We've all been locked inside for a while. Your closets, Netflix queue, and to-do lists may all be cleared out and complete. You may have gotten through that book you’ve been meaning to read. And, you can’t take another Zoom call.

You could turn your attention to your credit report. Evidence suggests your credit report could use a bit of cleaning, too. One in five reports have errors and one in twenty have errors that could adversely impact their chance of credit approval, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit agencies are offering free weekly credit reports through 2020 at AnnualCreditReport.com

Before you get started, here’s a rough summary of things to keep in mind. 

  • Review reports from all three bureaus: You should review your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion®, Experian™, and Equifax®) as each may include slightly different information. Common errors include mislabeling of on-time payments as late, duplicate accounts, personal information that isn’t yours (name, address, etc.), unfamiliar accounts, and negative information that’s more than seven years old. 

  • Accuracy is important: It’s in everyone’s best interest for credit reports to be accurate.  You want the best credit score possible, credit bureaus want the best data, and lenders want to accurately evaluate their applicants. 

  • You can dispute with the bureaus or the lender: There are two ways to dispute an error: 1) By contacting the credit bureaus(TransUnion®, Experian™, and Equifax®) ) or 2) By contacting the “data furnisher” which is the company that provides the debt information to the credit bureaus such as your bank, credit card company, or debt collector.

  • You can dispute online or through the mail: You can dispute items with the credit bureaus directly from each bureau’s website or by mailing your request. They are required to respond to all disputes within 30 days. To dispute items with a data furnisher, you can call them directly or mail your request to them.  

 

Disputes during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing several aspects of our lives right now, and you may see some impacts during the disputing process. By law, the credit bureaus must respond to any legitimate dispute within 30 days. However, you may experience delays and longer than usual hold times when you call both your creditors and the credit bureaus. Thankfully, you can file most disputes online and save time.

 

COVID-19 scams and your credit report

Scam artists love the chaos of a stressful situation, so it may be no surprise that COVID-19 scams are on the riseScammers are promising larger stimulus checks, offering bogus debt relief debit cards, and even promising fake cures to get people’s personal information. Even if you haven’t been contacted, it is a good idea to check your credit report frequently during this time (especially since those reports are free!) and dispute anything unusual.

 

Disputing errors yourself isn’t hard

To get started, you only need your personal information. All three major credit bureaus have created online systems for disputing errors that makes the process easier than ever. You can even track the progress of your disputes online and get updates as soon as the dispute is complete!

 

Breaking down the three online systems

Before you visit a credit bureau website to submit a dispute, here are some things to keep in mind. 

  • Some of the credit bureaus offer credit tools that require payment and/or a subscription. You don’t need to create a paid account to use the online dispute tool and service. 

  • You can’t dispute hard inquiries online with Experian™ or TransUnion® (you can with Equifax®). If you see a hard inquiry you don’t recognize, you should reach out directly to the lender. Regarding soft inquiries, they are for reference only and can’t be disputed with any credit bureau. However, soft inquiries don’t impact your credit. 

  • After submitting your dispute(s), you will receive progress updates via email from the applicable credit bureau and on their dispute website.

  • Within 30 days, your dispute will be addressed.  If anything was updated, you’ll see the results in a new credit report.

  • Using the online dispute tool will generate a credit report from that credit bureau. If you choose not to use the dispute tool, you can still view your credit report for free weekly through 2020.

Equifax®:

  1. Go to the Equifax® dispute page.

  2. Click ‘Submit a Dispute'.

  3. Create an account (or log in if you have done this before).  

  4. From the ‘Dispute Center,’ review your personal information and address details.  Dispute anything that is incorrect.

  5. Review every item in your report and dispute an account as needed.  There is an option to select negative information.  This is where you should focus your time and effort, but you should still review the entire report. 

TransUnion®: 

  1. Go to the TransUnion® dispute page.

  2. Click ‘Submit a Dispute.’

  3. Create an account or (log in if you have done this before).

  4. Follow the directions on the site to start a dispute.

  5. Go through each section of your report, disputing any errors or inaccuracies you find.  After you add each dispute, you will have an option to go back to your report and add more. 

Experian™: 

  1. Go to the Experian™ dispute page.

  2. Click ’Start a New Dispute’ (or log in if you already have an Experian™ account).

  3. Follow the directions on the site to start a dispute. 

  4. Review all items on your report, disputing everything that is inaccurate.

 

Disputing items with the lender or data furnisher

Sometimes the error(s) on your credit report originate with the companies who provide the information to the credit bureaus and will need to be disputed with them.  Fortunately, the company information is usually included on your credit report, so you know exactly where to send the dispute.  If needed, you can use this letter template from the Federal Trade Commission

 

DIY is Good

You can pay companies to fix these errors for you, but the company will go through the same process you will and many charge an astounding $150 per month. You can do this yourself. Besides, no one knows your financial life better than you do.  After it’s done, you’ll be glad you put in the effort!

(For more about fixing your credit, you can visit the FTC Consumer Information page.)    

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