time or in full.
  • Cases of mixed credit files, wherein someone else's information is appearing on your credit file. This can occur, for example, when a parent and child share the same name.
  • Duplicate listing of an item, such as a debt or statement being reported twice or more.
  • Any information that suggests identity theft or fraud, such as unrecognized transactions or collection accounts on your credit report.
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An Accurate but Unfavorable Credit Report: What Are Your Options?

If the information on your credit report is accurate but is not doing you any favors, such as a history of missed payments or accounts in collection, you have a few options to improve your credit standing:

  • Focus on building positive credit: While negative information may stay on your credit report for several years (seven years for late payments or collections and 10 years for bankruptcy), you can still improve your credit score by making on-time payments and keeping your credit utilization low.

  • Communicate with your creditors: Contact creditors to see if they're willing to work with you on a payment plan or negotiate a settlement.

  • Consider a credit counseling service: Credit counseling agencies can provide guidance on budgeting, managing debt, and improving your credit score.

  • Add a statement to your credit report: You can add a statement to your credit report to explain any extenuating circumstances that may have contributed to negative information.

  • Wait it out: In the meantime, while you wait for your credit score to improve, focus on building positive credit habits to improve your overall creditworthiness.