You already know you have a credit report. (Well, three, but we can get to that later). You already know that the information on your credit report affects your credit scores (more than one there, too). But did you know that there’s a fairly decent chance that you have an error on one or more of your credit reports, and that the error could be dragging your credit scores down?
This can be an incredibly frustrating realization for anyone who’s working hard to clean up their credit or reach a higher score. It’s also the reason it’s so important to regularly review your credit reports. After all, you can’t fix credit report errors you don’t know about.
Here are some of the most common credit report mistakes to look out for when you review your reports.
The Most Common Credit Report Mistakes
There are three different companies that generate credit reports for you (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion), which is why we all have three credit reports. It also adds to the likelihood that you might find errors on your credit report — even if two of the three credit reports get everything right, one might be carrying a damaging error.
You can find your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and get all three for free once per year. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), here are some of the most common errors to look out for when you review your reports:
Your Personal Information Was Entered Incorrectly
Seemingly small errors can have a massive impact on your credit reports. For example, a simple mistyped social security number could lead to someone else’s information showing up on your report. Check your name, the spelling of your name, your date of birth, your address and former addresses, and your social security number to be sure all of those details have been entered in properly.
Someone Else’s Information Showing Up on Your Report
Besides the reason above, someone else’s information could also show up on your report because they’ve fraudulently opened an account in your name or using your social security number. Whether caused by a clerical error or identity theft, it’s critical to make sure no one else’s accounts are being listed in your reports.
Another common error on credit reports is out-of-date information. It could be that a closed account is being listed as open, a removed account is suddenly back on your report, and more. Carefully review all of your account information to be sure it’s accurate so outdated information doesn’t affect your credit scores.
Incorrectly Being Shown as an Account Owner
One way parents might try to help their young adult children build credit is to add them to their accounts as authorized users. Couples might do the same for each other. But there is a difference between being an account owner and an authorized user — and a common credit reporting error is to show an authorized user as an owner. If you’re an authorized user on someone else’s credit accounts, make sure you’re listed as such on your credit report.
Similar to out-of-date information, you might see one account on your credit reports listed more than once. The accounts could be straight up duplicates or one account showing up twice with different names for each (say the name of a retailer for your store card, and the card issuer of that card again as a separate account). Duplicate accounts can really hurt your credit report if they’re also accounts that you owe a balance on, making your debt load look bigger than it is.
Incorrect Details About Your Accounts
Finally, even if all the accounts listed are your own, you should still review the details of each account. That means your payment history, account balances, and credit limits. Your payment history and credit utilization are the two most influential factors of your credit score, so it’s imperative to get these details right. It’s also important to check your account numbers to make sure they’re being displayed correctly.
What to Do If You Find an Error on Your Credit Report
If you see any errors on your credit report, immediately dispute the mistake with the credit reporting agency showing it. The idea of disputing mistakes with the credit reporting agencies might seem like too big of an ordeal to take on, but it’s a lot easier than you might think.
You can dispute errors on your credit report directly with the credit reporting agency showing the report, or you can use tools like Upturn Credit to help. Either way, the sooner you start a dispute, the sooner you can work to resolve the issue and get the credit scores you deserve.
[FREE Tool: Worried a mistake on your credit report could be bringing your credit score down? Try this…]
Why It’s a Good Idea to Stay on the Lookout for Credit Report Mistakes
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) did a study on credit report errors. They found that one out of every four participants had an error on their credit reports. What’s more, the error was one that could affect their credit scores. Several years later, in 2015, they did a follow-up study with a handful of the participants from the original study. Here’s what they learned:
“ … 84 of these consumers (nearly 70 percent) continue to believe that at least some of the disputed information is inaccurate. Of those 84 consumers, 38 of them (45 percent) said they plan to continue their dispute, and 42 (50) percent plan to abandon their dispute, while four consumers are undecided.”
This goes to show that errors can continue to show up on credit reports even after a dispute. At the same time, new errors can occur as new information gets sent to the credit reporting agencies — and you won’t know about it if you don’t review your credit reports.
As for those participants that chose to abandon their dispute? Once they find themselves in need of credit, that decision could cost them real money. Credit scoring company FICO created a booklet to help explain credit scores. It provides a hypothetical comparison of the overall cost of a mortgage with a good credit score and a bad credit score. The person with the lower credit score ends up paying an extra $93,924 in interest over the life of a 30-year mortgage.
In other words, if credit reporting errors are dragging your credit scores down, you could end up paying higher interest rates on credit. In that case, staying on the lookout for (and fixing) credit report errors could lead to lower interest rates.