The most frequent question I receive is – How do I dispute credit report errors?    The answer may not be what you think it is.  Most consumers think that they should dispute the inaccurate item to the company providing the incorrect information to Equifax, Experian or Trans Union, but that is not the best practice.

Why?  After all, it seems to make sense to dispute the incorrect information to the company who supplied the wrong information to the credit bureaus?  However, when you directly dispute the error to the furnisher of the information, the furnisher does not have any liability under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  The FCRA requires consumers to dispute the credit report error to the nationwide consumer reporting agency BEFORE  the furnisher has any thing to worry about under the FCRA.    The furnisher has one extra layer of protection under the FCRA.  The credit reporting agency must give the furnisher notice of your dispute.

Here are the steps to dispute credit report errors:

1. Identify the incorrect information in your credit report.  Make a list of all of the incorrect information in your credit report.  This may include inaccurate information regarding: name variations; current or previous addresses; public records (bankruptcies, tax liens, judgments); accounts that do not belong to you; and account payment status (late, past due or higher balance than what the current  balance is.

2. Identify why the information is inaccurate (or incomplete). Simply take the list of incorrect items and think of all the reasons why the info is wrong. For example, a previous address may be wrong because you never lived there.  A public record may be wrong because you never filed bankruptcy or you filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and it is being reported as a Chapter 7. The account status may be wrong because you were never late and always paid your credit card on time.

3. Gather supporting documents. You should locate documents that support your dispute. If you are disputing name or Social Security number variation you should make. Copy of your driver’s license or Social Security card. For public record disputes, you should obtain copies of court records that demonstrate the credit bureaus’ reporting is wrong.  Accounts that have been paid on time can be substantiated by cancelled checks or bank statements.

4. Write a dispute letter.  ALL credit report disputes should be made in writing to the credit bureaus!  That’s right- do not make disputes over the phone or Internet. You should write a dispute letter to each of the credit reporting agencies who are reporting the inaccurate information.  Use the list of inaccurate items, reasons why the info is wrong and COPIES of supporting documents to write dispute letter.   Keep it simple. Chances are, unless you’re a VIP, your dispute letter will be sent overseas to one of the one of the credit bureaus dispute vendors or subsidiaries which may be in India, Costa Rica or the Philippines.

5. Send your dispute letter by certified mail return receipt requested.  The FCRA requires credit bureau to investigate your dispute within 30-45 days of receipt of your dispute. The timeliness provision means you need to create a paper trail to demonstrate when the credit reporting agency received your dispute. The certified letter will accomplish this. The dispute letter should also be scanned in by the reporting agencies mail vendor.  This is important because this will show exactly what you disputed with the credit reporting agency, unlike a phone dispute.

Keep a copy of your dispute letter and supporting documents – you will need to share this information if you hire a FCRA attorney.  Most FCRA attorneys will take your case on a contingency basis – meaning you don’t have to pay the attorneys’ fees, unless you recover money from the defendant.

If you still have questions about how to dispute a credit report error, contact FCRA attorney Micah Adkins for more information 24/7 at 1-800-263-9091.