You found an error on your credit report and tried to correct it. You might have even spent hours on the phone to get ahead of it. But then, what seemed like a straightforward appeal to you, was nixed and your dispute got denied. Now what? Does it mean you have to live with a ding in your credit that doesn't even belong to you? Actually, there are more things you can do.
"When consumers' disputes are denied and they disagree with these results, they definitely have options," Eric J. Ellman, senior vice president of public policy and legal affairs at the international trade organization Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA), which represents the three major credit reporting agencies, said.
How It Works
If you've filed your dispute correctly, the credit bureau will contact the company that reported the information and notify them of the dispute. The source of the information, usually a lender, then reviews its records and tells the credit bureau to update the information, delete the information or verify that it is accurate as reported.
"If the results state the information was verified, that means that the creditor did not agree that the information was in error," Sandra Bernardo, manager of consumer education at credit bureau Experian, said.
But this doesn't mean it's a final decision.
Under federal law, you have the right to submit a dispute and request an investigation when you discover an error in your credit report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the credit reporting agency and the creditor, or firm that supplied the information, have responsibilities for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report, according to a fact sheet on the National Consumer Law Center's website.
When you submit a dispute, the credit reporting agency must investigate the items in question – usually within 30 days. There is no limit to how many times a consumer can dispute an item on their credit report, according to National Consumer Law Center attorney Chi Chi Wu.
"In some cases, it will take several disputes to resolve a mater. However, if the consumer submits the same dispute regarding the same item, it may get rejected as 'frivolous or irrelevant.' A good idea is to add additional information or documentation to each subsequent dispute," Wu said.
Experian concurred: If you keep submitting the same dispute without adding additional evidence, it can be punted back to you and declared "frivolous." But "if a person has new documentation that verifies their dispute, it would no longer be frivolous and the dispute would be processed. Of course, it would have to be new relevant information," said Bernardo. Also, if you have an entirely different reason for a dispute for the same account, you can submit the information as many times as you have a different reason.
Handling a Dispute
To stay informed on what dings are sticking, it's best to get your free credit reports each year from the three major credit reporting agencies, and check what they say about you. (You also can see two of your credit scores, updated for free, each month on Credit.com.) And know that many others have their disputes initially denied. A 2015 Federal Trade Commission study on credit report accuracy found although many people still believe that at least one piece of previously disputed information is inaccurate, about 50% of them don't contest it.
Here are some tips for handling a dispute.
- Know that paying the bill usually doesn't simply erase the ding from your credit report. If this happened, many many people would have a perfect credit report and it wouldn't be a very useful tool to determine past performance. "This just isn't the case," Ellman said. Raising your credit score is a bit more complicated, and, along with other truths about credit repair, legitimate dings can take 7 to 10 years to drop off your report.
- Contact the creditor directly. Sometimes the best way to resolve a conflict is to discuss it, head on, and this is one of those cases. "If consumers feel the item(s) are in error, they should contact the creditor(s) directly to find out why they did not agree to remove them from their report," Bernardo said. This is because the credit bureaus don't have direct access to all of the account's data that you and the lender have, according to Ellman
- Get supporting documentation. Credit bureaus give people the option to file their disputes online and by mail. And they've retooled the technology to ensure that creditors review the paperwork, Ellman said. "This effort has been welcomed by lenders who want to see this additional information in order to resolve their customer's dispute," he said. Scan or copy all information supporting your case, and send it to both the lender's address supplied on the credit report and all three credit bureaus. If you have multiple errors on your credit report, send multiple letters and evidence to the bureau(s) in question.
- If you're a victim of identity theft, get a report. This can be done through the Federal Trade Commission, which has an identity theft website. It allows consumers to set up an online account, and walks them through the steps needed to resolve consequences of the crime. "Our members and their lenders both use identity theft reports to expedite a consumer's fraud claim and this includes blocking data in her/his credit report or the reporting of this data by the consumer's lender," according to Ellman. It's imperative to continue monitoring your credit, and the free copies of your credit reports provided under FCRA once a year.
- Ask for a statement to be placed on the report. "The statement should be specific to the dispute of credit information," Ellman said. According to the NCLC website, you also can ask the credit reporting agency to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past. You might have to pay a fee for this service. Also, if you tell the information provider that you dispute an item, a notice of your dispute must be included any time the creditor reports the item to a credit bureau, according to the NCLC. (It's important to note, however, that dispute statements can affect your credit scores positively or negatively, depending on how they appear on your credit reports, so it's a good idea to keep an eye on your credit after requesting that a statement be added.)
While you're waiting for your dispute to be settled, you can work on improving your credit in other ways. For instance, you can pay down high credit card balances, limit new credit inquiries and re-establish your payment history by making all loan payments on time.
More from Credit.com