This is a basic guide for people who have credit card accounts that show false late payments on their consumer credit reports of a major consumer reporting agency (“CRA”), such as Experian, Equifax or Trans Union, also known as “the Big Three.” Even though this is a basic guide, these steps also apply to other consumer reporting agencies and credit report resellers, such as Corelogic Saferent and First American Credco. It can also help consumers correct any error that appears in a consumer credit report.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. 1681 et seq., is designed to give consumers the power to protect their credit, by creating a system for researching and disputing errors in their consumer credit reports.
Step 1. Obtain a copy of your consumer report from a CRA. For the Big Three, the preferred way is to order a copy for free, once per 12-month period at www.annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and U.S. Mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. If you use the website, it will allow you save your credit reports on a drive in PDF format, which is great for reviewing as often as you like, so be sure to use a secure computer system for this, as you will be asked to provide private information, such as your Social Security Number (SSN) and date of birth. This is information that we all should protect from anyone who does not truly need to know it and never give out that information to a caller, who could be trying to steal your identity.
Step 1 Alternate. If you have had any business entity, such as a creditor, employer, or insurance company, review your credit report and take an adverse action towards your application, then they must advise you of your right to obtain a free copy of that credit report, which you need to do promptly, before the period of time expires. Follow the steps given to you from the creditor, employer, or insurance company and save that copy of the credit report in the condition it was received, so that you can (potentially) consult with a consumer attorney about any reported errors.
Step 2. Once you have a copy of one or more of your credit reports, then examine each page carefully for any items that appear false, inaccurate, or incomplete. That would include the personal information that shows “other names” that the CRA included in the report and former or current addresses and Social Security Number variations, which might explain whose false accounts appear on your credit report. False names, Social Security Numbers, and addresses may indicate either that the CRA has mixed your credit file or some accounts with another consumer or that you are the victim of identity theft.
Step 3. After you have listed all items that appear false, inaccurate, or incomplete from your credit report, prepare a letter to send to that CRA to dispute the false information and explain the basis of each dispute. This is your opportunity to present your facts to a representative of the CRA, so state the facts clearly. If you have documentation, consider providing those documents to support your explanation. My website, www.StopCollectionHarassment.com has free sample letters that I hope people will freely use and download them to their computer. The letter should include the addresses where the letter is being sent and your personal contact information and the account number of any disputed accounts. It will expedite your case if you send proof of your identity, if identity is an issue, such as a copy of your drivers license or other government-issued identification and a copy of a recent utility bill in your name and address.
Step 4. Send the letter by U.S. Certified Mail, FedEx, or UPS, or some other carrier that provides tracking and proof of delivery. Each CRA gets so many dispute letters every day that they may misplace (illegally, in my opinion) regular U.S. Mail that lacks proof of delivery. Make a note of the date that you sent the dispute letter and track it using the number. Also, send a copy (against with tracking) to the creditor who has reported the account falsely, including a copy of any documentation. Make an exact copy of what you sent, including a copy of the enclosures, in case the recipients deny receiving it.
Step 5. The law requires a response to the dispute within 30 days of receipt, so expect a response within 30 to 40 days from date of delivery at the CRA. Make a note on a calendar, based on the date of receipt as tracked.
Step 6. Review the responses from each CRA and any correspondence from any creditors where you sent the dispute letter. Did the CRA agree to update or delete the account per your dispute or was the disputed information verified, in which case the CRA will continue to report it? If it continues to be reported inaccurately, DO NOT DESPAIR. This does not mean that it will show for the full number of years, but you may need to figure out what more you need to dispute the error. If this debt is a credit card that was incorrectly reported as 30 days late, perhaps a copy of your cancelled check or bank statement showing automatic bill payment and a copy of the account statement will prove that you paid within 30 days of the due date, in which case 30 days late is inaccurate. Or, perhaps sign the next letter with this at the bottom: “I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing facts are true and correct.” That form of letter should signal to whomever reads it that you are willing to face prosecution for perjury, and you are certain that the facts in your letter are accurate. This may give your letter more weight and get your dispute accepted.
Step 7. After several letters, perhaps a phone call to the CRA’s toll free number may resolve a disputed account or debt. Most consumers should be able to explain by phone to one of the CRA’s representatives why you have disputed this debt and what you believe should be the correct reporting of it. It should not be a call in which you start yelling, though you may be upset about it and it may be costing you money, in terms of higher finance charges. The representative is likely to remain calm, so I recommend that the consumer also keep a calm, matter-of-fact tone, not be antagonistic or hostile. If you have a hard time explaining this on the phone, practice a few times with someone who can help you “get into the zone.”
