Credit report errors are shockingly common, and errors can damage your credit. If you need a loan, damaged credit means you might end up paying a higher interest rate or even get declined.
That’s why it’s so important to review your free credit report every year and ensure your report is clean. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Download Your Free Credit Report
The three credit bureaus are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, and they start tracking your activity when you turn 18. You have a right to see what information the bureaus are using, so you can order your free credit report every 12 months at www.AnnualCreditReport.com, a service authorized by federal law thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
If you’ve never seen your credit report before, it might seem a little overwhelming because there is a lot of information on it. Your report will contain your personal information, list your potentially negative items, accounts in good standing, and requests for your credit history.
How long does something stay on your report? It depends:
- Open accounts
Up to 7 Years
- Most public record items
- Missed payments
- Paid liens
Up to 10 Years
- Accounts closed or paid off
- Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
- Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
- Chapter 12 Bankruptcy
- Unpaid liens
- Transferred accounts that have not been past due
2. Examine for Errors
So what exactly are you looking for? Go line-by-line and ensure that the information is accurate. Errors may be the result of identity theft or fraud, or they may simply be the result of a clerical error due to a common last name or similar Social Security Number.
Look out for these common issues:
- Incorrect name, address, and/or phone number.
- Accounts that don’t belong to you.
- Accounts reporting incorrect balances or credit limits.
- Incorrect account status — closed accounts reported as open, authorized user reported as account owner, duplicate entries, and/or wrong opening, payment, or delinquency date.
- Closed accounts that should no longer be reported.
3. File a Dispute With the Credit Bureaus
If your report checks out, great! Skip to step 7.
If you found an error, the next step is to notify the credit bureau in writing. Explain in detail why the information is wrong and include copies of any supporting documentation.
4. File a Dispute With the Creditor
If the creditor was responsible for making the mistake, they are responsible for sending corrected information to the credit bureaus.
Contact them in writing and include any supporting documentation.
The bureaus have 30 to 45 days to investigate your claim, and an additional 5 days following completion to report the results to you.
If you don’t agree with their finding, you can request to notate your claim on the credit report
6. Confirm Corrections
Corrections may take a month or more to take effect depending on the reporting cycle. Plan to review your credit report in a few months to confirm. If you don’t see any updates, contact the credit bureau.
7. Mark Your Calendar
It’s a good idea to review your credit report every year. That way you can rest assured that your report is clean or respond to any issues that may have cropped up over the past year.