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The three main consumer credit reporting agencies in the United States—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—each maintain nearly 220 million credit files on U.S. consumers. These files contain a wealth of information about you and your credit management practices.
From time to time, you may find information on your credit reports with which you disagree. You have the right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to dispute information on your credit reports, and have that information corrected or removed if it's found to be inaccurate. There are, however, certain items on your credit reports which are more a matter of record and are not generally disputable.
What Can't Be Disputed on a Credit Report?
First things first: If you see something on your credit reports that is patently incorrect or that you believe is the result of fraudulent activity, you should file a dispute to have it corrected or removed. There are, however, credit report entries that are traditionally indisputable as they are either a matter of factual record or important personal information.
Credit inquiries are an example of credit report information that is generally not disputable. A credit inquiry is simply a record of access to your credit reports or contact information that can happen when you apply for a credit card or loan, check your own credit, or are preapproved for a credit product, among other instances. An inquiry is a matter of fact, and Experian is required to provide this information to you as a record of activity.
Because you have the right to see who has accessed your credit reports and on what date, disputing valid inquiries via the dispute process is not a normal practice. Of course, if someone has applied for credit in your name without your permission, the resulting hard inquiry can be removed via the dispute process in cases of demonstrable fraud.
If you do have valid inquiries on your credit reports, you should know their impact to your credit scores is minimal, if they have any impact at all. Soft inquiries, which are not the result of a credit application, have no effect on credit scores. Even hard inquiries, which are the result of an application for credit or services, don't always have a measurable impact on your credit scores.
If there is an impact, it is normally very minimal, and the credit scoring models created by FICO® and VantageScore® do not consider them at all once they are older than 12 months. Inquiries alone will not generally cause you to be declined credit—there are always more significant factors involved.
There are other items that cannot be disputed or removed due to their systemic importance. For example, your correct legal name, current and former mailing addresses, and date of birth are usually not up for dispute and won't be removed from your credit reports. This information, commonly referred to as personally identifiable information, or PII, is important as it allows the credit reporting companies to match credit information in their credit file databases to the correct consumer's credit reports.
Finally, you cannot dispute your credit scores. Your credit scores are a product of sophisticated algorithms proprietary to FICO®, VantageScore and other score developers (often including lenders themselves). They are not a component of your credit reports but are, instead, numbers generated by the credit scoring models based on the information as it appears in your credit report at the moment it is requested. Because they are not part of your credit report, they are not disputable.
What Can Be Disputed on a Credit Report?
Essentially anything in the bankruptcy public records and accounts sections of your credit report can be disputed. For example, if you have a bankruptcy, a third-party collection account or an account with a lender on your credit report you feel is incorrect in any way, you can file a dispute with the credit reporting agency on whose report the information appears.
You can also dispute inaccurate PII, such as a name misspelling or an address with which you are unfamiliar.
If, after submitting a dispute, the data furnisher discovers that they are reporting incorrect information to the credit reporting agencies, they must correct it with all three of them. While the lender should update the information automatically, if changes are made, it can be a good idea to check the other credit bureaus just to be sure.
It is often beneficial to file a dispute directly with the company reporting the information, also known as the data furnisher, prior to contacting the credit reporting agencies. This is sometimes referred to as a "direct" dispute because you are filing your dispute directly with the lender or other business that reports the information to the credit bureaus. Notifying the lender that you believe an account is being reported inaccurately can help you get the information corrected more quickly.
The process of filing a dispute is relatively simple, and free. If you see information that you believe to be incorrect, you will identify those items, provide a basis for your dispute, and then submit the dispute online, via the U.S. mail or via a telephone call. Equifax and TransUnion have similar dispute processes to Experian. If an item is deemed to be inaccurate and is corrected or removed, the data furnisher who provided the inaccurate information must notify all three credit bureaus so they can update their records.
Experian will not only investigate the allegedly incorrect information but will also update your credit file if the information is deemed incorrect once the investigation has been completed. You will then receive the investigation results.
The Bottom Line
Consumers have the right to challenge inaccurate information appearing on their credit reports at no cost. If you feel like there is incorrect information on your credit reports, you should exercise your FCRA rights and file disputes with the data furnishers or credit reporting agencies.
If you have not reviewed a copy of your credit reports recently, you may do so at no cost once per week through at least April 2021 at AnnualCreditReport.com. To regularly monitor your Experian credit report and FICO® Score☉ , and receive alerts when information on your credit report changes, you can sign up for free credit monitoring from Experian.