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Correcting errors in your credit reports seems like an easy task. You get copies of your reports, you review them for accuracy and if you find something wrong, you file disputes with the credit bureaus to have the errors corrected.
Unfortunately it’s not as simple as I just suggested. But following these tips will help ease the pain:
Make sure it’s really an error
Keep in mind that credit reports do not constantly update in real time, which means the balances on your accounts are going to be different from the previous month’s statement. And, if you just wrote a check a few days ago to pay off a collection or a loan, that’s not going to be reflected on your credit reports yet. So, the question is, “is it really an error?” Clearly a balance that isn’t your true current balance can be a problem but since the credit reporting system isn’t, has never been, and likely will never be a real-time system, you have to reset your expectations as to what is accurate and what is inaccurate. You can certainly dispute the balance as inaccurate, but it would have likely been updated in the next few days or weeks anyway.
Burn the candle at both ends
The credit bureaus don’t generally get involved in disputes between you and your creditors. They’re simply warehouses that store information sent to them by their data furnishers (your creditors and collectors seeking payment from you). When you send them a dispute they will send notification of that dispute to the source of the data, which is called the data furnisher. This is the standard protocol for all disputes unless you’re disputing a public record.
The credit bureaus generally will send the creditor/collector an automated form called an ACDV (Automated Consumer Dispute Verification) via a web-based system called e-Oscar (Online Solution for Complete and Accurate Reporting). There is very little human involvement and the credit bureaus will simply report what the data furnisher tells them to report in response to the dispute. This is called “Parroting.”
If your disputed item comes back as “verified as accurate” then you really should contact the creditor directly and take up the argument with them. There’s no sense in re-disputing the item over and over through the credit bureaus. Eventually they’ll consider repeats as being “frivolous,” which then allows them to ignore your disputes. In fact, I’d suggest contacting the creditor right out of the gate.
Think about going old school
If you file an online dispute from a credit report you claimed at annualcreditreport.com, then the bureaus: a) have 45 days to complete their investigation versus 30 days, and b) only give you a list of pre-selected dispute reasons, which may or may not exactly match up with what your dispute. If your dispute is atypical, I’d suggest that you type up a letter and mail it to the bureaus. If your dispute is garden variety (“not my account” or “balance paid in full”) then go ahead and file it online.
If you know for a fact that what’s being reported is wrong AND that error is significant to the point that it’s costing you money or worse, a job, you should not simply live with it for seven to 10 years. The challenge you face is, unlike our legal system, that you’re guilty until someone else tells the credit bureaus that you’re not. The bureaus will never take your word over one of their revenue-generating data buyers/data furnishers. And while the bureaus and I don’t share pleasantries very often, I can’t blame them. According to their trade association, the CDIA, about 30% of the disputes are submitted by credit repair organizations. That equals millions of disputes each year that may not be real disputes and are simply attempts to get accurate but negative data removed early. Point being, if you really want to get your credit files corrected and the standard process isn’t working for you, then you might have to escalate your efforts into the legal environment to get it corrected.
John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and the author of the “credit history” definition on Wikipedia. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has served as a credit expert witness in more than 70 cases and has been qualified to testify in both Federal and State court on the topic of consumer credit.