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Your credit score is the key to everything from getting the best points-earning credit cards to securing a loan for a home mortgage, so it’s imperative that you not only monitor it to make sure it is healthy, but that you also go over it in detail to make sure the information on it is accurate – which is not the case for 1 in 5 Americans according to the FTC.
Luckily, you can check annualcreditreport.com or go to each reporting agencies website (experian.com, transunion.com, equifax.com) and dispute incorrect information, though that process can be long and frustrating, as one Oregon woman found out.
Julie Miller first noticed errors on her Experian credit report in 2009 when she tried to take out a loan from a bank. The errors included an incorrect Social Security number, incorrect identifying information, a wrong birthdate and false negative information including collections account.
Miller started disputing the inaccuracies immediately and contacted Equifax eight different times, filling in the same information over and over again in the forms that the agency sent her. When she was denied another loan and contacted Equifax again, the agency told her that her information had gotten mixed up with another person’s and that she needed to contact the creditors directly to sort things out.
Miller was fed up and took her complaints to court, where a jury just awarded her an $18.6 million settlement for her troubles. The reason Miller sued Equifax in particular is because the other credit reporting agencies also had incorrect information but fixed it while the banks she was applying for loans from used Equifax, who outsources their credit repair requests to a company overseas, drawing out the process even longer. This isn’t the first time Equifax has been taken to court over reporting errors. Back in 2007, a Florida woman won $2.7 million in damages in a similar situation where the agency had mixed up the facts on her report with those of a woman with a similar name.
Though the decision in Miller’s case is likely to get appealed and the award lowered, this is still a big victory for consumers since the credit agencies are going to have to start listening more carefully when individuals contact them about irregularities on their credit report and hopefully streamline their methods for correcting errors.
If you notice errors on your credit report, here is what you should do:
1. Request a free copy of your credit report from the agency with errors and go over it in detail.
2. Contact the agency and ask to dispute the incorrect information and prepare any supporting documentation for each error you find.
3. Follow up and make sure the agency has contacted the source of the disputed information and that they have heard back from that source in a timely manner.
4. You can consider contacting the creditor or lender directly if you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, disputing their information and asking them to report the verified information back to the credit reporting agency.
5. Contact the other credit reporting agencies. Although when one agency fixes its report the other two usually follow suit quickly, that’s not always the case, so just to be sure, call them and inform them of your situation so they can fix their reports promptly.
6. Verify that the mistakes have been corrected. Credit agencies have 30 days (or 45 if your dispute is based on your annual free credit report) to investigate your claims and come to a conclusion. If your dispute has been resolved, you can then request that the agency notifies anyone who received your credit report with the incorrect information in the past six months (2 years if it’s an employer) along with notification that corrections have been made.
7. If you still cannot resolve your dispute, you can report it to a consumer reporting agency (there’s a full list here) who can take up your case and make sure that credit reporting agencies include a statement about the dispute on your credit report as long as the dispute is still active.
Here are the pages for each of the three major credit reporting agencies where you can find out how to contact them and dispute items on your credit report:
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