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Credit bureaus go to great lengths to ensure the information that appears on your credit reports is accurate. But considering that thousands of financial institutions are continually reporting payment data on more than 200 million consumers in the United States, inaccurate information can get reported.
If you feel that your credit report contains inaccurate information, you have the right to challenge it, have it corrected and then receive a summary of the results of any investigation that occurs. The question many consumers have about correcting their credit reports is: How long will it take? How long it takes to correct your report depends on a few important factors. Read on to learn more.
How Does the Dispute Process Work?
It's important to understand what happens when you file a dispute with one of the three national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). When you dispute information, you set in motion a process regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA, among other things, gives you the right to dispute information on your credit reports at no cost. Section 611 of the law entitles you to a reasonable investigation pursuant to your dispute.
When the credit bureau receives your dispute, it will communicate directly with the source of the disputed information. This source, formally referred to as the "data furnisher," is usually a lender or other financial services company, debt collector or other business.
The furnisher is obligated to perform a reasonable investigation when they receive your dispute from the credit bureau. The furnisher will generally review their records to determine whether your dispute has merit and warrants a change in their credit reporting. Once they have performed their investigation, they will respond to the credit bureau that made the request and instruct the bureau to either delete the information, modify it or leave it unchanged.
How Long Will the Dispute Process Take?
There is no single answer to the "how long will this take" question. The credit bureaus have 30 days to complete their investigations by law. There are, however, two exceptions to the 30-day rule.
The first is if you file your dispute after you've accessed a copy of your credit report or credit reports via AnnualCreditReport.com. AnnualCreditReport.com is the federally mandated website set up and operated by the credit reporting companies to provide consumers with their free annual credit reports.
The second exception occurs if you file a dispute with a credit reporting bureau or bureaus, and subsequently provide supporting documents to them regarding your dispute, such as canceled checks or a letter from your lender supporting your position that something is being reported incorrectly.
In either of these two scenarios, the credit reporting companies will have an additional 15 days on top of the initial 30 days to complete their respective investigations.
While the credit bureaus legally have either 30 or 45 days to complete their investigation, that doesn't mean it will take that long. The 30-day time limit has been part of the FCRA for several decades and became law during an era when the various dispute forms were physically mailed, rather than sent via the internet. Today, most consumer disputes are now completed within a few weeks thanks to advancements in technology.
How Long Is Negative Information Allowed to Remain on My Credit Reports?
The 30- to 45-day time limits apply only to the actual investigation process. If you dispute information on your credit reports that is found to be accurate, then the information is likely to remain on your credit reports after the investigation has been completed. The FCRA does not obligate the credit bureaus to remove accurate information unless the information has run its full credit reporting lifecycle, which varies depending on the information.
Positive information may be able to remain on your credit reports indefinitely. There is no language in the FCRA that obligates the credit bureaus to remove positive information. Closed accounts with no late payments typically can remain on your report for up to 10 years from the date they were closed. Open, active accounts with no late payments may remain on a credit report indefinitely.
Negative information is a different story altogether. The FCRA sets limits on how long negative information can remain on a credit report. Late payments and most other negative information is removed after seven years, although there are some exceptions. Chapter 7 bankruptcies, for instance, may remain on credit reports for up to 10 years from the bankruptcy filing date.
In addition to their FCRA obligations, several years ago the three credit reporting agencies agreed to remove other information from consumer credit reports as a matter of policy rather than as a matter of law. For example, non-contractual debts, such as library fines and parking tickets, that were previously reported will be removed.
Should I Hire a Credit Repair Company to Speed Up the Process?
Credit repair is a process whereby a consumer hires a company to submit dispute letters to the credit reporting companies on their behalf. Credit repair letters, which often simply dispute everything negative on a consumer's credit report, don't result in a different dispute or resolution process than the one takes place when you send a dispute letter on your own. More important, you could pay dearly for these services, which you can do for free yourself.
There isn't anything a credit repair company can do for you that you can't do for yourself. A credit repair company must disclose this fact to you prior to them performing any services on your behalf. This is one of the many requirements the Credit Repair Organizations Act puts on credit repair companies.
The Bottom Line: Save Your Money and Do It Yourself
The FCRA gives you the right to dispute the information in your credit reports for free. Couple that with the fact that credit repair companies can't do anything different than you can do on your own, and the math seems clear: Save your money and dispute any inaccurate information on your credit report yourself. If you'd like to dispute any information on your Experian credit report, you can go to the Experian Dispute Center.