How to Dispute Credit Report Errors

Submit a Dispute to the Credit Bureau

The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a Federal law that defines the type of information that can be listed on your credit report and for how long (generally seven years). The FCRA says that you have the right to an accurate credit report and because of that provision, you can dispute errors with the credit bureau.

Credit report disputes are easiest when made online or via mail. To make a dispute online, you must have recently ordered a copy of your credit report. You can submit a dispute with the credit bureau who provided the credit report.

To dispute via mail, write a letter describing the credit report and submit copies of any proof you have. The credit bureau investigates your dispute with the business that provided the information and removes the entry if they find that is indeed an error.

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Disputing Inaccurate Hard Inquiries Yourself

It’s important to check your credit reports regularly for accuracy. If, while doing this, you’ve noticed a hard inquiry on your credit report that you believe is the result of identity theft, you can file a dispute with each of the three national credit reporting agencies and petition to have them update the inaccurate information.

The first step is to review your Experian credit report through our Dispute Center and verify your information. Next, confirm that the inquiry was not a result of identity theft.

There may be situations where you don’t recognize the name of a company that checked your credit or you don’t remember applying for a loan with a company you do recognize. Here are a few scenarios when inquiries you don’t recognize may be legitimate:

  • You may have solicited a home repair and provided your Social Security number to the vendor, and they may have taken that as an authorization to check your credit for financing reasons.
  • If you sought financing when you were shopping for a car, a dealership may have sent your loan application to multiple lenders to find you the most favorable interest rates. Multiple inquiries with company names that you don’t recognize could show up from that time period. If they all fell within a window of a few weeks, they will be considered rate shopping and will only count as a single inquiry in credit score calculations.
  • The same scenario could happen with mortgage applications. For example, you may have solicited mortgage rates online, where a website sent your application to multiple lenders to find you the best rate. Also, you may have worked with mortgage servicer who sent your application to a lender, and that lender may have checked your credit on behalf of the mortgage servicer.
  • Another example when a hard inquiry may look like fraud involves store credit cards. National retail stores may use financial services companies for their store cards, and when inquiries are made, they may show up with company names you don’t recognize. For example, if you apply for credit at Kay Jewelers, you may see an inquiry from “Comenity Bank/Kay” on your credit report.

If you don’t recognize the company name that performed the hard inquiry, contact the company for more information. When you check your credit report through the Experian Dispute Center, the hard inquiry will be accompanied by the company name and typically the mailing address and a phone number.

If you have verified that the hard inquiry is due to identity theft, then the dispute would be handled over the phone with Experian specialists. You can visit our Dispute Center to find out support options. There is no charge to use this service.

Once you submit the request, you can track your progress through the Dispute Center. Generally, the dispute process will be done within 30 days. If the inquiry was found to be valid, it will not be removed from your credit report. However, if the investigation shows the inquiry was a result of identity theft, it will be removed from your report.

3. Choose a Plan of Action

Here are three actions you can take to attempt to remove collection accounts listed on your report.

1. Dispute Inaccurate or Incomplete Collection Accounts

If you have inaccurate or incomplete collection accounts on your credit report, the Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you the power to dispute this information directly with the credit bureaus or creditor. You can send a dispute using the dispute form on each credit bureau’s website. The Federal Trade Commission has sample dispute letters on its website if you need help crafting one.

After you submit your dispute, a credit reporting company has 30 days to investigate your claim. If the credit bureau finds the provided information correct, the collection account will be removed from your report. However, if it finds that the company reporting the information was correct, the collection account will stay on your report for up to seven years.

2. Ask for a Goodwill Deletion

If you have a paid collection listed on your report, you can simply ask the debt collector or original collector to remove the collection. This usually involves sending the debt collector or collection agency a goodwill deletion letter explaining your mistake, asking for its forgiveness and showing them how your payment history has improved.

With this option, there’s no guarantee your collection will be removed from your credit report, but it’s worth a shot. If the account is removed, it may help you qualify for better terms on personal loans, mortgages and credit cards.

3. Wait Until It Falls Off

When the debt in question is legitimate and you can’t convince the debt collector to delete it from your report, your only remaining option is to wait. After seven years from the date the account first became delinquent, the collection should fall off of your credit report.

Although this means the collection will continue to impact your credit score; its impact will lessen as time passes.

2. File A Dispute With The Credit Agency

If you take the time to look at your free yearly Canadian credit report, there’s a fair chance you’ll find some reporting errors. Perhaps a past credit card is listed as delinquent – despite the fact that you paid off the entire account, and then closed it.

If you do notice inaccuracies in your credit report, you can challenge it via Transunion or Equifax – creditors will have 30 days to respond. Be prepared to furnish proof of your claims – if you’re right, the incorrect items could be removed from your report entirely.

Credit Repair Strategies That Dont Work

  • Filing for bankruptcy: Even though you eliminate your debt when filing for bankruptcy, your credit score will be severely damaged. Additionally, the note of your bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for seven to ten years.
  • Closing a line of credit that is behind on payments: This affects your credit to debt ratio and does not really remove the debt owed which negatively impacts your credit score calculation.

