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What to Know and What You Can Do About Credit Report Errors

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Editor’s Note: This week, the Federal Trade Commission released a much-anticipated study on the U.S. credit reporting industry. The report found that a whopping 26 percent the report examined by the FTC included at least one “potentially material” error in one or more of their three credit reports from Experian, TransUnion or Equifax. This number is alarming, and the study (and media reaction) has been controversial. Some industry experts stress that the study also concluded that nearly 98 percent of consumers had no errors or errors material enough to cause them to get a less advantageous interest rate.  It’s important to note that the study also found that, once disputed, only five percent of consumers saw a substantial enough increase in their credit score that would lead to lower interest on things like a home or car loan. Still, if you consider that the three bureaus manage around 200 million consumers’ credit files, there are around 10 million people who could be paying more on their credit cards or loans thanks to a reporting error.

Regardless of the gravity of the error, no one wants their credit report riddled with errors. Luckily, Credit Sesame can help you out. Consumers should be proactive in assuring the accuracy of their credit report. Free services, such as Credit Sesame’s free credit monitoring, can help consumers protect their financial standing and ensure an accurate credit report. Sign up, and we’ll alert you when anything new appears on your credit report!

But what happens if you do find an error. We turned to John Ulzheimer, credit expert for Credit Sesame, for some advice on what consumers can do to dispute an error on their report.

John Ulzheimer: The credit report dispute process is fairly mysterious, which means most people don’t actually know what happens when they file a dispute with a credit reporting agency. Here’s a step by step process that should help clear things up a bit.

Step 1: File a Dispute

You communicate with the credit reporting agency(cies) that you disagree and formally dispute an item on your credit report(s). This can be done in writing, on the phone, over the Internet, or in person. It’s important that your dispute is clearly written in a way that a layman would understand it. For example, “I disagree with my credit report” is not a dispute. “I was never late on my XYZ Bank account, please correct my credit report” is a dispute. This is where your involvement ends and the “system” takes over.

Step 2: The Investigation

The credit reporting agency will send a form to the furnisher of the disputed information. The form is called an ACDV, which stands for Automated Credit Dispute Verifications. In the old days when I used to work for a credit bureau it was simply called a CDV, meaning it wasn’t terribly automated. This ACDV form is then sent to the furnisher of the disputed information via an Internet based system called e-OSCAR, which stands for Online Solution for Complete and Accurate Reporting.

Step 3: Verification of Dispute

The data furnisher (normally a lender or collection agency) receives the dispute and “processes” it. Basically the data furnisher confirms that what they sent to the credit bureaus is correct or incorrect by reviewing their records. If they believe what they sent is correct then they respond, via e-OSCAR, that what they sent is correct and no changes should be made. If, however, they determine that what they sent is incorrect they’ll make corrections and the consumer’s credit reports will be updated.

Step 4: Investigation Closed

The credit bureaus will now either update the consumer’s credit reports –or not, based on the data furnisher’s response. Either way, the credit bureaus will send the consumer a communication, normally in the mail, giving them the results of the investigation. At this point the industry considers the dispute closed.

Next Steps: What if the Dispute is Rejected?

If the consumer still disagrees with the way an item is being shown on their credit reports, they can choose to re-dispute the item with the credit bureaus and steps 2-4 will happen again. However, it’s likely to yield the same outcome so this might be a waste of time for the consumer. And, if the consumer simply files the same dispute verbatim, the credit bureaus can choose to ignore the dispute as being frivolous. This can occur if the consumer has hired a credit repair company that is simply disputing negative credit information –regardless of whether it’s accurate or not –over and over in hopes of getting it removed.

If the consumer wants to ensure that a second or third dispute of the same item isn’t ignored then they’ll want to provide new context or supporting documentation. This triggers a requirement for the credit bureaus to investigate the item again. And, of course, the consumer can always bypass the credit bureaus and take their dispute directly to the furnishing party.

Most consumers don’t know that they don’t have to file disputes with the credit bureaus and that banks, other financial service providers, and collection agencies also have obligations to investigate if you contact them directly. But, be aware that if you skip the credit bureaus entirely you can’t file a claim against them for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You must give the credit bureaus an opportunity to correct any alleged inaccuracies before you can sue them for credit report errors.

As you can imagine, Steps 2-4 happen very quickly thanks to automation. In fact, most disputes run their course within a couple of weeks. This is well in advance of the requirement for the credit bureaus to complete investigations within 30 – 45 days, albeit perhaps, not satisfactorily completed in the consumer’s mind.

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