Disputing Errors Step-by-Step
When disputing errors, you should err on the side of caution. Your initial request to have an error corrected might be all it takes. However, you should act as if it will not. If you are systematic and thorough from the beginning, your life will be easier in the event that you run into trouble.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit-reporting companies and your creditors must resolve your dispute, whether favorably or unfavorably, within thirty days. If they fail to do so, they must permanently remove the disputed information from your files. Your job is to dispute information that you feel is inaccurate, and follow up to make sure that the issue is resolved.
Write a Long Letter
You can use the mail, Internet, or phone to dispute any errors. Which one should you use? In this day and age, you might suppose that the Internet is the most efficient and effective way to correct errors. However, your best bet is probably to use snail mail — it is easier to document and prove your actions if you use the mail. If time is of the essence, you might try one of the other methods.
Everything you send should be sent via certified mail, return receipt requested. This will help you verify that your materials made it to the intended destination, and you will have a paper trail that you can use to document your activities. It only costs a few dollars, and gives you proof that you have sent correspondence asking that the error be corrected.
Mark Twain once commented, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Do not make this same mistake with your dispute letters. Keep them extremely short, and to the point. Furthermore, you should not use a nasty tone. A real person will read your letter, and you need their help. If the normal dispute process does not work, you're going to need a lawyer — you can leave the nasty verbose documents to them.
What to Say
Your brief letter should contain all of the relevant information needed to resolve your dispute. You can find a sample letter, which you can use as a template, in the appendix of this book. As an alternative to crafting your own letter, you may be able to download a dispute form from the credit-reporting company's Web site. Presumably, the standardized format will allow them to handle your dispute efficiently. If you choose to write your own letter, make sure you include the following:
Current and previous addresses
Social Security Number
Date of birth
Full account number and name of creditor in question
Specific reason for dispute
Along with your letter, you should include a photocopy of your entire credit report with the items in question highlighted. Your credit report will have information that may be useful to the credit-reporting company. Highlighting the items in question helps to make sure that nobody gets confused. Most importantly, you should enclose supporting documentation. Prove to them that the credit report is wrong. You should not send originals of any document. Make photocopies of your supporting documentation, because you may need to use it more often than you think.
Where to Send
Send your dispute package to the credit-reporting company, or companies, that has erroneous information on you. These companies have special addresses for disputes, which you can find at the bottom of your credit report. If you are reviewing your credit report online, you may have to click on a link to get more details about the dispute process at that particular company.
After you send in your dispute kit, do not send anything else to the credit-reporting company for at least thirty days. If you send something else in, they can restart the clock and once again take thirty days to get back to you. In addition, they may flag your dispute as frivolous if you contact them too often.
In addition to sending your dispute to the credit-reporting company, you should send a complete copy to the creditor in question. Although your dispute is supposed to go through the credit-reporting company, you may nudge things along by contacting the creditor as well.
Make an Appointment
After you submit your dispute, the issue must get resolved within thirty days. The credit-reporting company should notify you that the error was corrected, or that the information was verified as accurate and will not be removed. In order to keep things moving, you should make sure that this happens. If you have not heard from the credit-reporting company within forty days, you should contact them. Set a reminder in your computer, mark your calendar, or do whatever it takes to make sure that you stay on top of this.
If they have not responded within forty days, you should remind them of your original dispute, and include photocopies of documentation such as United States Postal Service receipts proving when they received it. Note that they have not responded, so the information must be permanently removed. Again, you can find a sample letter in the appendix of this book.