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Your credit report provides a picture of your credit history based on information reported by your lenders, creditors and other sources. Rarely, inaccurate or incomplete information can make its way onto a credit report, and you have the right to dispute it. You can dispute information directly with the company that reported it, or you may file a dispute with the credit reporting agency that maintains the report—Experian, TransUnion or Equifax.
Submitting a dispute with a credit reporting agency like Experian is relatively quick and simple, but the results are not instantaneous. When you dispute information with Experian, we notify your lender or the source of the information and ask them to verify the accuracy of the reported information. The lender then has 30 days to respond, although many disputes are resolved much sooner than that. However, there are some important things to know about timing a dispute if you're in the process of applying for new credit or will be soon.
Disputing Can Delay the Credit Approval Process
People commonly discover issues on their credit report when a lender or credit card company runs a credit check as part of a loan or card application. Perhaps your credit score isn't as high as you thought it was due to late payments, high credit card balances or other factors.
But what if you feel there's information in your credit report that's wrong? What if the high balances are on accounts you believe were opened fraudulently, or you're confident the late payment being reported was sent on time? You can dispute the information, but you may have to put the credit approval process on hold.
It's best not to dispute information on your credit report when you're trying to apply for credit or a loan, especially a mortgage. Having an account in dispute on your credit report during the mortgage application process, for example, can prevent you from being approved for the loan until the dispute process is complete. For that reason, it's a good idea to review your credit reports several months prior to making a major credit application.
When you submit a dispute, the credit reporting agency will contact the information provider (typically a lender, credit card company or bank) to verify the information you're disputing. If they can't verify the information or they confirm an error, the item will be updated or removed. Information verified as accurate will remain on your credit report.
Before you file a dispute, it's important to know what can be disputed in the first place. Successful disputes typically involve inaccurate or incomplete information, including items such as:
- Account information, such as closed accounts reported as open, timely payments incorrectly reported as delinquent, and inaccurate credit limits or account balances.
- Fraud, including accounts opened as a result of identity theft or account balances that are the result of credit fraud.
There's also information in your credit report that can't be disputed at all (more on that later).
What if You're a Victim of Identity Theft?
Finding unfamiliar credit inquiries, accounts and balance or payment information on your credit report could be evidence that someone you don't know has opened accounts and run up debt in your name or that someone has gotten ahold of your credit card information and used it to make fraudulent charges on your account. If you find suspicious information on your credit report and believe you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, take these steps:
- File a report with your local police department or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). IdentityTheft.gov, an FTC website, can walk you through the steps of dealing with identity theft.
- Contact any lenders and credit card companies reporting accounts you don't recognize. Explain that you are a victim of identity theft and ask that they close any unauthorized accounts, absolve you of responsibility for charges made and remove related information from your credit files. You can also ask that they refrain from furnishing further information about these accounts to any credit reporting agency. The FTC provides a templated letter you can use to submit your request in writing.
- Contact any credit reporting agency where the fraudulent accounts appear to notify them of the fraud and begin the dispute process. You may be asked to provide documentation that supports the dispute.
In addition to resolving disputes, Experian offers help to victims of identity theft, including temporary fraud alerts and the ability to add an extended fraud victim alert that will stay on your reports for up to seven years. Experian's Identity Theft Victim Assistance page provides more information.
How to File a Dispute Online
You can file disputes by phone or mail, but the fastest and most secure way to submit a dispute is online at the Experian Dispute Center.
To start, click "start a new dispute online." After signing in or creating an account, you'll be guided through your credit report section by section. Following the prompts, highlight the items you want to dispute and select your reasons for each dispute from the dropdown menu.
You can also upload supporting documents, review your dispute and submit it online. Once your dispute is finalized and submitted, the Dispute Center allows you to track its status until it's resolved.
Items That Are Not Disputable
When filing a dispute, make sure you understand which items on your credit report can't be disputed. You have the legal right to dispute most of the information in your credit report, but there is information there that's maintained as a matter of factual record. Credit inquiries, for example, can only be disputed if they are the result of identity theft, and legitimate personal information such as your name and address cannot usually be disputed.
Information that is factually correct is unlikely to be removed. You may flinch at your credit card account balance, or you may have a very good reason for being late with your loan payment—but as long as these items are factually correct, they're not really disputable.
Your credit score, while not something that's included on your credit report, is also not negotiable. Credit scores are based on the information in your credit report, and are not calculated by the same companies that maintain your reports. The items on your report that affect your credit score can be disputed, but the score itself cannot be. If you feel your credit scores need a lift, learn how those scores are calculated and take action to improve them.
What if You Disagree With the Outcome of Your Dispute?
If you've filed a dispute with one (or all) of the credit bureaus and don't get the resolution you had hoped for, you can try contacting the source of the disputed information. It's a good idea to communicate with your lenders and card issuers about any issues you have anyway, as they may be willing to work with you as a customer. Be prepared to state your case clearly and have your supporting documents ready. If you agree on a resolution, your creditor can contact the credit reporting agencies to have the information deleted or updated.
Have you recently uncovered additional information or supporting documents that might strengthen your case? You can re-submit your dispute along with any new evidence you have.
Of course, sometimes disputes just don't go your way. If this happens, you can still add a consumer statement of explanation to your credit report to provide additional insight. Although this type of statement won't raise your credit score or change the items on your credit report, it may help a lender who is reviewing your credit file understand any extenuating circumstances that may apply.
How Does a Dispute Affect Your Credit?
Filing a dispute has no effect on your credit, although the outcome of a dispute might. If, for example, you successfully dispute a late payment because you actually paid on time, removing that entry from your credit report will likely raise your credit score. Personal information such as a name or address on your credit report won't impact your credit score, but you may still choose to reach out to the creditors reporting the information to see if they can update it.
Regular Reviews and Monitoring Can Help
You can dispute an inaccuracy in your credit report anytime you find one. But keeping regular tabs on your credit can help you avoid the inconvenience of a stalled or postponed credit application. Monitoring your credit proactively can make it easier to catch inaccuracies and get them resolved quickly.
Download and review your credit reports from all three credit bureaus at least once a year to avoid last-minute surprises. You can also sign up for free credit monitoring through Experian and receive free alerts when your credit score changes or new accounts or inquiries appear on your credit report. If you plan to apply for a loan or credit in the near future, consider checking your credit now so you can resolve any issues in advance.