According to CBS News, approximately 80% of credit reports contain errors. These errors range from minor, such as a misspelling of your name, to an error on your address, to serious such as the same mortgage appearing twice on the report or a loan showing that it is still open when it in fact has been paid off. These latter examples can be enough to deny you future credit, especially if your debt to income ratio is perceived to be too high thanks to the error. I myself found an error on my credit report — a student loan I paid off over 12 years ago still shows as being current.
How do these errors occur? Some may be simple typographical errors, while others occur when a loan is sold to another institution. Regardless of how the errors occur, it is important that you find them and correct them so that your credit report reflects your true credit history.
What is a credit report?
Before we go ont o fixing an error it’s important to understand what a credit report is versus a credit score (a lot of people confuse these). A Credit Report is a snapshot of your credit history. It shows the accounts you have open and how it’s been used and paid (as well as some personal information). A Credit Score is a metric created by credit bureaus to give lenders and such an easier way to evaluate how credit-worthy you are, showing how much a credit company should trust you paying them back (the higher the score the better). This is based on your credit report.
Steps to Fix an Error on Your Credit Report
Order a free credit report.
Everyone is entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion at Annual Credit Report. Request a free credit report from the credit bureau of your choice; then four months later, request your credit report from a different credit bureau, and finally, four months after that, request a credit report from the last credit bureau. (I suggest staggering them like this so you can do double duty—you can not only look at the reports for errors, but you can also keep tabs on your credit to make sure you have not become a victim of credit theft in the four months since you pulled the last report.)
Check the report carefully for errors.
Remember, 4 out of 5 credit reports contain errors, so yours likely does. Go over the report carefully looking for both typographical errors and loans that appear outstanding even though you know they are paid off or incorrect loan or credit amounts.
Send a certified letter to the offending agency.
In this letter, specifically state all of the errors that you found and what the corrections should be. You should also include a copy of your credit report with the incorrect information circled and documentation proving that what you argue the credit report should say is legitimate. For instance, if you have a student loan that shows as outstanding, include a copy of your documentation that shows it is paid off. Also make sure to include your full name and mailing address.
After you send this off, the agency has 30 days to fix the error. Sending certified is important because you have documentation of the exact day your request was received and by whom. If the credit bureau decides that there was an error, they should send you a new credit report and also contact the other two credit bureaus regarding the error.
Send a letter to the offending company.
In addition to the offending agency, make sure to also send a letter to the company whose account is in error. Again, clearly explain what the error is and what the correction should be and include documentation to show that you are correct.
There is some paperwork to go through to correct your credit report, but it is well worth your time and effort. Some errors can lead to a higher interest rate for loans you are currently applying for (which can cost you thousands), and some errors may lower your credit score and lead to rejection when applying for a mortgage or other important loans. Unfortunately, even after you have corrected your credit report, you will have to be vigilant as more errors may appear.