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How to dispute Credit Reports

You want to repair your own credit but aren't sure where to begin. Use the step-by-step credit report dispute procedures below to begin repairing your own credit.

Step 1: Obtain Current Credit Reports

Step 2: Review Personal Information

Step 3: Rank Order Questionable Items

Step 4: Initial Dispute to Correct Information

Step 4a: Understanding the Credit Reporting Agency’s Legal Obligations

Step 4b: Follow Up Dispute Letter

Step 5: Notice of Intent to File a Formal Complaint with FTC

Step 6: Repeat Dispute Until All Information is Corrected

Initial steps for disputing credit reports:

Step 1:  Obtain copies of current credit reports

Credit bureaus require you to have a recent report (less than 90 days old) before they will consider your dispute! The good news is that you only need to purchase the first report because after dispute an item and it's corrected, the credit bureau is required by law to send you a brand new credit report free.

There are basically two types of credit reports: single and 3-in-1 reports. Single reports are best if you plan to repair your own credit files. If you plan to hire a credit repair organization, then a 3-in-1 might work but before purchasing one, ask them if they need individual reports.

Now, the new FACTA allows you to order one free report every 12 months per credit bureau. If you have not ordered one in the last 12 months, go to the FTC's Website on Credit and click on the link "www.annualcredit report.com" located on the right side of the page. The link takes you to the annualcredit report.com website where you can request your free report.

If you've already ordered a free report through annualcredit report.com but it's more than 90 days old, you still might qualify for a free report if you live in certain states and meet certain criteria. Use this link to find out more....free credit report

Up Step 2: Review Personal Information

The first, and most critical step is reviewing your personal information!

Once you have a current credit report, review the following personal information for any inaccurate, incorrect, erroneous, misleading, or outdated information!

  • Names and Aliases (full names, spelling, Jr., Sr., III, maiden, married, nicknames, etc.)
  • Addresses (check zip codes)
  • Social Security Number(s)
  • Date(s) of Birth
  • State ID Number(s) (drivers license, student IDs, government Ids etc.)
  • Spouse Information (maiden names, previous marriage names, nicknames etc.)
  • Employers (names, dates, locations, type of termination etc.)

Items that do not belong to you appear on your credit reports more often than you realize. And, once there, it tends to stick because it somehow matches up with other incorrect personally identifying information elsewhere in the report.

Always dispute mistakes in your personal information first, because this data is used to help verify all other items on your credit report! By disputing erroneous personal information first, other negative items will no longer match your personal information thus, your case to have them removed becomes that much stronger. (see step 4)

Up Step 3: Rank Order Questionable Items

After you've disputed and had corrected any personal information, you can then begin the next step of carefully reviewing the rest of the items and note any inaccurate, incorrect, erroneous, misleading, or outdated information then, rank order (see Rank Order Below) each item according to its relevant importance.

It does not matter whether the information is negative, neutral, or even positive; if it is in anyway erroneous, have it removed! An absolutely accurate credit report is paramount to determining your credit worthiness! (see Credit Scores Explained)

Rank questionable items according their significance using the following ordered list. back to step 6

  1. Personal data (see step 2 )
  2. Bankruptcy (included or excluded items, chapter filed, filing date and so forth)
  3. Consumer credit counseling (date entered counseled, progress, etc.)
  4. Foreclosure (attempts, completed actions, dates, amounts, etc.)
  5. Consumer credit counseling loans (debt consolidation loans, amounts, dates, what other debts were included, etc.)
  6. Default (dates, amounts, etc.)
  7. Repossession, (voluntary or involuntary, amount owed, dates etc.)
  8. Court judgments (date, amount, type, reason etc.)
  9. Collections (be sure the date shows the delinquent date NOT the date of collection actions)
  10. Past due payments (number past due, amount, length of time, and if settled)
  11. Late payments (correct dates are critical here, they determine how long the info stays in your reports)
  12. Credit rejections (be sure it's you, and why)
  13. Credit inquiries (be sure these pertain to you - watch for fraud)

Be sure to perform this step on all three national credit reports because the same questionable information may be on one, two or all three credit reports!

Up Step 4: Initial Dispute to Correct Information

Mail a dispute letter to each Credit Reporting Agency that has erroneous information discovered in Step 2.

Free initial credit report dispute letter sample

Mailing and Record-keeping Instructions

Up Step 4a: Understanding the Credit Reporting Agency’s Legal Obligations

Once the credit reporting agency receives your dispute letter, they are obligated to investigate it and this obligation is not contingent upon you having been denied credit. However, just saying the information is wrong is not enough...you must present a solid case for your dispute!.

Usually between 10 and 30 days they'll send a letter informing you that they are investigating your dispute. Then, within another 10 to 30 days, you should receive a letter informing you of the results of their investigation.

CAUTION! Except for personal information which can be disputed all at once, dispute only one item at a time! Disputing more than one item may cause the credit bureau to reject your dispute as frivolous.

Up Step 4b: Follow Up Dispute Letter

In some cases, Credit Reporting Agencies are slow to respond to your dispute. If this should occur, write another letter, strongly reminding the credit bureau of their obligations under the law.

Free Follow-up dispute letter

Mailing and Record-keeping Instructions

Up Step 5: Notice of Intent to File a Formal Complaint with FTC

Should the credit reporting agencies continue to ignore you, follow up with a written notice that you intend to file a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Then, be prepared to contact the FTC and file your formal complaint if you do not receive a response within 15 days of sending your notice of intent letter. Also, consider retaining an attorney , as willful failure to comply with the law may subject the Credit Reporting Agency to civil liability.

There are three ways you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Response Center:

Phone: toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357)

Or regular mail:

Mail to:
Federal Trade Commission
CRC-240 Washington, D.C. 20580

Or electronically:

Using their Online Complaint Form

NOTE: The FTC does not resolve individual consumer disputes but rather it gathers complaints, comments, and inquiries to spot patterns of law violations so they can involve law enforcement action. Your complaint also helps them recognize and tell people about larger trends affecting consumers.

Up Step 6: Repeat Dispute Until All Information is Corrected

As soon as the Credit Reporting Agency has corrected your personal information (steps 2- 4a) and provided you with an updated credit report, dispute the next most damaging item according to your rank ordered list

Remember, whether you dispute your report via official mail or electronically (email), dispute only one item at a time!

Continue disputing items until each and every questionable item has been corrected or deleted from your credit report!

When you've completed the process you should have two very important things

1. Corrected copies of your credit reports - supplied free by the Credit Reporting Agency; and

2. Get a better credit score!


Additional Notes

Note 1: Except for erroneous personal data, dispute each questionable item individually! Attempting a mass correction (i.e. challenging all information) makes it much easier for the credit reporting agency to consider this as evidence that your claim is frivolous because you failed to provide any allegations concerning specific items in your file.

Note 2: Unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, Credit Reporting Agencies are required to assume that all disputes are bona fide and must investigate the dispute according to the The Fair Credit Reporting Act USC, Title 15, Chapter 41, Subchapter III, Section 1681i, "Procedure in case of disputed accuracy”.

Note 3: Specific words to use when writing your dispute letters: erroneous, outdated, misleading, or unverifiable. Mere explanation of the reason a debt was not paid might not constitute a dispute and does not require the credit-reporting agency to re-investigate or accept your written dispute statements.