September 6th, 2012

5 Steps to Cleaning Up Credit Report Errors

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**Welcome to Self-Improvement Month here on the Credit Karma Blog!**

clean credit report

Now that you’ve learned how to get a copy of your credit report, what do you do with it? It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and clean it up!

Your credit report could contain an error, and you won’t know it unless you look. Anywhere from 3 to 25 percent of credit reports contain serious errors. The most common are outdated personal information, mistaken or fraudulent accounts and incorrect account details.

Here’s how to go about checking for and disputing those pesky credit report errors. Buckle up—it’s a long one!

Step 1: Review your credit report.

Once you have your reports printed out (yes, really print them out), go through each one, page by page. What are you looking for? Here’s a quick list:

  • Incorrect our outdated personal information. Example: There’s a mailing address you’ve never had.
  • Wrong account details. Example: Your report shows that your Discover card has a $5,000 limit, when it should really be $2,500.
  • Incorrectly attributed accounts. Example: There’s a credit card account that belongs to your parents, not you.
  • Fraudulent accounts. Example: You find a student loan on your credit report, but you’ve never applied for a student loan.
  • Inaccurate activity. Example: You’ve never made a mortgage payment late, but your mortgage shows otherwise.

That list isn’t exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of what to keep a lookout for. If you find an error, highlight or circle it. Make sure to check to see if the error is on one credit report or all three.

Important note: You may notice that one of your credit files is missing from one of two of your credit reports. This can happen if you have a credit line from a small company like a credit union. Not all companies report to all three bureaus. Before you assume it’s an error, check with your creditor to see who they report to.

Step 2: Gather your proof.

Before you contact any credit bureau about a credit report error, make sure you have some proof to support your claim. For instance, if you find a mortgage that was opened in your name in 1974, but you were born in 1972, you should provide proof of your birthdate.

Step 3: Write a letter.

It may be old-fashioned, but the best way to dispute an error on your credit report is to draft a dispute letter. You’ll send this letter to the credit bureau(s) reporting the error to get it corrected. Make sure to send it “return receipt requested” so that you’ll know when it’s been received. The FTC has a great sample dispute letter; use that as your guide.

Step 4: Make a copy of everything.

Seriously. Copy the letter, the documents you’re using as proof and the page(s) of your credit report with the errors clearly marked. Keep these documents filed away so you can easily find them later. Once you have your copies, mail your dispute letter.

Step 5: Wait at least 30 days before following up.

Credit bureaus are required by law to investigate your claim, and they typically do so within 30 days of receiving your request. The credit bureau should send notification to the information provider (like your credit card company or mortgage lender) about your dispute. The information provider will investigate and let the bureau know the results. If your dispute is valid, the information provider also has to notify the other two credit bureaus.

If it’s been more than 30 days since the credit bureau received your dispute, and you haven’t heard anything, contact the credit bureau to get an update on the status.

What can I do if my dispute wasn’t successful?

There are a couple of reasons why these disputes fail:

It was considered “frivolous.” This is the only scenario in which a credit bureau won’t even bother to investigate your claim. If you don’t consider it to be frivolous, you can attempt your dispute again, following the above steps.

It wasn’t an error. If you’re trying to remove a negative—but accurate—item from your credit report, you won’t be able to dispute it. Instead, you’ll have to take the slow and steady route of improving your credit health.

The credit bureau says it’s not an error, but you have proof otherwise. This can happen from time to time. Once again, you can spend time repeating the dispute steps, but you might have a better, second option: a direct dispute.

If you’re disputing an item that has come from an information provider—like a credit card company or mortgage lender—you can go directly to them. Submit a dispute letter to the information provider, using the same FTC guidelines, but also make sure that you include your full name and account number with the company. Since the dispute with the credit bureau didn’t work, this direct dispute could be a great alternative.

If you want help with the dispute process, consider hiring a credit repair company such as Lexington Law Firm.

To catch future errors, start monitoring your credit with Credit Karma. You’ll receive an email when something important changed in your credit report. And come back for more great Self-Improvement Month posts!

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Disclaimer: All information posted to this site was accurate at the time of its initial publication. Efforts have been made to keep the content up to date and accurate. However, Credit Karma does not make any guarantees about the accuracy or completeness of the information provided. For complete details of any products mentioned, visit bank or issuer website.

