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How to Fix Credit Boo-Boos

Wouldn't you be surprised to discover you're dead, especially if the news came from your loan officer? One 30-year-old Detroit man who made national news after his allegedly deceased status was the one snafu on his credit report keeping him from getting a new car loan.

Few credit dings are that devastating. Still, credit reports may contain some inaccuracies. We're talking about flat-out wrong information -- not even those self-inflicted credit wounds that everyone tries to deny.

Various surveys over the years have found that a high percentage of credit reports -- perhaps 80% or more -- contain inaccuracies. The severity of the slipups can range from the rather innocent (such as misspelling your name) to the extreme (i.e., the undead Detroit man mentioned above). Most inaccuracies fall in the rather mundane category of "late payments," which you'll find described as 30, 60, or 90 days past due.

No matter what is called into question, there's only one thing to do: Clear your good name. Here's how to spot credit blemishes and -- if they're inaccurate -- make them go away.

Is it a scratch, a gash, or a fatal arterial wound?
There are two kinds of credit report blunders -- information that's outright inaccurate, and boo-boos that reflect the errors of your ways. Common reporting errors (the not-your-fault stuff) can include accounts mistakenly attributed to you, application notices that you didn't fill out, and out-of-date home address or employment information. Errors can also include omissions, such as the presence of a delinquency that you've already remedied, or an old collection action that is still being reported as overdue.

With a little diligence on your part, such inaccuracies can be updated or removed from your record relatively quickly. (Directions below.) Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), credit bureaus are required to investigate your claim within 30 days. If it determines that an error has been made, it must correct the boo-boo and notify the other credit bureaus and you (with a free report).

The other kind of uh-oh is the one you brought upon yourself. There's no denying self-inflicted credit record wounds (though you can try, and you might be successful if you catch the credit reporting agency on a good day).

As for handling inaccurate information in your credit file, the best way to approach the cleanup process is to start with the source. In most instances, it's listed right there on your credit report.

Six steps to disputing a credit report error
If you wish to dispute an item on your credit report that you feel is flat-out wrong, you can do so for free. When you contact the credit reporting company, they will investigate the dispute and, if applicable, issue you a revised credit report for free.

1. Start a record.
Every step of the way, be sure to keep good records of all of your phone conversations and copies of each letter/e-mail/carrier-pigeon missive you send. Send all letters via certified mail (return receipt requested), and be sure to include copies of any documentation (such as an account statement that shows an account paid in full) that supports your claim.

The latter is important, since you need to verify your claim of inaccurate information. Proof is anything from canceled payment checks to past billing statements. If your statement-filing system isn't up to snuff, you'll need to get past account statements to support your claim. Lucky for you, the Fair Credit Billing Act requires the creditor to keep your past statements on file, so that you can access them. Unfortunately, you'll probably have to pay for the privilege. Call the billing or records department of your creditor and ask for what you need.

2. Inform the credit reporting agency (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion), and tell them which information you believe is inaccurate.
Check out the Federal Consumer Information Center sample dispute letter. The FCIC suggests that you enclose a copy of your report with the items in question circled.

Within 30 days, the credit reporting agency will reinvestigate the items in question. They will forward all relevant data you provide about the dispute to the "information provider" (a lender, creditor, or other business that reported the inaccurate information). The creditor is then required by law to investigate your complaint and report its findings.

If the disputed information turns out to be inaccurate, the creditor must notify all nationwide credit reporting agencies, so they all can correct the information in your file.

3. Inform the business that sent the erroneous information of your dispute.
Now that you've honed your letter-writing skills, let the creditor (or other information provider) know in writing that you are disputing an item it put on your report. You want to include communications with the credit bureau as part of the documentation trail, but the source of the problem is your best bet for successful resolution.

Be sure to tell them exactly what you want them to do -- whether you're requesting that they delete a false item completely or update an old entry.

If your creditors disagree with your claim, they will likely explain why the information is accurate. Either they'll be correct in their explanation (and you just have a really bad memory), or they've somehow misunderstood your dispute, in which case another letter may be necessary.

4. Get the good stuff put into your file.
If you've been told you were denied credit because of an "insufficient credit file" or "no credit file," take your pulse. If you're alive, and you have accounts with creditors that don't appear in your credit file, you can ask them to kindly report your stellar behavior to future reports. They are not required to do so, but if you ask nicely and they can verify the accounts, most will add them to your report for a fee.

5. Celebrate victory!
If your dispute results in a change to your credit report, the credit bureau will give you the written results and a free copy of your report. (This is in addition to theyou can get from all three reporting bureaus once a year at annualcreditreport.com.) While this marks the end of most disputes, be aware that the information can show up again. That will only occur if the creditor verifies the disputed item's accuracy and completeness. If that happens, you'll receive notice from the credit bureau and you can take it from there. Again.

6. Accept defeat -- but make sure you get in the last word.
If you are unsuccessful in removing information from your credit file and reach an impasse, you do have the option of taking legal action. (Your state's attorney general's office can help you locate a lawyer who will advise you on taking a creditor to court.) If you don't want to go that far, your next option is to attach a letter of explanation to your credit file. Be sure to cover all three of the major credit bureaus as well as the offending business. The business is obligated to include your letter in any future input to the credit bureaus. Verify that they do.

Finally, remind yourself that it could be worse. At least your lender knows (and reports) that you're alive.