Step 8. Get help from a professional. Not only lawyers can help resolve a credit dispute, but I’d steer clear of credit repair organizations, especially any that want to an up front fee, which is illegal. If you are working with a mortgage broker for a new loan or to refinance, many brokers have a resource known as “rapid re-score.” If you can get a letter from the creditor that the account was incorrectly reported, then the rapid re-score process can be used. If you cannot do a rapid re-score because you cannot get the documentation required, you should promptly consult with a consumer attorney who handles credit reporting, such as one of the attorneys in your area who are part of this website: www.myfaircredit.com.
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- FCRA Statute and Defined Terms Under the FCRA
- FCRA Statute And Amendments: 15 U.S.C. 1681, et. seq.
- What is a Consumer [Credit] Reporting Agency?
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- Resellers: Who are They? What Do They Do? Are They Liable Under the FCRA?
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- How to Get Your Credit Reports and How and Who to Write Your Dispute Letters to
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- FCRA Private Rights of Action and Duties Imposed by the FCRA
- Impermissible Access: 15 U.S.C. 1681b[f] and 1681q
- Front End Duties of the Credit Reporting Agencies: 15 U.S.C. 1681e(b)
- Back End Duties of the CRAs: 1681i[a]:
- Credit Bureau's Duty to Provide Consumer Documentation to Furnisher: 1681i[a][B]
- Duty to Add a Consumer's Dispute Statement in Association with a Specific Account and In Connection with the Credit File/Report: 15 U.S.C. 1681i[c]
- Furnisher FCRA Liability: 15 U.S.C. 1681s-2
- Failing to Mark Contested Accounts As Disputed: 15 U.S.C. 1681s-2[a]
- Obsolescence: When Must the Credit Reportings Come Off of the Credit Report: 15 U.S.C. 1681c
- Duty to Notate Disputed Accounts As Such: 15 U.S.C. 1681c[f]
- Adverse Action Notice Rules: 15 U.S.C. 1681m and ECOA
- Credit Solicitations Are Required to be Clear and Conspicuous: 1681m[d]
- Potential Exposure For Sanctions Due to Filing Bad Faith FCRA Cases: 15 U.S.C. 1681n[c], 28 U.S.C. 1927, and Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 11
- Credit Repair Organizations Act [CROA]
- 1681g: Credit Bureaus' Duties to Provide Reports/Disclosures and to Add 100 Word Statements of the Consumer
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- Common Credit Report Errors and Agency Misconduct
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- FDCPA Statute And Amendments: 15 U.S.C. 1692, et. seq.
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- Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, 18 U.S.C. §1028
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- Offers of Judgment In FCRA Litigation
- Secret Documents, Product Information and Testimony
- Choicepoint Secret Documents:
- Equifax/CSC and Affiliates Secret Documents:
- Experian Secret Documents
- Innovis Secret Documents:
- Trans Union Secret Documents
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- Liability For Employee's FCRA Violations? Liability For FCRA Violations by Third Parties?
- FCRA Preemption, Immunity, and Qualified Immunity
- FCRA Preemption: 15 U.S.C. 1681t[b][F] and Related Discussions
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- States/Govermental Immunity From FCRA Claims?
- Jury Voir Dire, Instructions, Verdict Forms, etc.
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- Credit Card Issues
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- Do You Have a Right to Bring Claims and How Long Do You Have?
- Statute Of Limitation: 15 U.S.C. 1681p
- Standing to Sue
- Credit Scores, Adverse Action Codes, and Other Report Codes
- Credit Scores, Adverse Action Codes, Risk Factors, Denial Codes and Other Scores and Codes Supplied by the Credit Reporting Agencies
- The Mechanics of Credit Reporting
- Public Records Reportings [Non-Bankruptcy]
- Bankruptcy Reporting
- Student Loan Credit Reporting
- Metro Tape [I and II]: Standardized Credit Reporting Formats Used by the Credit Industry
- Defenses Asserted by Credit Reporting Defendants
- What Law Applies? Problems Barring Use of the Court and Law
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- Conflicts of Laws Issues in FCRA and Related State Law Issues
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