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I’ve Fixed a Credit Report Error — How Long Will It Take to Show?
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You’ve finally done it. After years of regularly checking your credit score and keeping up with your credit report, you spotted an error on your credit report and disputed it. Now, your credit score should improve. But soon, you begin to wonder how long it will actually take for the fix to be reflected on your credit report.
The world of credit scores and reports can be confusing. You know that paying your bills on time and keeping your credit utilization ratio low are key to a higher credit score, but that’s not all there is to the puzzle. Your FICO Score is affected by your payment history, the number of open accounts, new credit inquiries and other factors. But negative information can have a long-lasting effect, too, which is precisely why regularly checking your credit report — and spotting and fixing any errors — is essential to having a healthy credit score. But you should also know how long those fixes take to go into effect in case you need to pursue further action.
Errors that you should report
When reviewing the information on your credit report, you may spot some common errors that are cause for concern. Typically, those errors fall into one of four categories:
Identity errors. Common identity errors are a wrong name, phone number or address. Sometimes, your report will contain an account belonging to someone with a name similar to yours. Or, in a worst-case scenario, it may contain an account that was opened by someone who stole your identity.
Incorrect reporting of account status. Incorrect reporting of account status is a more complicated matter. Your credit report may show an account that you closed as open. You may show up as the owner of an account when you are only an authorized user. It could also mean the same debt is listed more than once, or that your credit report shows incorrect dates of last payment or date opened. And the one to really pay attention to: accounts that are incorrectly reported as late or delinquent. These could have the worst effect on your overall credit score.
Data management errors. A data management error may be an account that appears multiple times with different creditors listed, or the reinsertion of incorrect information after it was corrected.
Balance errors. A balance error occurs when an account is reported to have an incorrect current balance or an incorrect credit limit.
The main thing to keep in mind when dealing with errors on your credit report is that the only person responsible for those errors is you. Although some may happen because of a clerical error or identity theft, it is completely up to you to spot those errors and fix them.
How to dispute those errors
Once you’ve spotted an error on your credit report, you may feel distressed. That is completely normal, but remember: There is absolutely something that you can do about it.
The basic steps are pretty simple: You should write a letter disputing the information and send it to both the credit reporting agency (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) and to the information provider (such as a bank, credit card company, etc.). You must also provide any relevant documentation that supports your dispute.
If you are not sure exactly where to start, the Federal Trade Commission has a sample letter for consumers who need to dispute an error on their credit report. A few tips to keep in mind:
- Include copies (not originals) of the documents to support your dispute
- Add a copy of your credit report with the items that you are disputing clearly marked
- Send your letter and documents by certified mail with a return receipt requested
The FTC also provides a detailed guide on how to dispute a credit report where you can find the phone numbers of the three credit bureaus.
Remember: Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting agency and the information provider have to correct any inaccurate or incomplete information that is on your credit report. However, it is still up to you to keep track of and report any errors on your credit report.
So, how long will it take until errors are fixed?
Once you have gone through the process of gathering your documents, writing your dispute letter and mailing the package to the relevant parties, you may wonder: How long until it all gets fixed and life can go back to normal?
Here’s how it works: The credit reporting agencies must investigate a dispute within 30 days of receiving it. This is precisely where your return receipt request comes in handy, since you will know exactly when your dispute got into the hands of the people who can do something about it.
However, the process can take longer if you submit additional information during this 30-day investigation period, at which point the company can extend the inquiry for another 15 days while reviewing your additional information.
Meanwhile, if you make a dispute after receiving your free annual credit report (as opposed to keeping on top of your credit report throughout the year), the agencies have 45 days to investigate.
After the investigation period, the agencies have five business days to notify you of the results.
It may take another few days to see a change in your credit report, though the credit agencies recalculate your credit score based on the new information soon after the matter is resolved.
However, it’s not always a happy ending for you and your credit report error. If you disagree with the outcome of your dispute, there is something you can do. Primarily, you can:
- Contact the information provider.
- Add a statement of dispute.
- Dispute again with relevant information.
The third point is precisely why you will want to arm yourself with as much information as possible at the beginning of your initial dispute, if only to make sure you don’t have to wait another 30 to 45 days for a resolution.
If the situation is even more dire and you are denied a correction that you feel is necessary, the best course of action may be to submit a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and, as a last resort, hire a lawyer.
Keep on top of your credit report
The best thing you can do to avoid this problem in the first place, or get it fixed as quickly as possible without it damaging your credit score for too long, is to keep on top of your credit report throughout the year.
If it’s been a while since you have glanced at your credit report, begin with AnnualCreditReport.com. This resource is a great tool for keeping up with your credit report to spot any errors or see how your credit score might impact future plans such as obtaining a mortgage or buying a new car.
LendingTree’s tool allows you to access your credit score for free. By signing up, you will be able to check your credit score without affecting it, plus get helpful tips on how to boost your score and improve your credit.
There are a variety of other free tools available online, include Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. However, for those that more seriously want to monitor their credit report, paid tools such as Privacy Guard ($9.99-$24.99 per month) and Identity Force ($17.95-$23.95 per month) are available, as well. Meanwhile, you can also establish accounts with each of the credit bureaus individually, with TransUnion charging $24.95 per month, Equifax charging $19.95 per month and Experian offering its credit report for free. You do need to check your information from all three reporting agencies to have a complete view of your credit report and score.
Keeping up with your credit report may seem like a burden, but it is a major step toward having a secure, content life. An uncorrected mistake on your credit report can negatively affect your credit score and make it difficult for you to get any kind of loan. But with regular credit report checks, and disputing any credit report errors as soon as you see them, you can better manage all of your credit needs.
Fees mentioned in this piece are accurate as of the day of publishing.