Credit Reports. If you are struggling with a financial crisis, you may be overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness. Poor credit reports can be a continuous drain on your financial opportunities, and employers are increasingly resorting to credit reports to make hiring decisions. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) grants you the right to challenge false, inaccurate, or misleading information listed in your credit reports. The FCRA requires credit reporting agencies to verify challenged information and delete data that cannot be verified. Follow these three simple steps to remove false, inaccurate, or even misleading information from your credit reports.
Step One: Obtain a Recent Copy of Your Credit Reports
Www.AnnualCreditReport.com is the only aggregated resource currently authorized by the Federal Trade Commission to provide your truly-free credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You are entitled to free credit reports per year from each of the credit reporting agencies, and you may request additional free credit reports if you are dealing with identity theft issues, recent unemployment, and for other reasons. Although you do not have to request all three credit reports at once (e.g., you can stagger your requests over a year), it is best to start off with all three to determine a baseline. After determining any inaccuracies, you can then stagger future requests over a year. One strategy is to request one of your credit reports every 4 months from one of the 3 credit reporting agencies for an extended picture of what is being reported about you.
Step Two: Determine Which Items are Inaccurate
Bankruptcy can remain on your credit report for 7 – 10 years, but other negative items should only remain for up to approximately 7 years. Some credit data, such as unpaid federal tax liens, can remain on your credit reports forever.
Credit card defaults, unpaid personal loans, defaulted store credit cards, medical debts, and auto loan deficiencies should generally appear on your credit reports no more than about 7 years and 180 days from the date of default. It’s a complicated analysis, but waiting at least 7 ½ years is a good rule of thumb before challenging these items on the basis of age. The date of default, though, is very important because it determines the count down of this 7 ½ reporting period. If the date of default is inaccurate, derogatory information can stay on your credit reports longer than they have to.
Of course, if your credit reports are wrong for other reasons, e.g., identity theft, mismerged files (two people with similar identifying information), generational mistakes (father’s information appearing on his same-named son’s credit reports), or just plain errors, the FCRA dispute process provides the same rights to remove inaccurate information from your credit reports. In fact, it does not matter why your credit reports are inaccurate, it only matters how you can establish the inaccuracy.
Step Three: File Disputes with the Credit Reporting Agencies IN WRITING
The FCRA empowers you to dispute errors in your credit reports online, through the mail, or by telephone. However, NEVER dispute your credit reports in any manner other than in a writing that was mailed certified, return receipt requested. Again, NEVER dispute your credit reports in any manner other than mailing your written dispute certified mail, return receipt requested. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion all maintain websites where you can easily submit online disputes. Consumer Rights Attorneys believe this to be a ruse: Only the most minimal of information can be provided in support of your dispute; it’s cheaper to process your dispute with no corresponding benefit for the consumer; and you cannot upload supporting documentation. Disputing inaccurate credit reports by telephone present the same problems. You should not dispute your credit reports by telephone.
Errors on your credit reports must be disputed directly with the credit reporting agencies. No amount of disputes with the creditor or the entity furnishing the inaccurate credit information will ever be sufficient to trigger your rights under the FCRA. You must mail your written dispute directly to the credit reporting agency if you want your rights under the FCRA.
At this point, a well-drafted dispute letter (click here for a sample) in which you clearly identified what is wrong, clearly established why it’s wrong, and clearly described what you wanted done should be effective in removing inaccurate credit data from your credit reports. Unfortunately, a good resolution is an exception, not the norm: You may have to dispute your credit reports more than once.
Step Four: Consult with a Consumer Rights Attorney
Though the FCRA provides powerful remedies to keep your credit reports accurate, your rights are not self-enforcing. If your one or two written disputes were ineffective in clearing up your credit reports, it’s time to consult with a Consumer Rights Attorney. The credit reporting agencies are notorious for mishandling written disputes, ignoring them, or verifying plainly-wrong information without any explanation. At those times, a Consumer Rights Attorney will counsel as to the next steps.