Negative information in credit reports can affect a consumer’s life. Lower credit ratings and overall creditworthiness affects your ability to secure housing, loans, and even employment opportunities. Incorrect negative information in a credit report can be especially frustrating. However, with sufficient evidence, credit reporting agencies are required to correct any inaccurate or false information.
In 1970, the U.S. Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA), requiring credit reporting agencies to compile and report fair and accurate information and correct any negative information that is inaccurate. The FRCA also pertains to those providing the information to credit agencies, such as banks, credit card companies, financial lenders, and agencies selling medical records, check writing histories, and those using credit reports for employment purposes. Most importantly, the FRCA protects consumers, guaranteeing the right to dispute incorrect information contained in credit reports and request the data be corrected.
What Should I Do if I Find Incorrect Information in My Credit Report?
Incorrect information can appear in credit reports generally due to having the same name and spelling, typographical errors, and identity theft. In such circumstances, you can file a dispute with the credit reporting agency to request the information be corrected. Disputes should be sent in the form of a letter and include the following supporting documentation:
- Birth certificate, Social Security number, and death or divorce documents.
- A copy of a government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or passport.
- Documentation of your current and past addresses for the previous two years with supporting current utility bills, bank, or insurance statements confirming your name and address.
- A printed copy of the credit report, highlighting the incorrect information and account.
- Loan documents and credit card statements showing terms and payments, if related.
- Police reports and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaints if the incorrect information is related to identity theft.
After you have compiled all relevant information, draft a letter detailing the incorrect information in your report, refer to the supplemental information, and request the agency perform an investigation and correct the information. If the information appears in all three agency’s reports, send the complete package to all three. If not, send to the appropriate agency. Refer to their websites for the procedures each requires for reporting disputes. You may also want to inform the business that supplied the incorrect information to the agencies as well.
Disputes take time, but you should act quickly in filing one when you discover incorrect information in your report. Not doing so can further damage your rating, score, and creditworthiness each month. Once you file the dispute, agencies typically quit reporting the affected portions to not further lower your scores until the matter is resolved.
What Should I Expect From the Credit Bureaus Regarding My Dispute?
Once received, the agencies are required under the FCRA to investigate and make a determination regarding the incorrect data within 30 days of receiving your dispute letter, which is why you should send your dispute packet by certified mail. If any agency fails to adhere to the 30-day requirement, they are in violation of FCRA regulations. However, agencies often finesse the 30-day rule using stall tactics by sending you various types of discouraging letters. Typical credit reporting agency responses and how to handle them include:
- No response: Under the FCRA, credit agencies are required to investigate and respond to disputes within 30 days of receiving the request and required to remove the negative information disputed. Agencies who do not follow either of these requirements are in violation. Try contacting the agency, demanding the information be removed, and follow up with a letter reminding them of their legal obligation. Keep a copy for your records and send the letter as certified mail, which requires a signature confirming the agency’s receipt of the letter and the date.
- Rejection as frivolous or irrelevant: All disputes must be original, and agencies will reject duplicate dispute requests as frivolous or irrelevant. In other words, if the agency’s investigation of your first dispute determined the information to be correct, you cannot file the same dispute if you challenge the agency again. If you are certain the negative information is wrong, you can submit another dispute, but you must include new information backing your claim in order for the agency to investigate again.
- Credit repair company: Credit reporting agencies may reject your dispute if they believe it is actually a credit repair company filing the dispute on your behalf. Contact the agency, reject the implication, and remind them of their requirements under the FCRA to investigate your dispute properly.
- Investigation announcement: Agencies sometimes use a clever tactic of sending an announcement letter that an investigation has begun in order to extend the time limit. Do not respond, as there is nothing you can do to speed up the process, but retain the letter in your files in case you need it for proof later.
- Forwarded dispute: In some circumstances, it may be more appropriate for a local credit bureau to be involved in your dispute. If so, you will receive a letter from the agency you submitted your claim to advising that they have forwarded the dispute. Keep in mind, this can extend the full process by two to three weeks.
- New report: Ideally, this is the communication you want to receive. If the agency’s investigation determined that the information was incorrect, they are required to provide you with a free copy of your new credit report documenting the corrections. You can use the new report to reapply to businesses if you were previously denied because of the false information. You do not have to take this step, as the agency is required to notify all who viewed your report within the past six months of the correction and for the previous two years if your report was viewed for employment purposes.
It is not uncommon for credit reporting agencies to employ stall tactics to delay the process and to avoid embarking on an investigation, which costs them, not you, and the expenses associated with correcting the report and notifying those necessary. Frequently the intent of sending you discouraging notices, such as some of the aforementioned letters, is in hopes that you will not pursue the matter further, saving them time and money.
Do not be discouraged, especially if the incorrect information pertains to a legal or criminal matter, which can remain on your credit report for up to seven years. Educate yourself on understanding your options, and be prepared to expect the agencies to employ these stall tactics at some point during the process.
You may need to follow up several times and request a reinvestigation, demand to be provided with the method of verification, send a warning letter, or file additional disputes. Each agency maintains different records, reports different information, and has their own procedures, so you are likely to get different responses from each agency. Just know that you are not required to accept their reasoning or stall tactics, and remember that you do have options.
If the credit reporting agencies still do not respond to your requests or continue to employ stalling tactics, it may be necessary to take more aggressive action, such as filing an official complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or initiating a lawsuit against the agencies. You are entitled to sue for noncompliance or negligence up to five years after the inaccurate information was reported or two years after you discovered it, depending on which came first.
Pittsburgh Credit Report Attorneys at East End Trial Group Advocate for Clients With Incorrect Credit Reports
Inaccurate and negative information in credit reports can cause a multitude of problems for years. While you are entitled to dispute the information, credit bureaus are not always cooperative. If you have filed a dispute that is being ignored or stalled by an agency, one of our experienced Pittsburgh credit report attorneys at East End Trial Group can help you file a dispute and correct the information. Call us at 412-223-5740 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pittsburgh, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.