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Ask the Expert: How to Correct Credit Report Errors

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When it comes to correcting credit reports, the process can be confusing and missteps can easily delay the correction of inaccurate information. We asked John Ulzheimer, Credit Expert for Credit Sesame, to tackle ten of the most common consumer questions when it comes to correcting credit report errors. Heed his expert advice and you’ll improve your chance of clearing any mistakes from your credit profile.

Q: Do I have to buy a credit report in order to dispute the information it contains?

A: No, you are not required to buy a credit report in order to file a dispute. You can claim your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com and file your dispute based off of the information on those free reports.

Q: How long do the credit bureaus have to complete their investigation pursuant to my dispute?

A: The credit bureaus have 30 days to complete their work, although in most cases it doesn’t take nearly that long because of automation. However, if you submit supplemental information during those first 30 days, then the bureaus have an additional 15 days to complete their work.

Q: Can I lie to the credit reporting agencies about the accuracy of credit entries in an effort to get them removed?

A: That’s a very bad idea. It’s best to be honest in your dispute communications with the credit bureaus. Claiming that items are not yours when you know very well they are can be a criminal act.

Q: I’ve heard that when items are in dispute they cannot hurt your credit scores. Is that true?

A: Yes, that’s true. When a credit entry is in dispute it is coded as such by the credit reporting agencies. This code prevents the item from being considered in the “Payment History” and “Debt” categories of your FICO credit score.

This is also true of the newer, but increasingly popular, VantageScore credit score. According to Sarah Davies, Vice President of Analytics and Product Management at VantageScore Solutions, “While an account is documented as ‘Account information disputed by consumer under the Fair Credit Reporting Act’, it is temporarily excluded from consideration by the VantageScore model.”

Q: If an item is deleted because of a dispute can it be reinserted after the fact?

A: Yes, if the disputed item is removed it can be reinserted by the lender or collection agency at a later date. However, if the information is reinserted, the credit reporting agencies must notify you. One of the myths about disputing credit report errors is that once an item has been removed that it is gone forever. That’s not always the case.

Q: How much does it cost to dispute my credit reports?

A: Keep your wallet in your pocket because you’re not going to need it. Filing credit report disputes is a free service offered by the credit reporting agencies.

Q: Will the credit bureaus let me know the results of their investigation?

A: Yes, once the credit bureaus have completed their investigation work they will send you a summary of the results. They’ll let you know if the items have been removed or will remain.

Q: If I’m not satisfied with the result of the dispute can I dispute the items again?

A: Yes, you can re-dispute the items but if they were verified once they’re likely to be verified twice. If you have supplemental information supporting your dispute, now is the time to use it. If you simply re-dispute the item over and over the credit bureaus can eventually consider it to be frivolous and stop investigating the item.

Q: Do I have to file disputes with the credit bureaus or can I dispute the item with the bank or collection agency?

A: Consumers have the right to file credit-reporting disputes with both the credit bureaus and the companies that furnished the questionable information, which is typically a lender or collection agency. The furnishers have the same obligation as the credit bureaus do to investigate and correct mistakes.

Q: Do I have to be specific as to my dispute or can I just say I don’t agree with how the item is being reported?

A: It’s in your best interest to be very specific about why you’re disputing something on your credit reports. If it’s not your account, be clear about that. If the balance is wrong, be clear about that. If the late payments are incorrect, be clear about that. Don’t send a dispute that reads, “I don’t agree with how that account is reported” because you’re not directing the credit bureau on how to challenge it with the lender. You need to clearly identify why you believe it’s incorrect.

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