If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to make positive changes to your credit file, be aware that any inaccurate information in your credit report could hold you back.
Erroneous information in your credit report —whether it’s the result of fraud or a creditor incorrectly reporting your account as delinquent—could negatively impact your credit score and affect your ability to open new loans or lines of credit.
To ensure that all of your information is accurate and up to date, request a copy of your credit report online at annualcreditreport.com. Every year you can order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies.
It’s also a good idea to comb through your credit report before you apply for new credit. That way, you can dispute any inaccuracies before a lender evaluates your file.
How to review your credit report
As you review your credit report, check to make sure that:
1. Your personal information, such as your name and address, is correct.
2. All of your credit accounts are listed.
3. Your payment history is correct for each of your accounts.
4. The balances and account ages (dates opened) are correct for each of your accounts.
5. All negative information, such as bankruptcies, liens, or judgments, has fallen off of your credit report after the appropriate amount of time has elapsed.
6. All inquiries listed in your credit report are familiar to you.
7. Any inactive accounts do not show new, unfamiliar activity.
How to dispute information in your credit report
If you do spot an error in your credit report, contact the associated credit reporting agency to initiate a dispute, free of charge. At Equifax, you can file a dispute online, by mail, or by phone. If you find an inaccuracy with one credit reporting agency, consider ordering your credit report from the other two to see if their files contain the same error.
After you’ve corrected an error with one credit reporting agency, the other two agencies should eventually receive the corrected information. In order to have the information corrected as quickly as possible, though, consider contacting the other two agencies directly to dispute the error.
What to do after you file a dispute
The credit reporting agencies are legally required to investigate your dispute within 30 days of its filing (or within 45 days if your dispute is based on your free annual credit report).
Before the time frame has elapsed, the credit reporting agency will notify you of the outcome of your dispute. If you initially filed your dispute by mail, your notification will be mailed to you. If you filed your dispute online, you can receive email updates throughout the investigation.
Based on the investigation, the credit reporting agency will either update the current status of the disputed information or delete the item from your file. Keep in mind that even if you dispute the information, your creditors may say that the information they’ve reported is correct.
If the creditor verifies that your disputed information is correct, it will remain on your credit report. However, you can add a statement of explanation to briefly explain the nature of your dispute. Your statement of explanation will become part of your credit file and will be included each time your credit report is accessed.
To ensure that the information on your credit report remains accurate and up to date, regularly monitor it going forward. Remember that the credit reporting agencies do not create the information in your report. Instead, they report the information that has been provided to them by creditors.
Diane Moogalian is vice president of operations for Equifax Personal Solutions with responsibility for operational strategy and execution in support of customer care and fulfillment of credit and identity-related products for consumers. Prior to joining Equifax in 2007, Diane held several strategic roles with leading financial services companies. Diane graduated from the University of Richmond with a bachelor of science degree in business administration (marketing and economics) and earned a certificate in international business from Virginia Commonwealth University.
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