How to dispute discrepancies on your credit reports

Fixing errors or outdated information may improve your credit score

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Your credit reports list a range of information from your credit past and present, including the accounts you have, the balances you owe and your payment history. However, you should never assume the information listed is accurate. Instead, take the necessary steps to check so you know for sure.

The fact is, credit reporting errors are actually quite common, and some of them can hurt your credit without you even knowing it. A 2021 voluntary study from Consumer Reports found that over a third of participants noticed at least one error in their credit reports. Among those, 41% of the errors were unrecognized accounts and another 23% were falsely reported late payments.

If you find errors like these on your credit reports, you can improve your credit health by disputing the errors and having them removed. This guide explains exactly how to get errors removed from your credit reports and how to find them in the first place.


Key insights

  • You should check your credit reports for errors at least once per year.
  • You can check your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus for free using AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • If you find incorrect information, you can dispute it with the credit bureaus and the company reporting the information.

How to check for credit discrepancies

The primary way to check for discrepancies is to obtain a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), which you can do for free once per year (weekly through December 2023). John Ulzheimer, a credit reporting expert and former manager of consumer disputes at Equifax, says the best way to obtain your credit reports is through the website AnnualCreditReport.com.

While credit reporting errors can come in many forms, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says identity errors, incorrect reporting of account status, data management errors and balance errors are some of the most common error categories.

More specific examples of credit report errors include:

  • Inclusion of accounts belonging to another person with a similar name
  • Incorrect accounts on your reports due to identity theft
  • Payments falsely reported as late
  • The same debts listed more than once
  • Accounts with incorrect balances or limits
  • Closed accounts reported as still open

» MORE: How to check your credit score

Who to contact about a credit discrepancy

Some lenders may report to only one or two of the major credit bureaus, so it’s best to check all three major bureaus’ reports for errors. Once you have checked your reports for accuracy, make a list of any discrepancies you found.

At this point, you'll have to contact multiple entities to make sure the incorrect information on your credit reports is ultimately removed. The steps below explain how and where to contact the credit bureaus and furnishers (creditors that report information), as well as the documentation you'll need to begin the dispute process.

Contact the credit bureaus

You’ll need to contact each credit bureau that lists the incorrect information in order to have it fully fixed; this could be one, two or all three of the major bureaus. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers a sample letter you can use as a reference to notify the credit bureaus of reporting errors. Essentially, your letter should include the following information:

  • Your name and contact details
  • A summary of the incorrect information found on your report
  • A filled-out copy of the credit bureau’s dispute form
  • Copies of any documents that prove your case
  • A copy of your credit report with false information circled or highlighted

The FTC says you should communicate with the credit bureau(s) by certified mail with a return receipt so you can verify that the bureau(s) received your documents. You can find the contact information and dispute form for each of the credit bureaus below:

» MORE: Best Credit Report Sites

Contact the furnisher

Disputing credit report errors with the credit bureaus is just one part of the puzzle. You also have to dispute with the creditor that reported the information in the first place.

The FTC also offers a sample letter you can use to craft your own letter to the company that reported false information. Along with the letter, you'll send most of the same information to the company as you did to the credit bureaus. This includes your name and contact information, a description of the incorrect items on your credit reports and your reasoning for why they’re incorrect, a copy of your printed credit report with the false information circled and copies of any documents that back up your claim.

Note that some businesses may want you to send disputes to a specific address, which you may or may not be able to find online. If you cannot find a business’s preferred address for disputes, the FTC advises you to contact the business directly and request the address so your dispute is sent to the right place.

What you need to dispute a credit discrepancy

We’ve already mentioned some of the key information and documents you need in order to successfully dispute credit report errors:

  • Your name and contact information
  • A summary of the incorrect information found on your credit report
  • A copy of the credit bureau’s completed dispute form (when disputing with a credit bureau)

You'll also want to prepare a copy of your printed credit report with false information circled or highlighted and copies of any documents that prove your dispute. Make sure you send copies of the documents and not the originals since you won't get these items back after you file your dispute.

