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Have you ever wanted to buy a house or a car? Or open a rewards credit card?
In order to have the greatest chance at getting the lowest interest rates or best terms for any of these things, you’ll want to have the best credit scores possible.
Yet there may be a hidden obstacle that could harm your chances: errors on your credit reports. According to a 2013 report from the Federal Trade Commission, about 25% of consumers who participated in the FTC study identified errors on their credit reports that had the potential to affect their credit scores.
Credit reporting errors are surprisingly common. Unfortunately, it’s up to you to discover and report any inaccurate information in your files. Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, the three major credit bureaus, let you dispute inaccuracies on their respective consumer credit reports online or by mail. You can use your Credit Karma account to help you keep tabs on your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports, and make sure there aren’t any errors listed. You can also check for errors on your credit reports through annualcreditreport.com.
Fortunately, it is possible to get these errors removed. You’ll need to file a dispute online or write a credit dispute letter, which isn’t difficult.
What is a credit dispute letter?
A credit dispute letter is a document you can send to the credit bureaus to point out inaccuracies on your credit reports and to request the removal of the errors. In the letter, you can explain why you believe the items are inaccurate and provide any supporting documents. If your dispute is resolved in your favor, the credit reporting company should remove the erroneous items in your file and update your report.
Not all creditors report to each of the three major consumer credit bureaus, so it’s a good idea to check for errors on your credit report from each of the three bureaus.
Justin Chidester, owner and certified financial planner and accredited financial counselor with Wealth Mode Financial Planning, gives an example of how credit dispute letters can work.
“I had one client who had a misunderstanding around the time he obtained in-store financing for an engagement ring,” Chidester says. “He felt like they were unclear about when his payments would start, and he ended up having a 30- to 59-day late payment reported.”
Chidester wrote a letter to the credit bureau requesting that the information be deleted on the grounds that the store was “misleading about payment arrangements.” Fortunately, the credit bureau listened to him and his client’s credit report was soon squeaky clean.
What should I include in my credit dispute letter?
When you write a credit dispute letter to a credit bureau, you first need to identify your credit report — this can be a bigger task than it sounds, especially since the credit bureau in question may have information from almost everyone in the country who’s being reported on. After identifying your report, you’ll need to provide information on the error, as well as an explanation as to why you’re disputing the item. And finally, your credit dispute letter should include a request for the credit bureau to remove the item from your credit report.
By giving the bureau the necessary information, it should have what it needs to make a decision on your case.
Here’s what you should include.
- Current date
- Your information (name, contact info, date of birth and account number)
- The credit bureau’s contact information
- A brief description of the error (no need to regale them with a long and complicated story)
- Any documents you may have that can help prove your point, such as payment records or court documents (make sure to mention that you’re sending these in the letter)
- Instructions about what you want the credit bureau to do (reinvestigate and remove the item from your report)
- A copy of your credit report with the error highlighted
- A scanned copy of your government-issued ID (such as your driver’s license) and a bill or some other document to prove your address
Sample credit dispute letter
123 First Lane
Anytown, FL 12345
May 1, 2018
To whom it may concern:
I am writing to inform you about an error I noticed on my TransUnion credit report (account number 1234-56789).
I am requesting that you remove this information from my credit report.
Thank you for your help.
(sign your name here)
Where can I send my credit dispute letter?
Here are the addresses for the three major credit bureaus.
PO Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
PO Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Make sure to keep copies of any records you send to the credit bureaus.
“Always send via certified mail” Chidester advises.
If there’s one hassle you don’t want to deal with, it’s not knowing whether your credit dispute letter has arrived, especially since you’re expected to include sensitive information in the letter.
What does the credit dispute process look like?
Bureaucracies have a reputation for moving at a glacial pace. But credit bureaus are generally required to investigate the dispute within 30 days of receiving your letter. Better yet, each bureau is required to wrap up its investigation and notify you of its judgment within 90 days at the latest.
In some cases, the credit bureaus might ask for more information. They may also reject your claim.
“If you don’t get the answer you want the first time, don’t just give up,” says Jason Hamilton, a financial planner and author. “You may need to go back and forth multiple times. And if you know you are correct and can’t get the bureaus to agree with you, don’t be afraid to contact a lawyer.”
“I often have my clients send in the same letter with slightly changed verbiage for a second, and sometimes third, round,” he says, going on to describe how it’s had some success with his clients. “Occasionally, on the second or third attempt, the dispute will be resolved as requested even if the first try was rejected.”
There’s no doubt about it — finding errors on your credit reports can be especially irksome. But the rewards of successfully disputing those errors could be well worth the trouble if it improves your credit health.