A Credit Report is Complex Yet Simple

Your credit report changes every month. All your lenders add and subtract information. Your report from each credit bureau is different from the other two bureau’s files on you.

Then, all this data gets distilled into a three-digit number that most lenders equate with your identity. It’s easy to see why credit is so confusing and frustrating.

But here’s a simpler way to look at it: To get rid of your bad credit, you can:

  • Remove Negative Information
  • Add Positive Information
  • Be Patient

Ultimately, that’s how you play this game. This post has been about removing negative information because doing this can increase your score quickly.

But adding positive information is just as important. You can add positive data by making on-time payments, keeping your credit card balances paid down, and applying for new credit only when you feel certain you’ll get approved.

Over time you’ll start seeing your credit score climb.

Removing Bad Credit History with Credit Repair

Hiring a credit repair firm is another option for paying to delete bad credit information. “Credit repair agencies essentially do the work for you by contacting the credit reporting agencies and providing objections to errors contained in the report or requesting that items that are untrue or incorrect be removed from the report,” says McClelland. In this instance, you’re not necessarily paying off any outstanding balances. However, you will pay a fee to the credit repair firm to act on your behalf in having negative information removed.

The fees that a credit repair company charges can vary. Typically, there are two types of fees: an initial setup fee, and a monthly service fee. The initial fee can range from $10 to $100, while the monthly fee typically runs from $30 to $100 a month, although some companies do charge more.

When considering the fees, it’s important to weigh what you’re getting in return. According to the Federal Trade Commission, credit repair firms can’t legally do anything for you that you can’t do for yourself. You just have to be willing to spend the time reviewing your credit reports for negative or inaccurate information, reaching out to the credit bureaus to dispute that information, and following up on those disputes to make sure they’re being investigated.

If you decide that the time-saving aspect of working with a credit repair firm is worth your money, then thoroughly research any firms you’re considering to make sure you’ll be working with one of the best credit repair companies available. Joseph says most credit repair agencies are legitimate, but if you come across one that’s making promises that seem too good to be true or using methods to repair credit that aren’t covered by the FCRA, that’s a red flag that the company might be a scam.

Also, consider the timing before pursuing credit repair services. “After several years of being on your report, the negative impact on your credit score has likely passed,” says McClelland. That’s because negative information eventually can fall off your credit report automatically.

Important Late payments and collection accounts can stay on your credit history for up to seven years. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years.

Can a collection agency report an old debt as new?

Collection agencies cannot report old debt as new. If a debt is sold or put into collections, that is legally considered a continuation of the original date. It may show up multiple times on your credit report with different open dates, but they must all retain the same delinquency date. They should also all be discharged on the same date — seven years after the original open date.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a collection on your credit reports?

A collection account is created when a debt you’ve failed to repay is transferred to a collection agency. You’re still on the hook for paying the debt once it’s sold, but you typically have to pay the collection agency instead of the original creditor.

Debts aren’t usually turned over to collections the moment you make a late payment, but the time between your first missed payment and the transfer can vary. It may take several months, it may happen immediately, or it may never happen at all, depending on the creditor.

Once the debt has been turned over to collections, it’s generally reported to the credit bureaus. It’ll then appear on your credit reports and, as a result, damage your credit scores until it’s removed.

Can you remove a collection from your credit reports without paying?

Technically, the answer is yes. It’s unlikely, though.

There are a few ways you could try. They’re essentially the same steps you’d take to request a paid account be removed:

  • File a dispute with the credit bureau and/or ask the collection agency to validate the debt if you believe the collection account is inaccurate.
  • If the account is legitimate but you’ve paid some of it and/or have exhibited responsible behavior otherwise, send the collection agency a goodwill letter requesting the unpaid collection be removed from your reports.

If the above routes fail, you’re probably out of luck. And remember that even if a collection account is removed from your credit reports, you’re still liable for the debt.

Make a Goodwill Request for Deletion

With pay for delete, you can use money as the bargaining chip for getting negative information removed from your credit report. If you’ve already paid the account, however, you don’t have much-negotiating power. At this point, you can ask for mercy by requesting a goodwill deletion.

In a letter to the creditor, you might describe why you were late, state how you’ve since been a good paying customer, and ask that the accounts be reported more favorably. Again, creditors don’t have to comply and some won’t. On the other hand, some creditors will make these deletions if you talk to the right person.

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4. File A Complaint With The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

If you have noticed inaccuracies or outdated information on your credit report, and have been unable to get a response from the relevant creditors, you can turn to The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

On their website, you can find forms to dispute both against inaccuracies from financial companies, as well as credit card companies.

If you have a legitimate claim to have a negative item removed from your credit report, but have been unable to resolve it in any other way, filing a complaint is sure to get the notice of your creditors.

