Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.
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Credit repair companies can't remove legitimate hard inquiries from your credit report, and neither can anyone else. And there's really no need to pay a credit repair company to get an inaccurate inquiry removed, since you can do that yourself for free.
How Do Credit Repair Companies Work?
Credit repair companies charge you based on the promise that they can help you get negative information removed from your credit report. You'll often be charged in the form of monthly subscription fees or for each item the company is able to successfully get removed from your credit report.
However, credit repair companies make use of the same dispute process everyone with a credit report has the right to use. While their marketing may suggest they can remove negative information that's accurate, they legally cannot.
Credit repair companies are regulated by the federal Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), which requires them to provide you with a written contract specifying the services they provide and how they charge for them. The CROA also forbids them from claiming they can remove accurate credit report entries and forbids them from collecting payment until they fulfill the contract.
The CROA further specifies credit repair company contracts must include cancellation forms, and that you have three business days to cancel the deal without incurring charges.
You can do everything a credit repair company does for free, and the process is straightforward and easy.
How to Dispute Inaccurate Inquiries Yourself
Correcting an inaccurate hard inquiry is a matter of reviewing your credit reports and following the appropriate procedures. You have the right to file a dispute with the relevant credit bureau to request the removal of information in your credit report you believe to be in error.
1. Get Copies of Your Credit Reports
You should regularly review the accuracy of your credit reports from all three national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). You can get a free copy of each once a week at AnnualCreditReport.com.
2. Locate and Review Hard Inquiries
Each credit bureau organizes its credit report somewhat differently, but each report is divided into sections, including one for inquiries. Hard inquiries—those related to credit or loan applications that can affect your credit scores—are listed under their own heading, as will soft inquiries, which do not affect your credit scores.
Like your credit accounts and payment information, which appear on any credit report the creditor furnishes the information to, each inquiry is only recorded by the credit bureau that received it. Depending on how recently you've been subjected to a credit check, one or more of your reports may reflect a hard inquiry. (If no hard inquiries were recorded in the past two years, none should appear on your credit reports.)
Check all hard inquiries to make sure you understand where they came from. Note that lender names are often abbreviated in inquiry entries, and that an inquiry may be legitimate even if the name listed with it is unfamiliar. An inquiry may also be recorded under the name of a creditor's parent company. Also keep in mind that entities other than lenders can perform credit checks with your permission, including landlords, home contractors, and retailers that offer financing on furniture, appliances or other goods.
3. Dispute Any Inaccurate Inquiries
If you find an inquiry you don't recognize, you have the right to dispute it with the credit bureau that reported it. Each bureau has its own procedures for processing disputes, but all three allow you to submit information online, by phone or through the mail. Procedures described below are specific to Experian:
- Online: The Experian Dispute Center is the quickest and easiest way to dispute your Experian credit report. It lets you submit dispute requests and supporting documents as needed, anytime, from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
- Phone: To submit a dispute by phone, call the number that appears on your Experian credit report or dial 888-EXPERIAN to speak with an agent.
- U.S. mail: You can file a dispute by writing Experian at P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013. Printing out and completing a dispute form and following the accompanying instructions can speed up the process.
To dispute credit report information recorded by the other bureaus—Equifax and TransUnion—follow the processes listed on their respective websites.
4. If Appropriate, Take Steps to Block Fraud
Unexplained hard inquiries can indicate that criminals have attempted to borrow money or open credit accounts in your name. In addition to requesting that they be removed from your credit reports, it's prudent to take defensive action to block potential fraud or identity theft.
- Contact the lender that made the inquiry to let them know something's not right and follow up if they request additional information for their investigation.
- Report the activity to appropriate law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- You have the right to add a fraud alert or security freeze to your credit file to better protect yourself from unauthorized accounts being opened in your name.
5. Keep Watching for Unusual Activity
If you suspect a hard inquiry is related to fraudulent activity, check your credit reports frequently for signs of additional suspicious behavior, such as the appearance of unfamiliar new loan or credit card accounts or additional inquiries indicating credit applications in your name. Consider using a credit monitoring service to alert you whenever new activity is logged on your credit reports, so you can detect suspicious activity as quickly as possible.
How Disputing Inquiries Impacts Your Credit
You have the right to dispute any credit report entry you consider inaccurate, including inquiries. The act of filing a dispute does not affect your credit on its own, but it's possible that removal of a disputed hard inquiry could yield a small credit score increase. Still, you shouldn't expect any major score changes as a result. Hard inquiries have no impact on your credit scores one year after they are recorded on your credit reports, and they are removed from your credit reports entirely after two years.
The Bottom Line
If you discover a hard inquiry that doesn't belong on one of your credit reports, there's no need to hire a credit repair company because you have the right to dispute it for free. More important, you should take it as a sign of potential criminal activity and keep close watch on your credit reports. Free credit monitoring from Experian can help in that effort, by alerting you to new activity on your Experian credit report.