Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

So, you’ve read your credit reports and found something that isn’t right. What do you do now?

Get ready to file a dispute.

There’s no reason to let credit reporting errors drag down your credit scores — and filing a dispute on a credit report is easier than you might think. To make the process even easier, here’s all the information you might want to gather before you file a dispute.

4 Things You Need to Dispute a Credit Report

There are multiple ways to file a credit report dispute these days. You can file one online through the credit reporting agency (CRA) showing the error, you can do it through apps such as Upturn, or you can mail a letter to the appropriate CRA.

To help you prepare for whichever process you prefer, here’s a list of the things you’ll need to file a dispute on your credit report through the mail, most of which will also come in handy even if you opt to do so online instead.

1. Credit Reporting Bureau Contact Information

Before you do anything, it’s important to understand that there are three different CRAs (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and that they’re not interchangeable. If you spot an error on your Equifax report, for example, and dispute with Experian, then your dispute won’t work.

The CRAs are three different companies that will show you three different credit reports. Ideally, they should be fairly similar, but since lenders don’t have to report your account activity to all three, there will likely be differences. That’s why it’s so important to check your credit report from all three when you go to AnnualCreditReport.com for your free annual reports.

When you spot an error on your credit report, you should only dispute the error with the CRA whose credit report shows the error. And if it happens to be more than one of them, you’ll need to file separate disputes for each. Here’s what each CRA lists as their contact information for disputes:

  • Equifax
    Dispute online here
    Mail a dispute to Equifax, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
  • Experian
    Dispute online here
    Mail a dispute to Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
  • TransUnion
    Dispute online here
    Mail a dispute to TransUnion LLC, Consumer Dispute Center, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016

2. A Marked-Up Copy of Your Credit Report

Once you know for sure who the dispute should be sent to (the CRA from which the error originated), then it will be helpful to print out a copy of that CRA’s report. After you print it out, highlight or circle the sections showing the mistake to pinpoint the mistake in question.

For example, if you see an account on your credit report that you never authorized or co-signed, circle that entire section. On the other hand, if all accounts are yours but one includes a late payment that you know you made on time, you can circle the account and then draw an arrow to the late payment.

There’s no real right or wrong way to do this. The main idea is to make it easier for the person reviewing your dispute to see exactly what it is you’re disputing. The simpler it is for them, then hopefully the sooner the credit report mistake gets fixed.

3. Documents That Prove Your Case

Continuing along the lines of making it easier to process your dispute, it’s also a good idea to include in your dispute any documents that prove that the error is, in fact, an error.

An example of this could be if you have a late payment showing up on your credit report, but your financial statement indicates that you made the payment on time. Printing out that statement and circling the on-time payment helps show that your bank or lender reported the payment as on-time.

Something to consider here is items from your credit report that you don’t want to dispute. Only errors such as incorrect payment history, accounts you never authorized, incorrect account statuses, and so on should be disputed.

However, you might find that your credit report shows balances that don’t appear to be up-to-date. Unless the balance is way off — as in, you never had that balance before or it’s several months out of date — then you probably don’t want to dispute it. Lenders often report to CRAs once a month (or more if they choose to), so it’s not unusual to see a balance different than your current balance. The key is to make sure the balance reported is at least close to what it should be.

All that said, make sure any documents you’re planning on sending in are copies, not originals. That goes for your credit report, too. It’s best to keep originals on hand so they’re handy if you need them.

4. A Credit Report Dispute Letter

Finally, once all your documentation is put together, the last step is to write a credit report dispute letter. Here’s what to include in your letter, according to TransUnion:

  • The file number the credit bureau in question has for you (this could show up in different places depending on which CRA’s report you’re looking at, but a good place to look might be near your personal information)
  • Personal information such as your social security number, birthday, and address
  • The name of the company whose item on your credit report you’re disputing, as well as your account number with that company. This could be a credit card account or an auto loan, for example.
  • The reason why you’re making a dispute, and any corrections you want to see made

Format your letter just as you would a business letter (the Federal Trade Commission has a sample letter here). Make sure you include copies of any of the documents discussed above, and then mail the entire package to the proper address listed above using certified mail. By paying extra for certified mail, you can be sure your dispute got where it needed to go (and you’ll know when it got there, too).

What Happens After You Send in Your Dispute

Once you file your credit report dispute, the CRA has 30 days (21 days in Maine) to verify the information you’re disputing. According to Experian, if the data furnisher doesn’t respond within 30 days (21 in Maine) of the date they received the dispute from you, then they’ll make the change you requested.

It’s important to note that a CRA can decide your dispute is frivolous, at which point they don’t have to follow this process. That’s why it’s important to make sure the mistake you see on your credit report truly is a mistake, and that you’re not disputing things such as balances that are a few days old.

All told, the CRA will send you the results of their contact with your data furnisher or let you know if they need more information from you. They’ll also tell you when the investigation is complete.

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