By Paula Pant, WiserAdvisor.com
Did you spot a mistake on your credit report? Take action immediately. This isn't the sort of thing you should overlook. A single blemish on your credit report can negatively affect your ability to get a loan, apply for a job, and may even be a symptom of potential identity theft.
Don't let an error, big or small, derail your financial future. Here are the 10 steps to take today to wipe away false or erroneous information from your credit report.
1. Monitor Your Credit Reports
You can't fix what you don't know. You're entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Go to annualcreditreport.com to request yours. Reviewing your report at least once a year can help you stay on top of any potential errors.
2. Review Your Report Carefully
Read through your report thoroughly, keeping an eye out for errors of any kind. Watch for mistakes like:
• An incorrect address
• Misspellings of your name
• Incorrect Social Security Number
• Wrong date of birth
• Creditors you don't recognize
• Incorrect balance amounts
• Late payments you don't recognize
Mark these discrepancies clearly on your report and make copies of the pages on which they appear (for your records, and to send out when you file a dispute).
3. Write a Dispute Letter
As old-fashioned as it may seem, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends writing a letter to dispute an error in your report, rather than submitting a claim online. The FTC even provides a free sample letter on its website.
4. Be Clear and Concise
Don't waste energy going into a sob story, throwing around angry words or trying to add in impressive legalese to make your letter seem more impressive. Simply state the error you're disputing and, in the simplest and more straightforward of terms, why you are disputing it. For instance, write "I was not late on this payment" or "I never opened a line of credit with this company."
5. Keep Each Dispute Separate
If you notice multiple errors in your report, write a separate dispute letter for each one. This may seem like tedious extra work, but it's the fastest way to get each mistake resolved. It's easier for the credit bureau to respond to individual disputes rather than a batch, and it's easier for you to track each resolution should any of the disputes become drawn out.
6. Include Backup
The more evidence you can provide to prove your case, the better. This includes copies of statements, checks you've sent, bank account statements that prove a payment cleared, etc. Attach a copy of every bit of documentation you have in your possession so the credit bureau can't dismiss your dispute on the grounds that you didn't provide enough information.
7. Keep Careful Records
A credit reporting agency can very easily claim they lost or never received your dispute letter -- or they could very easily actually lose or never receive it. Cover yourself by making copies of everything you send out and keeping detailed records of your correspondence -- when you sent it, when you followed up, what the response was, etc.
Not only will this keep the credit reporting agency honest; it could come in handy if you need to escalate the dispute, in order to prove that you did everything in your power to resolve the matter.
Should your dispute be successfully resolved, you'll still want to hang onto all correspondence in the event the error crops back up on a future report.
8. Mail It Out
Send each dispute letter via certified mail, return receipt requested, to both the credit reporting agency and the data furnisher (the lender or collection agency who provided the information on your report).
9. Be Persistent
Credit reporting agencies have 30 days to respond to your dispute letter from the date they receive it. Make a note on your calendar to follow up with them after that time if you haven't gotten a response.
Don't let errors on your credit report stand. Follow up regularly and consistently, and if you're not getting an answer (or your dispute is rejected), head to the next step.
10. Escalate If Necessary
If you're not getting a response or you're not able to fix an error on your report, it's time to take your complaint to the next level. Send another letter to the credit reporting agency and data furnisher and "cc" the Better Business Bureau, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your state attorney general (also by certified mail, return receipt requested).
If you still hit a dead end, you may need to take matters to court. You can find a consumer law attorney with experience handling credit disputes by asking your colleagues and friends for recommendations, visiting the National Association of Consumer Advocates' website, or asking your financial advisor or accountant if they can refer you to a trusted attorney.
Besides fixing an error on your credit report, there are several other ways to improve your score. Our credit score is very important and it's worth the time to give yours a check-up.