For more on boosting your credit score, read about:

Dayana Yochim employs the "strongly worded missive" approach to correct any injustices she feels she's suffered. That's mostly because she has no upper body strength.


Read/Post Comments (17) | Recommend This Article (40)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 25, 2008, at 3:34 PM, justfarley wrote:

    Federal Consumer Information Center sample dispute letter. = :

    Not Found

    The requested URL /cic_text/money/credit-errors/crediter.htm was not found on this server.

  • Report this Comment On August 15, 2008, at 11:33 AM, travelbum wrote:

    Here is a link to a bunch of free sample letters addressing various situations you might encounter in your credit repair efforts:

    www.creditinfocenter.com/forms/

  • Report this Comment On November 26, 2008, at 3:18 PM, foundmoneycom wrote:

    Its very difficult to really get things correct at the credit bureaus. They say they are independant but really do verything they can to please the Banks that report to them. If you think you may have an unclaimed bak account visit a company called Foundmoney at www.foundmoney.com to see if you have any money unclaimed.

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2009, at 12:14 PM, shelart wrote:

    The best way to fix your credit report is to call a reputable company like http://www.trinitycreditservices.com/. They helped me go from a 600 score to 749!

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2009, at 7:37 PM, creditadvisors wrote:

    Fixing your credit score takes time, knowledge, and a strong will. Staying on the right track and out of debt is hard. Sometimes people are facing unmanageable amounts of debt and cannot find a way out. On top of all this their credit score is hurt from all this debt.

    Repairing your credit and becoming debt free is a lot easier than you think but you must consider your credit score, budget and financial situation. You can negotiate and reduce your debt but you must know your options. Whatever you do, make sure you are well informed to make the right decisions. There is a wealth of information about getting out of debt, bankruptcy, fixing your credit, paying of loans and much more at http://www.credit-advisors.com

  • Report this Comment On March 12, 2010, at 4:46 PM, kimmie1967 wrote:

    Up until the end 2005 I had good credit and then my world fell apart. I found my self out of work and depressed. Then i found myself in the hospital and rehab. I have not made a payment on any of my 5 credit cards in almost 5 years. I want to fix my debt. I'm scared and I have no clue on how to go about fixing my debt. I have been working part-time for the last 4 years, but the fact of the matter is that, I make just enough to live on there is no extra money. Any advise on how to fix this?

  • Report this Comment On May 31, 2010, at 7:00 PM, Jimlennon1950 wrote:

    Try http://www.CreditAgenda.com, they are a small local company with an "A" rating under the Better Business Bureau.

  • Report this Comment On July 21, 2010, at 8:31 AM, mcarson6775 wrote:

    Great article, I would definitely get professional help. http://www.debtguru.com offers <a href="http://www.debtguru.com/">consolidation credit counseling</a> that can help get you out of debt. Good luck.

  • Report this Comment On July 26, 2010, at 11:11 PM, genniechan wrote:

    The key to repairing bad credit is to write a properly formatted letter of dispute http://www.ezcreditrepairsolutions.com/anatomy-of-a-credit-d... to one or all of the credit bureaus and send them out via registered mail.

  • Report this Comment On December 07, 2010, at 6:32 PM, archercredit wrote:

    Fixing your credit history is the most important thing you can do to improve your credit scores. As you can see http://ezinearticles.com/?Learn-To-Fix-Your-Credit-History--... your credit history makes up 35% of your credit score and should be your number one priority when repairing your credit.

  • Report this Comment On August 12, 2011, at 4:18 PM, txsage51 wrote:

    Repairing false credit report info is difficult and expensive. The law of the land states that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but in matters of credit a person is guilty until he/she proves his/her innocence. RBC Bank made totally false reports to the credit bureaus regarding my Home Equity Line of Credit in 2004-2005. RBC bought First American Bank in 6/2008. When disputing the false info, RBC admitted they had no records from the former bank for the years RBC was reporting.

    So far, every state and Federal agency contacted has done nothing, or sided with RBC (even though RBC has not produced one piece of documentation to support their false report). The system is staacked against the consumer. No one enforces the rules, and those rules favor the the institutions that make the reports. Do not believe the lie that there is anything fair or just about the credit reporting system. There should be a reporting system that consumers use to rate lenders, and those with low scores shold be fined.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2012, at 6:34 AM, zdmitchell wrote:

    I've used a credit repair agency out of Florida, and was pretty successful with them. They are a smaller but respectable firm, so very personable.

    http://www.elitecreditsolutions.com/

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2013, at 9:02 PM, Sleedz wrote:

    I found a website with some very useful information about how to dispute your credit file and how it errors happen in the first place. The guy actually worked for one of the agencies and does a great job breaking it down in simple to understand verbiage. The site is www.creditpreparation.com. Check it out.

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2013, at 12:57 PM, alawrence37 wrote:

    I've heard it's incredibly hard to get car sales with bad credit. Is that true? Will people take advantage of me if I try to buy a car? I sure hope not. http://www.coachautosales.ca

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2014, at 6:46 PM, wwdunlap2009 wrote:

    I need counsel most urgently to recover from the harmful credit bureaus?

    Sincerely, William Dunlap

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2014, at 6:46 PM, wwdunlap2009 wrote:
  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2014, at 6:47 PM, wwdunlap2009 wrote:

    the credit reporting agency refuses to fix m credit report.

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