In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) completed a study examining errors on American consumers’ credit reports. Some of the results were rather disturbing, namely that one in five consumers had errors on at least one of the credit reports issued by the three major credit reporting agencies. However, the study also found that about 20 percent of consumers who identified and disputed these errors were able to increase their credit score as a result. And as we all know, a higher credit score often means a lower interest rate—whether you’re applying for additional revolving credit, an auto loan or a mortgage.
If you’re preparing to buy a new home or refinance your current property, experts suggest you review your credit report for errors and take the necessary steps to dispute any inaccurate information you may find. Errors open to dispute include:
- Personal information, including incorrect spelling of your name, incorrect former and current addresses, and incorrect employment information. While these issues might be simple clerical errors, they can also indicate you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
- Credit accounts, including incorrect balances and incorrect payment history. Pay close attention to any late payments listed. These can have a major impact on your credit score, so you’ll want to dispute any payments noted as late that were actually submitted on time.
- Collection accounts, specifically credit cards, loans or medical fee charges listed as having been sent to collections when they were actually paid on time. If you notice collections for debts you don’t recognize, that could also be an indication of identity theft.
- Violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which includes derogatory marks—such as late payments, collections and foreclosures—that are more than seven years old. Chapter 7 bankruptcies can remain for 10 years .
You’ll need to check and correct your credit report at all three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. If you visit annualcreditreport.com , you can get a free report from each agency once every 12 months. Periodically reviewing these reports and addressing any errors will help you protect your credit and keep your score as high as possible—ultimately saving you money on interest.
To dispute an error, you’ll need to contact the credit reporting agency that issued the erroneous report. If you purchased a report complete with credit score from a service such as MyFico.com , you may be able to log a dispute online. Otherwise, you’ll need to submit notice of your dispute to the appropriate credit reporting agency in writing. The FTC offers a sample dispute letter here . Complete it and mail it, along with copies of supporting documentation, by certified mail. They also suggest you use the USPS ‘return receipt requested’ service so you can document when the credit reporting agency received your request.
Credit reporting agencies have 30 days to investigate the information under dispute. This includes notifying the organization that supplied the erroneous information of the dispute and reviewing the results of that organization’s subsequent investigation. Once the investigation is complete, the credit reporting agency must send you the results in writing along with a free copy of your report if the dispute resulted in any changes.
Do you want to learn more about the home buying and financing process? We’re here to help, whether you have a simple question or require more in-depth advice and assistance.