26 Comments

  1. Bethy,
    Would there be any reason to skip disputing with the credit bureaus and go straight to the direct dispute? Just curious.

    Thanks for this thorough piece!

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

    Christian L. at 11:50 am on September 6, 2012
  2. I’ve seen the suggestion to send your dispute letter to the credit bureau AND send one to the original information provider simultaneously, but I haven’t yet seen any one reasoning out doing a direct dispute first. Let me know if you hear anything on the topic – I’m curious, too!

    bethy at 10:07 am on September 8, 2012
  3. check out this article on raising your credit score fast. (by 100 points in 18 months. Its definitely educational. http://www.prlog.org/11880509-is-it-possible-to-raise-your-credit-score-by-100-points-in-less-than-18-months-how-can-it-be-done.html

    Golden Financial Services - No More Credit Cards at 6:44 pm on September 8, 2012
  4. We wouldn’t have to do this if you guys who get in this business and operate businesses knew what you were doing. Every job application I have completed will ask for your ssn. I think this and this alone screws up and causes most of the crap that appears on your credit report. If it’s money that a person didn’t know about-don’t taunt and harass them about collecting it. If you stole it just d*&* keep it. I guess you were brave enough to do it no need of being honest now. Student loans. The word loan is used rather loosely. There are educational credits that you can get from the IRS. Make sure those loans are not the accumulation of credits. In case you have applied for college and didn’t qualify for a Grant. You might find it on your report.
    They probably mislabeled it. Good luck on getting the greedy goons to give the funds. Even if its for a good cause. Until then Stay stupid and try to prosper.

    NSH at 9:24 am on September 29, 2012
  5. Nice post, There are so many people searching about that which you wrote in your article & i m one of them, I came to this site first time & i found it so impressive, Keep doing the good work.

    Professional credit help at 10:36 pm on November 5, 2012
  6. How do I go about getting the collection agency’s contact information?

    ricardo at 6:06 pm on March 5, 2013
  7. Jenna

    Hey Ricardo, I believe credit reports contain some information on the collection agencies. If not, try contacting the credit reporting agencies from where you got the report. They should have the contact information and can provide that to you upon request.

    Jenna at 10:15 am on March 6, 2013
  8. So how do you correct errors on Credit Karma? I have a mortgage listed twice.

    Nancy at 9:28 pm on April 13, 2013
  9. This sounds like a known error we’re currently working on. Can you shoot us an email with the details at support@creditkarma.com? Thanks!

    bethy at 9:37 am on April 15, 2013
  10. I have corrected my inaccuracies with all three credit agencies and have paid off all collections on my credit report, but CK is listing the recently paid collections as new collections reported which is reducing my CK score. Why is this happening?

    Kitt at 5:29 am on June 25, 2013
  11. Jenna

    Hi Kitt, please keep in mind that it can take a full billing cycle for updates like this to occur on Credit Karma. As we pull information straight from TransUnion, we are unable to make the updates sooner. If you have any other questions about your account, please email support@creditkarma.com so we can look into your account further. Thanks!

    Jenna at 4:06 pm on June 25, 2013
  12. How do I correct late payments on my mortgage when that flag needed to be removed when I had it paid up to date and was on an emergency home loan program. These payments listed as late were over three years ago and are not.
    Thanks
    Elena in PA

    Elena Marie DiMaggio at 10:24 am on March 19, 2014
  13. Mike

    Hi Elena – If you’re having any trouble with your account, please feel free to email us at support@creditkarma.com and we’d be happy to take a look. Thanks!

    Mike at 3:33 pm on March 19, 2014
  14. My creditkarma credit score dropped 104 points stating I changed my name. All 3 credit bureaus have no such change. What is the deal here?

    Raymond Sheller at 7:10 pm on May 15, 2014
  15. Mike

    Hi Raymond – We’d be happy to look into this for you. Please email our support team directly at support@creditkarma.com so we can help out. Thanks!

    Mike at 4:01 pm on May 16, 2014
  16. can any of the debt you have fall off your credit report after so long?

    chel at 8:15 am on May 22, 2014
  17. Mike

    Hi Chel – Thanks for the question. I’d suggest checking out this article for more information: https://www.creditkarma.com/article/accounts-in-collections

    Thanks!

    Mike at 2:35 pm on May 22, 2014

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