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You see the advertisements in radio, TV and on the Internet. You get fliers in the mail, and maybe even calls offering credit repair services. They all make the same claims: “Credit problems? No problem!” “We can remove bankruptcies, judgments, liens and bad loans from your credit file forever!” “We can erase your bad credit – 100% guaranteed.”
However, no one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report. The law, however, allows you to ask for an investigation of information in your file that you dispute as inaccurate or incomplete. There is no charge for this. Some people hire a company to investigate on their behalf, but anything a credit repair clinic can do legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost.
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you’re entitled to a free report if a company reports negative information against you, like denying your application for credit, insurance or employment. You have to ask for your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address and phone number of the consumer reporting company.
You’re also entitled to one free report a year if you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days; if you’re on welfare; or if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft.
Each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months, if you ask for it. The three companies have a central website, a toll-free telephone number and a mailing address for consumers to order the free annual credit reports the government requires them to. To order, go to annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228
It does not cost anything to dispute mistakes or outdated items on your credit report. Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report.
When you receive your credit report, review your report thoroughly to make sure the information reported is correct. If your credit report has incorrect information, the FCRA gives you the right to dispute the information.
To dispute you should write to both the credit bureau who provided the report and the creditor who provided the negative information. This is the process to dispute credit report information.
If you have documents that support your claim, include copies of them with your statement (do not send originals). In your statement, include your name, complete address, the information you are disputing, and the reason the information is not accurate. It will be helpful to include a copy of your credit report with the disputed information highlighted.
Send your credit report dispute certified mail with return receipt requested. This way you not only have proof that you sent the dispute, but also that the credit bureau received your dispute. Keep a copy of the letter along with any enclosures you sent.
By law the credit bureau has 30 days to investigate your dispute and respond to you, in writing, with the results of the investigation. Any data you provided about the inaccuracy of the information will be forwarded to the original information provider. The information provider is then required to investigate and respond back to the credit bureau.
Once the investigation is complete, the credit bureau will provide you with the results, along with a free copy of your credit report if the dispute resulted in a change. You can request that the credit bureau send a correction notice to any company that accessed your credit report within the past six months.
If there is inaccurate information in one credit bureau’s version of your credit report, it’s likely that the information will be inaccurate on the other two bureaus’ reports as well. You should check all three credit reports to be sure that the information in each is complete and accurate. If you follow these instructions, you should be able to dispute all your inaccurate negative information that may have resulted in a bad credit score. And the best part is you can do this yourself without incurring any cost.
The purpose of this column is to provide general information on the law, which is subject to change. It is not legal advice. Consult a lawyer if you have a specific legal problem.
Published: July 14, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 13