Send copies of the documents, not the originals, since they won’t be returned to you after you file your dispute.

Documents you can use to back up your claim can vary depending on the errors you found. For example, you can potentially dispute a falsely reported late payment with a copy of a check showing you made the payment on time. To dispute an incorrect account balance, you could provide a copy of a recent statement that shows the correct balance.

If there are accounts on your credit reports that aren't yours at all, that’s a sign that you may be a victim of identity theft. In that case, you'll want to report the identity theft to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov and use the site to create a recovery plan. IdentityTheft.gov can create a report you can send to the credit bureaus in order to have fraudulent information blocked from your credit reports.

» MORE: What affects your credit score?

What happens after you dispute a credit discrepancy?

When you dispute incorrect information on a credit report, a credit bureau typically has 30 days to investigate your claims. What happens after that depends on whether or not the credit bureau agrees with the dispute.

If the bureau/furnisher agrees

If a credit bureau agrees that the information you're disputing is truly incorrect, it is required to remove or update the false information. You can also ask the bureau to send notices of the corrections to anyone who received your credit report in the last six months or anyone who received the report for employment purposes in the last two years.

The credit bureaus you dispute with are also legally required to send you the results of your dispute in writing.

If the bureau/furnisher disagrees

If the credit bureau doesn't agree with your dispute, it can stop investigating if it notifies you and gives you the reason for its stance. In the event of an unresolved dispute, you can ask the credit bureau to maintain a statement of your dispute in your credit file and in future reports.

The FTC also notes that if the credit bureau disagrees with your dispute, you can still ask the bureau to give your dispute statement to anyone who has received your credit report in the recent past, though the bureau will likely charge a fee for this service.

While it would be nice if the credit bureaus would automatically remove all information that may be harming your score from your credit reports, Ulzheimer pointed out that a dispute does not equal deletion — only an investigation.

"If the investigation finds that the information is correct, it's going to remain," said Ulzheimer. "Deletion generally only occurs if something is found to be incorrect, outdated or unverifiable."

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    FAQ

    Does disputing an error hurt your credit?

    Disputing information in your credit reports can’t hurt your credit. However, having false or outdated information removed from your reports can definitely help your credit score.

    How long does it take to remove a credit discrepancy?

    In most circumstances, a credit bureau has 30 days from the day it receives your dispute letter to investigate your claim. After that, it must notify you of its decision in writing and remove or update the information it was able to verify as false.

    What is a 609 letter?

    A 609 dispute letter attempts to coerce a credit bureau to remove information from a credit report because it's unverifiable, even if it's true. Some consumers use 609 letters to make unrealistic demands of credit bureaus. An example would be trying to convince a credit bureau to remove an accurately recorded late payment from your credit report by demanding that the bureau supplies you with your original credit application.

    Do you need a lawyer to dispute a credit discrepancy?

    You don't need a lawyer to dispute credit report errors with the credit bureaus and the companies that report the information. You can handle the entire process yourself for free online or through regular mail.

    Bottom line

    Disputing errors on your credit reports is only a possibility if you spot them in the first place. Ultimately, this is why you should check your credit reports at least annually.

    Ulzheimer mentioned that it's crucial to make sure your reports are free of errors since this information can dramatically impact your finances and your future when it comes to loans, credit cards, tenancy, insurance and employment. "All of those things can be influenced by the information in your credit reports," he said.


    Article sources
    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. USAGov, " Learn about your credit report and how to get a copy ." Accessed March 23, 2023.
    2. Consumer Reports, " More Than a Third of Volunteers in a Consumer Reports Study Found Errors in Their Credit Reports ." Accessed March 23, 2023.
    3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, " What are common credit report errors that I should look for on my credit report? " Accessed March 24, 2023.
    4. Federal Trade Commission, " Disputing Errors on Your Credit Reports ." Accessed March 24, 2023.
    5. Experian, " What Is a 609 Dispute Letter? " Accessed March 24, 2023.
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