Consumers write to the credit bureaus for all manner of help. But unfortunately, many of these efforts are misguided. Sometimes people want assistance improving their credit scores. Other times, they may ask the credit bureaus about why an account is showing up negative – as if the credit bureau put that information on there, not the creditor.
In most instances, though, people write the credit bureaus in order to seek some change in their credit report. While agencies like Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will accept your inquiries and letters, they rely primarily on the information they gather from your creditors, such as lenders, credit card issuers, retail companies and collection agencies. These entities are also known in the credit world as “furnishers” because they furnish or provide information about you to the credit bureaus.
The credit bureaus, in turn, act as data repositories. The updates from creditors or “furnishers” form the heart of the information that credit bureaus collect and compile in your credit files. Thus, the only time the credit bureaus will “change” something on your credit is if you put in a formal, written request disputing something in your credit file, and your creditor can’t validate that data within 30 days.
First Try to Fix Errors With Your Creditors or Credit “Furnishers”
Knowing this fact, you can also dispute the same information you may have disputed with your creditors with the creditor bureaus, namely:
- Wrongfully reported late payments
- Inaccurate collection accounts
- Inaccurately noted account status
- Account ownership mistakes
- Negative, erroneous information about your account status
- Inaccurate “balance” information
If you are disputing any of the information above, however, it’s best to go to the creditors first before you dispute the above data with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. That way, you creditor may be more likely to validate your dispute with the bureaus, as opposed to denying it. Also, it might reduce the chances of the negative information being erroneously re-inserted into your credit files by the creditor at a later date.
Fixing Errors and Cleaning Up Your Credit Files Directly With the Bureaus
At other times, it makes sense to get errors fixed directly by the credit reporting agencies. Here is some other information you should dispute directly with the credit bureaus:
Mistakes concerning public records
Any inaccurate information concerning public records should be disputed immediately with the credit bureaus. For example, if an account was supposed to be charged off in a bankruptcy proceeding, but it is still appearing on your credit reports, file a dispute with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Additionally, if a judgment for $6,300 shows upon on your credit file, but the judgment was really for $630, dispute that information too. Remember, however, that changing certain public information – such as the case number, the location of the court, or even the amount of the judgment – will not impact your credit score.
Accounts that are not yours
Credit accounts that you are responsible for repaying include those in which you are or were the individual user of the credit, a co-signer, or an authorized user. If none of those situations applies to you, and there are accounts that appear on your credit report that you don’t recognize at all, or for which you are not responsible in any way, you should dispute those accounts with the bureaus.
Outdated, negative information in your files
After you’ve received your credit reports, if you find old, negative information that needs to be deleted, just write the credit bureau a letter to that effect or use their online dispute service to summarize your dispute. Remember, most negative information must come off your credit report after 7 years. Don’t dispute positive information that has been on your credit report for more than seven years, such as a closed account that had a good payment track record.
Remember: even after you pay off or close an account, it stays on your credit report for 10 years. That’s a good thing, because it adds to the length of your credit history, and gives you a stronger mix of credit in your credit files.
Errors in the “high balance” amounts shown on your credit card accounts
In monitoring my credit files, I have noticed many instances in which my Equifax credit reports files contained erroneous data about my credit card accounts. In particular, certain credit card accounts were shown as having a “high balance” that was equal to the “limit” on the card. These mistakes probably result from coding snafus or entry errors made by a human being. But recall that your “high balance” is supposed to show the highest balance you’ve ever charged on a credit card.
The “limit” shows the maximum amount of credit available to you. Because credit scoring companies put heavy weight on your credit utilization rate, based on examining your outstanding credit balances versus the amount of credit you have available (i.e. your limit), it’s imperative that credit bureaus have the correct balance information on file. Otherwise, your scores could be artificially lower than they should be.
Errors of omission
Be on the lookout for information that may be omitted from your credit reports. For example, a 2009 review of my credit reviews revealed that two credit cards I opened in the 1990s showed up only on my Experian report, but not on my Experian or TransUnion credit reports. In my case, the two accounts have since been closed, so I didn’t bother asking the latter two credit bureaus to add them to my files. However, you may have unreported accounts with a positive payment history that can bolster your credit standing.
At the very least, if they are older accounts that are open, but that haven’t been reported, they will add to the length of your credit history, which accounts for 15% of your FICO credit scores. Also, TransUnion’s website notes that it stores information supplied to it by creditors who subscribe to the bureau’s services. “Creditors usually report account information to us through computer tapes New accounts may take four to six months from the opening date to appear on a credit report,” according to TransUnion. The company added: If you would like a specific creditor to report account information to Trans Union, you may wish to contact them directly. If the creditor is a member of our service, you can request that this creditor voluntarily report the account information to us.”
Unauthorized or fraudulent inquiries
If someone did a hard pull of your credit file without your knowledge or consent, you should dispute that inquiry with the credit bureaus. Even though credit inquiries remain on your credit report for two years, they impact your credit score for 12 months. So be especially mindful of inquiries generated within the past year and contest any inquiries you did not make.
Since about 70% of credit reports contain mistakes, you should carefully scrutinize your credit files to try to catch any errors that may be harming your credit rating. If you can get such mistakes removed from your credit reports, it will have been time and effort well spent.