Discovering and resolving mistakes on credit reports can be complicated. We often hear from users of our Credit Report Card who’ve noticed a sudden drop in their credit score accompanied by an unexplained delinquency. That leads to more digging and finding an error on one or more of their three bureau credit reports. That’s where it all starts. Once you’ve confirmed there’s a mistake on your credit report, you’ll need to make two important decisions.
The first is whether to dispute the information with the credit reporting agency or the company giving the information to the credit reporting agency. (Need help picking? Here’s a quick guide to deciding.)
The second decision you’ll need to make is whether to send in your complaint via snail mail (make sure to send it certified mail) or file it online. Both have pros and cons, but if you’ve decided to dispute a credit report mistake by mail here are some important rules to follow:
1. Include identification information. Your name, current address and last four digits of your Social Security number should be at the top of your letter. Also include the credit report reference number, if one is available.
2. Identify the item that’s wrong. Clearly describe the account with the information that’s wrong; for example, “Visa credit card account number ending in 5678 opened 6/18/2006.”
3. Be brief, clear and to the point. The average credit report dispute is processed in a matter of minutes so don’t expect the person processing your dispute to pour over several pages of narrative. Make sure you clearly state the reason for your dispute close to the top and put any other relevant information into bullets. If your letter is more than one page, it’s too long.
4. Write clearly or type your complaint. If your handwriting is legible, feel free to handwrite your complaint. If it’s not, type it.
5. Don’t quote credit protection laws. You don’t need to reference the section of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that applies to disputes. The credit reporting agencies know they have to investigate consumer disputes. Reference the FCRA and it may sound like you are being coached by a credit repair firm.
6. Include copies of documentation, if available. If you have something that documents your side of the story, feel free to include a copies – not originals. Highlight any particularly relevant parts; for example, a statement from the credit card issuer that it would remove certain negative information from your reports.
7. Let them know you’re speaking up. If you have tried to resolve your dispute but are getting nowhere, you may want to put a CC: at the bottom of your letter, indicating you’ll also be sending a copy to the Better Business Bureau, your state attorney general’s office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There’s no need to do this the first time you complain, but if you aren’t getting results, getting others involved may help your dispute get the attention it deserves.
8. Ask a friend or relative to proofread it. Ask someone you trust to take a quick look at the letter to get their opinion on whether the reason for your dispute is clear. If they don’t understand it, the person reading the letter may not either.
Jane Q. Consumer
123 Main Street
Anytown, USA 12345
May 21, 2012
Ref #: 000-111-2222
To Whom It May Concern:
I would like to dispute the following item on my credit report:
Big Bank Mortgage Services.
Partial account number 5678.
My credit report shows a 30-day late payment in the amount of $631.75 for May 2011. However, I was not late. I have enclosed copies of my statements for April, May and June 2011 that together clearly show my payment for May was not 30 days late.
Please correct this as soon as possible. Thank you,
Jane Q. Consumer
Jane Q. Consumer
Here are the addresses and links necessary to file a dispute with the major credit bureaus.
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
P.O. Box 9556
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022
For more Credit 101, check out these posts:
- What’s a Credit Score? Really.
- What’s Really in Your Credit Report?
- A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes
- How Much Will One Late Payment Hurt Your Credit Scores?
Image: annilove, via Flickr