Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.
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If you notify one of the national credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion or Equifax—of an inaccuracy in your credit report, federal law requires the bureau to complete an investigation within 30 to 45 days. Here's how the process works.
How Does a Credit Report Dispute Work?
Filing a dispute with one of the three national credit bureaus triggers an investigation process governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Among its many provisions, the FCRA guarantees your right to dispute information on your credit reports without incurring any cost.
Upon receiving your dispute, the credit bureau verifies your claim with the source, or "furnisher," of the disputed information. Furnishers may include banks, credit card companies and your landlord.
When a credit bureau notifies a furnisher of your dispute, the FCRA requires the furnisher to perform a reasonable investigation.
If the furnisher finds an inaccuracy, it must:
- Update its records to correct the issue
- Inform the credit bureau of the inaccuracy and instruct it to revise or delete the incorrect information
- Notify the other two national credit bureaus of the inaccuracy and instruct them to remedy the inaccuracy
If the furnisher concludes your dispute is invalid, it also must notify the credit bureau that made the request.
Following a dispute investigation, the credit bureau where you filed the dispute will provide a summary of the investigation's findings and actions taken as a result of them. If you disagree with the outcome of a dispute investigation, you have the right to add a statement to your credit report that explains your point of view. You also can bring suit against a bureau or data furnisher if you believe it has violated the FCRA.
How Long Will the Dispute Process Take?
The FCRA requires the national credit bureaus to complete dispute investigations within 30 to 45 days, as follows:
- 30 days: Credit bureaus (referred to in the FCRA as credit reporting companies) must investigate and resolve disputes within 30 days of receiving them.
- 45 days: If you submit additional information on your dispute during the standard 30-day investigation window, the credit bureau may take an additional 15 days, or a total of 45 days, to complete its investigation. The 45-day window also applies if you submitted a dispute after accessing a copy of your credit report via AnnualCreditReport.com.
Once a bureau has concluded a dispute investigation, it must notify you of the outcome and any action it has taken within five business days.
How Long Does Negative Information Remain on My Credit Reports?
- Late payments
- Accounts in default
- Accounts turned over to collections
- Chapter 13 bankruptcy
The countdown on a bankruptcy begins the date you file for protection with the court. The seven-year timeline on other negative entries dates from the first delinquent payment that preceded the event.
Negative credit report entries hurt credit scores. Their impact is greatest when recent, but they affect scores as long as they appear on your report.
Should I Hire a Credit Repair Company to Speed Up the Process?
Credit repair companies cannot do anything for you that you can't do for yourself with just a little effort. All three national credit bureaus offer the opportunity to submit disputes online.
If you prefer snail mail, a dispute letter template can simplify the process. Experian provides a downloadable form you can use to provide the needed details. For communicating with the other national credit bureaus, the Federal Trade Commission makes a sample dispute letter, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also offers a letter.
Additional Actions That Can Improve Your Credit Score
If you don't have any inaccurate information on your credit report, or you're looking to improve your credit score, there are some other steps you can take to help build a better credit score.
Pay Every Bill on Time
Your payment history is the most important influence on your credit scores, and an established history of on-time payments can help build exceptional credit scores. To build a strong payment history, make sure you don't miss loan or credit card payments by more than 29 days—payments that are at least 30 days late can be reported to the credit bureaus and hurt your credit scores.
Catch Up on Overdue Bills
If you fall behind on loan or credit card accounts, you can't undo late payments, but getting caught up on what you owe can limit the damage.
Keeping up with bills that aren't debt-related can be important too. Utility payments and phone bills aren't typically reported to credit bureaus (unless you choose to have Experian Boost®ø add them to your Experian credit report). Left unpaid, those bills may be turned over to a collection department or agency, leading to negative entries on your credit reports. If you bring them current, you can prevent that from happening.
Pay Down Revolving Balances
High balances on revolving credit accounts—credit cards and lines of credit—can lead to a high credit utilization rate—the percentage of an account's borrowing limit represented by its outstanding balance. High utilization can hurt your credit scores, and individuals with the highest credit scores tend to keep utilization ratio in the low single digits.
Apply for New Credit Sparingly
It's generally wise to limit how often you apply for new credit applications. Each application generates a hard inquiry on your credit report. Each inquiry can have a small, temporary negative effect on your credit scores, but multiple inquiries in a short time can pile up to lower your scores significantly. Opening new accounts also decreases the average age of all your accounts, which can also hurt credit scores.
An important exception concerns rate shopping for auto loans and mortgages. Credit scoring models recognize that rate shopping isn't risky behavior and may ignore multiple inquiries if they occur within the span of a couple of weeks and are for the same type of loan.
The Bottom Line
It's important to review your credit reports regularly, and you have the right to dispute any inaccuracies you discover. The process is straightforward and relatively quick, and by law, verified corrections will be made within a few weeks. Checking your FICO® Score☉ from Experian can help you see the impact credit report disputes (and other decisions you make) have on the way lenders view your creditworthiness.