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As you build credit, you'll want to make sure that your credit is reported accurately. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for crediting reporting agencies to make mistakes in their reports. In this article, we'll go over the basics of credit reporting and how you can fix an error if you find one.
The Big Three Credit Reporting Agencies
There are three major national credit reporting agencies, also known as CRAs or credit bureaus. These agencies collect and store information relevant to your credit and financial history. Then, they sell this information back to lenders, employers, and other companies who use it to gauge your reliability and decide whether they want to work with you.
While these three agencies serve similar purposes, there are slight differences between them. Let's take a look at each of the big-name credit bureaus.
As you may have heard, in 2017, Equifax experienced an extensive data breach. In the process, critical information of millions of consumers was breached. Now, they provide free credit monitoring services to those whose information was leaked.
Consumers can also purchase credit monitoring services that include Equifax credit scores, credit fraud protection and identity theft services.
Experian began in London from a group of businesspeople who started giving out information on customers who didn't pay their bills. In 1826, they created the Manchester Guardian Society and became central to Experian. Today, Experian employs more than 16,000 people in over 39 countries. Experian uses the FICO 8 credit score
TransUnion began as a holding company in the 1960s and branched out into a credit reporting company. By 1988, they had information on every market-active consumer in the U.S. Today, their database contains credit information on over 1 billion people in more than 30 countries.
Accessing Your Report
Now that we've covered a bit about the three major credit reporting agencies, let's discuss how you can view your report.
How to View Your Report for Free
Every 12 months, you can access your credit report once for free from each major CRA. To do this, you can visit AnnualCreditReport.com
and make a request.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be especially crucial to have access to your credit report. Because of this, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are now offering free weekly online reports
through April 2021.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows you to also get your report for free
if you are turned down for credit. Just make sure to request the report within 60 days
after you're declined, and to request from the credit bureau who provided the report used in the creditor's decision.
Besides viewing your reports for free, you can always purchase your reports at any time from the three CRAs.
Checking Your Report for Errors
Whenever you receive your credit report, it's essential to check it for errors. It may not be the most exciting activity, but it's the best way to make sure your credit score gets the credit it deserves.
Among other things, you'll want to check that your report contains accurate information about you and your transactions. When you view your report, make sure the following information is correct:
- Your balances
- Payment dates and amounts
For a complete list of errors to look for, check out this article
How to Fix an Error
When it comes to fixing an error, you may need to contact the credit reporting company as well as the company who provided the incorrect information (known as the furnisher). Let's go over how you can report errors to both of these parties.
Credit Dispute Letter: Reporting Errors to a CRA
It's a solid idea to mail your dispute. When you file a credit dispute letter, you can send it by certified mail and request a return receipt to confirm your dispute was received.
For your letter, enclose a copy (never the original) of the credit report and the documents that support your position. Additionally, you'll want to include:
- Your contact information
- Clear markings (such as circling or highlighting) of each mistake on your report
- An explanation of the information you're disputing
- A written request to remove or correct the information
You can find information on where to mail your dispute for each of the three CRAs here
Reporting an Error to the Furnisher
Along with sending a credit dispute letter to a CRA, you may also want to dispute information with the furnisher
(the organization that provided the information to the CRA). For specific instructions and templates for submitting a dispute to a furnisher, view this document
What Happens Once You Send a Credit Dispute Letter?
There are a few actions that credit reporting agencies and furnishers may take once they receive your report.
What CRAs Need to Do
After you send a CRA your credit dispute letter, they must review and send all relevant information to the furnisher. Then, they will send the results back to you.
Decisions the Furnisher Can Make
The furnisher can determine your information is accurate but not update or remove it from their records. In this case, you can ask the credit reporting company to add a statement to your credit file that explains the dispute. In all future reports, this statement will be included.
If the furnisher accepts your dispute and changes your information, it must update all the relevant credit reporting companies with the new information. Then, those CRAs can modify their reports accordingly.
Whether you're new to building credit or have been at it for decades, it's crucial to understand how the three major credit reporting agencies work. Additionally, knowing how to check your credit report and file a credit dispute letter will ensure your credit score stays on track now and for years to come.
This blog article is intended to provide you with a general understanding of the subject matter. It is not intended to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Information may have changed since the publication date.