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How to Dispute Credit Report Errors in 3 Steps

Checking your reports for errors is the first step to fixing mistakes that can be costly.
March 6, 2018
Credit Score, Personal Finance
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Errors in your credit reports can cause your scores to be lower than they should be — and fixing them can be a quick route to a better score, which can save you money on loans or insurance.

You can dispute credit report errors and have them removed from your record in three steps:

  1. Check your credit reports
  2. Gather your evidence for a dispute
  3. Decide how to file your dispute

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1. Look at all three credit reports

You have three main credit reports, one from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You’re entitled to a free credit report from each every 12 months using AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you’re turned down for credit because of something in your credit report, you’re entitled to another copy of the report used in that decision. If you place a fraud alert, that would entitle you to an additional copy as well.

If negative information has popped up on one report, it’s wise to see whether it’s also on the other two.

There may be small differences among your reports, because some creditors don’t report account activity to all three bureaus. If negative information has popped up on one report, it’s wise to see whether it’s also on the other two.

If you find an error on your credit report

The most concerning errors are those that could hurt your score or suggest identity theft. Those include:

  • Wrong account numbers
  • Accounts that aren’t yours
  • Inaccurate credit limits or loan balances
  • Wrong account status (such as a payment mistakenly reported late)
  • Negative information that’s more than 7 years old, other than personal bankruptcy, which stays on your report for 10 years
  • An ex-spouse incorrectly listed on a loan or credit card

Negative information on a credit report might surprise you, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate. If it’s accurate, try to resolve the problem directly with the creditor.

For instance, say you missed some bills because you moved and forgot to update your address with a creditor. You didn’t realize it until delinquent payments showed up on your reports. In that case, you would contact the creditor, try to arrange to pay up and ask if it will rescind the delinquencies so they no longer appear on your reports.

Misinformation that could suggest identity theft includes accounts you don’t recognize and addresses where you’ve never lived.

Misinformation that could suggest identity theft includes accounts you don’t recognize and addresses where you’ve never lived. Those should be disputed, and it’s smart to check with the source of the information, such as a bank or creditor, to learn more.

Smaller errors that don’t affect your score can include a misspelled former employer, an outdated phone number or something similar. You recognize them as inaccurate, but they don’t affect anyone’s assessment of your creditworthiness.

» MORE: Why does my credit report contain errors?

2. Gather your evidence

Depending on the error, the material you gather to support your case could include credit card statements, loan documents, bank statements, birth or death certificates, or a divorce decree.

Your goal is to make it as easy and quick as possible for investigators to confirm that your complaint is valid.

If you believe a mistake is related to identity theft and have reported that, send a copy of your Federal Trade Commission identity theft complaint or police report.

Your goal is to make it as easy and quick as possible for investigators to confirm that your complaint is valid.

3. Dispute bureau mistakes online, in writing or by phone

All three bureaus have an online dispute process, and that is often the fastest way to fix a problem. You can also initiate a dispute by phone or write a dispute letter if you prefer.

No matter how you dispute, be prepared to provide:

    • Your name, including any generational suffix, middle name or initial
    • Your Social Security number
    • A copy of government-issued identification (such as driver’s license or passport)
    • Your date of birth
    • Your current address, and past addresses going back two years
    • A copy of a utility bill or bank or insurance statement that includes your name and address
    • A list of items on your report you are disputing, along with the reason you believe each is wrong and supporting documentation

Under most circumstances, the bureaus have to respond to a dispute claim within 30 days.

There is no cost to dispute, and you can dispute as many items as you like. However, it’s a waste of time to dispute inconsequential things or negative items you know to be true. The credit agencies are not obligated to investigate “frivolous” claims.

Updated March 6, 2018.

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