On more than on occasion, I have advised you to get your free credit report as is your right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Once a year, you can obtain your free credit reporting by visiting http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
I have also advised you to check it out and to make sure that it is accurate because more than 80% of all credit reports contain inaccurate information. I have been remiss because, until now, I have not told you HOW to go about disputing an item on your credit report. This is very easy to do; here’s how:
1. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com. This is the official website sponsored by Experian, Equifax and Transunion. These are the big three credit reporting agencies. Be prepared to answer come key questions about recent credit transactions in order to obtain your credit report. Don’t have a computer? No problem. You can call the annualcreditreport.com people at 877-322-8228.
2. Read the credit report. OK, its not going to read quite as easily as you may like. But, if you were smart enough to get to this step, you are smart enough to spend a few minutes to read the instructions about how to understand your credit report. Let me give you some key ideas about reading your report.
Key idea 1 – Make sure all of the reported accounts actually belong to you. One of the biggest mistakes that the credit reporting agencies make on credit reports is called “mis-merging.” If someone else has a name that is similiar to yours, a credit reporting agency may report that other person’s debt on your credit report. Be vigilant and review your credit report to make sure that all of the credit grantors who are reporting anything about you are actually YOUR credit grantors. This happens more frequently than you might guess.
Another way for an account to find its way to your bureau that should not is when you are merely an “authorized” user of an account rather than the one who owns the account. For example, Rachel gets a visa credit card. She calls her bank and asks for an additional card for Jonah. Jonah racks up a bill on Rachel’s account. That account should not be reported on Jonah’s credit bureau because he is not responsible for that bill. Frequently, however, the credit card companies will report the bill to both Rachel and Jonah’s account. If you are Jonah and the credit entry is not good, then dispute it and get it off your credit report.
Key idea 2 – Check the validity of late payments reported on your credit report. Nothing drags your FICO score down as quickly or frequently as a late payment. Credit grantors frequently report payments as current, late 30 days, late 60 days, late 90 days, etc. Read those payment reports. See if any late payment has been reported about you. Sometimes a credit grantor will report you as a late payment when you have not been late. For example, some years, ago, American Express had reported me as having failed to pay my bill altogether….until I faxed them the cancelled check. I could not believe that they had screwed up that bad. Nevertheless, the lesson is plain….credit reporting agencies screw up all the time. If they do, it is your responsibility to make sure that they have their facts right.
Key idea 3 – Check the expiration date of any derogatory information on your credit report. Bad debts that are yours can only stay on your credit report for 7 years. Bankruptcies can only stay on your report for 10 years. Any debt older than these dates must come off your report. Frequently, they do not. Simply follow the dispute instructions below to remove expired debts.
Key idea 4 – Check out the Public Records. This includes judgments, tax liens. Since these items are filed by name and not by one’ s unique social security number, it is very likely