How To Correct Mistakes in Your Credit Report

Both the credit bureau and the business that supplied the information to a credit bureau have to correct information that’s wrong or incomplete in your report. And they have to do it for free. To correct mistakes in your report, contact the credit bureau and the business that reported the inaccurate information. Tell them you want to dispute that information on your report. Here’s how.

What happens after you dispute with a credit bureau

  • However you filed your dispute, the credit bureau has 30 days to investigate it.
  • If the credit bureau considers your request to be “frivolous” or “irrelevant,” they will stop investigating, but they need to notify you of that and give the reason. For instance, you may need to give them additional evidence to support your request.
  • The credit bureau will also forward all the evidence you submitted to the business that reported the information. Then, the business must investigate and report the results back to the credit bureau. If the business finds the information they reported is inaccurate, it must notify all three nationwide credit bureaus so they can correct the information in your file.
  • The credit bureau must give you the results in writing and, if the dispute results in a change, a free copy of your credit report. This doesn’t count as your free annual credit report.
  • The credit bureau
    • must send notices of the correction(s) to anyone who got your report in the past six months, if you ask
    • must send notice of the correction to anyone who got a copy for employment purposes during the past two years, if you ask

What if the investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute

  • You can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your file and in future reports. Also, you can ask that the credit bureau give your statement to anyone who got a copy of your report in the recent past  —  you can expect the credit bureau to charge you a fee to do this.

Dispute it with the business that supplied the information

  • Use this sample letter to dispute mistakes with businesses that reported the inaccurate or incomplete information.
    • The letter should say you’re disputing errors and should include: your complete name and address; each bit of inaccurate information that you want fixed, and why; and copies (not originals) of documents that support your request.
    • Many businesses want disputes sent to a particular address. If you can’t find a dispute address on your credit report or online, contact the business and ask for the correct address to send your letter.

What happens after you dispute with a business that supplied the information

If the business keeps reporting the disputed information to a credit bureau, it must let the credit bureau know about your dispute and the credit bureau must include a notice that you are disputing it as inaccurate or incomplete. If the business finds the information you dispute to be inaccurate or incomplete, the business must tell the credit bureau to update or delete that information from your report.

How to dispute accurate information in your credit report

Accurate items in your record can’t be removed before the term set by law expires, which is seven years for most negative items. For example, if you truly missed payments on your credit card, your dispute to remove that information will be denied. However, the information will automatically fall off your credit report seven years from the time you missed the payments.

If you do have valid negative items on record, here are some things that might help:

1. Send a request for “goodwill deletion”

Writing a goodwill letter can be a viable option for people who are otherwise in good standing with creditors. If you’ve taken steps to pay down your overall debt and have been paying your monthly bills on time, you might be able to convince your creditor to “forgive” the late payment.

While there’s no guarantee that the creditor will delete the derogatory information, this strategy does get results for some. Goodwill letters are most successful for one-off problems, such as a single missed payment. However, they are not effective for debtors with a history of late payments, defaults or collections.

When writing the letter:

  • Take responsibility for the issue that lead to the derogatory mark
  • Explain why you didn’t pay the account
  • If you can, point out good payment history before the incident

2. Work with a credit counseling agency

Several non-profit credit counseling organizations, like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), can help dispute inaccurate information on your record.

The NFCC can provide financial counseling, help review your credit history and help you organize your budget or place you in a debt management plan free of charge. It also offers counseling for homeownership, bankruptcy and foreclosure prevention.

As always, be wary of companies that overpromise, make claims that are “too good to be true” and ask for payment before rendering services.

When looking for a legitimate credit counselor, the FTC advises consumers to check if they have any complaints with:

  • Your state’s Attorney General
  • Local consumer protection agencies
  • The United States Trustee program

3. Negotiate a pay-for-delete

Pay-for-delete is a negotiation strategy in which you offer to pay your debt (partly or in full) and, in exchange, the collection agency agrees to remove the derogatory item from your file. This process is meant to remove negative items that are correctly reported, such as missed credit card payments or loan defaults.

In a nutshell, you would send a letter to the collection agency or creditor notifying them that you’re prepared to pay off the account as long as the information is retracted from your report.

Note that, in most cases, this tactic is a long-shot — collection agencies are not required to respond to your request if the information reported is indeed accurate. If they do, they might send a written offer confirming that they will retract the item and stating their preferred payment methods.

Are pay-for-delete negotiations worth it?

Since collection agencies want to get back as much money as possible, paying the debt may be enough incentive for them to remove the negative entry. However, pay-for-delete is not a dependable solution, and it falls in a legal gray area.

Collection agencies are required by law to report accurate information, just like reporting companies and creditors. While you can certainly request it, a collection agency has the right to refuse your request. They may agree to label the collection as paid (if you did in fact pay it), but they won’t delete the collection entry itself.

Also, note that pay-for-delete agreements might not improve your score. The most recent credit score models (FICO 9 and VantageScore 4.0) don’t factor in paid collection accounts when calculating your score. This means that fully paying the account will have the same effect as negotiating a pay-for-delete. However, bear in mind that unpaid collections will still impact your score.

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