In the first article of this series we explored what your credit report is and how it impacts your credit score and overall financial health. Now we’re going to dive into getting, reading, and fixing your credit report (if required).
Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are the three credit reporting companies. Each can have slightly different information, so you will want to look at all three. Once a year you can request a free copy from each at annualcreditreport.com. There are other sites out there that offer this service… for a fee. But why pay for what you can get for free?
You’ll need to fill out a form with your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. Because of the sensitive nature of this information make sure to use a secure connection, not your local coffee-house’s free Wi-Fi.
The site will challenge you to answer personal questions such as previous addresses. This is just an extra step of verifying that it really is you requesting the report. Once you’ve gotten your reports, if you can’t look at them immediately, you’ll need to store them securely until you can review.
If you’ve found mistakes, federal law allows you to dispute incorrect information. But you will need to take steps to fix them. There is no fee for filing a dispute.
If you find mistakes in your credit report, you must first identify if the error is related to possible identity theft. You can block identify theft-related items from your report here, but it is a different process.
If the errors are not identity-theft related:
Identify which credit bureau has the incorrect information: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Tell them, in writing, what information you believe is inaccurate.
To contact the credit bureaus, you can use their online portals:
Or, you may send them a letter. You can find a sample on the FTC’s website here.
In addition to giving your complete name and address, you will need to clearly identify each item you are disputing, why you are disputing, any supporting documentation, and your request for the information to be removed or fixed.
The bureau must investigate your claim and make updates, as necessary, within 30 to 45 days. When the investigation is complete, they must provide, in writing, the results.
You will also need to reach out to the company that provided the inaccurate information. You can use this template to draft your letter. You will need to state which credit reporting company has the incorrect information. Include a copy of the report and identify the inaccurate information. Include copies of the documents that support your claim. (Make sure you retain originals!)
The credit bureau you contacted in step one will also reach out to the company that provided the information. Once the issue is investigated by the information provider, they will notify all three credit bureaus of any corrections.
If you’ve reported the issue, followed proper procedures, yet the information still remains on your report, file a complaint with the CFPB here. They will work to get you a response from the company, generally within 15 days.
But be wary. There are companies out there that claim to be able to fix and/or improve your score. At worst, it may be a scam, and at best it is wasting your money. Any fixes that can be made may be done for free (or very low-fees) by you by correcting inaccuracies as stated above.