Correcting Your Credit Report
by Gary Foreman
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I recently applied for a loan. My credit report came back stating serious delinquency, serious overdue amounts, etc. This is absolutely untrue. I believe they have me confused with another person with the same name. I have contacted the company through e-mail, phone and by regular mail. I've been charged $8 for a credit report from Experian. Three months later, still no credit report even after being promised mailing would occur in 8-10 business days. There are many phone numbers to this company but no way to speak to a human being about how to get my credit report. I have called the bank looking for alternative solutions and they have none. What do I do? I want to purchase a vehicle in the next year and I know I have excellent credit and have never been delinquent, but this is one tough obstacle. Can you lead me in the right direction?
Jody has come across a problem that we all face. Mistakes happen. In our modern world they seem to happen almost daily. And while we understand that everything can't be error free, some things are more critical than others. Errors in your credit report can be very serious.
Let's begin by briefly explaining who plays what part in this story. Credit Reporting Agencies (CRA's) collect information from different companies (creditors) that you do business with. They compile the information into a report that's purchased by other companies that you hope will give you a mortgage, auto loan, credit card or a job. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs the way that information can be used and provides rules to correct inaccurate information. The process is monitored by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Now let's look at Jody's situation. First, if Jody was turned down for a loan because of the report he's entitled to a free copy if he requests it within 60 days. Any correspondence with a CRA (except for a routine request for a credit report) should be made by certified mail with a return receipt requested. Not only will you have proof that the CRA was contacted, but they'll also know that you have that proof and handle your correspondence accordingly.
Once Jody has the report the next step is to identify any inaccuracies. He would expect to see some strange accounts.
Jody will want to notify Experian (the CRA) in writing that there is a problem. The mailing should include a copy (not the original) of his credit report with the incorrect accounts identified. In a cover letter he should explain specifically what he believes is inaccurate, why he thinks it's wrong and what action he expects the CRA to take.
In this case he might say that he is not delinquent with XYZ Company because he does not have an account with them. As evidence that they have the wrong person he could point out that the address listed is different than his. He should also state that he expects the CRA to remove the account with XYZ from his file.
The explanation should be specific. Usually you'll be reporting that a debt is either 'not late' or 'not mine'. The CRA needs to understand whether you're disputing the entire listing (Jody's case) or just some of the information within the listing.
The tone of Jody's letter is also important. A simple statement of the facts is best. Jody is the victim of inaccurate information. There's no need to threaten or pretend to be an expert. Don't exaggerate your claim. It could be a crime in your state to lie when disputing credit information.
Also, don't seek silly corrections. Complaining that one monthly payment wasn't three days late isn't going to help if that account has been turned over to a collection agency.
Jody may have received a form from the CRA to report inaccuracies. He's more likely to have success by ignoring the form and writing a letter. The forms are too generic to allow for a proper explanation.
The law requires the CRA to investigate any non-frivolous reports. They're expected to initiate the process within 30 days. But, that doesn't mean the your report will be corrected that quickly.
The CRA will contact XYZ Company in an attempt to verify Jody's claim. In a case like this it should be easy to find out that they have the wrong person. Obviously, it's tougher to determine the truth if the question revolves around which day the mortgage company got your check.
When the investigation is complete the CRA must give you written results of their findings. If your credit report is changed because of the investigation they'll give you a new copy. If you ask the CRA, they're also required to give the corrected information to anyone who has received a copy of your credit report in the last six months.
In addition to writing to the CRA, Jody should also write to any company that is reporting incorrect information. Again, he should include a copy of the credit report with the item highlighted and explain why he's disputing the item. It will look much like the letter to the CRA except he'll be asking them to notify the CRA of the correction.
The creditor is also required to investigate and correct any inaccurate data. If a correction is made they must report it to CRA's they work with.
If Jody has clear factual evidence to back up his challenge it shouldn't be that hard to get a correction. After all, the CRA doesn't gain by having bad information in their files. But not all disputes can be easily resolved. If Jody runs into a brick wall and has good evidence to back up his claims he might want to contact the Federal Trade Commission.
We hope that Jody is able to get these inaccuracies cleared up easily and enjoys that new vehicle that he's contemplating.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.
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