Your credit report isn’t the absolute last word in your creditworthiness, but those three digits can mean a lot when you’re looking for auto financing. And sometimes, you find yourself dealing with a mistake. Here’s why mistakes happen, how to find them, and most importantly, how to fix them.
Why Mistakes Happen
There are a handful of ways mistakes can happen. The most common, by far, is fraud, but it’s not uncommon to hear about people with the same name getting each other’s bills, typos on forms having debt dumped on your credit report, and other tiny errors that have enormous consequences.
Most of the data about your credit is supplied by what the industry calls “furnishers,” and some furnishers don’t do a good job of reporting. Adding to the problem, credit bureaus tend to listen to the furnisher over the consumer, so things are weighted against the little guy, in the estimation of some. So how will you know if a mistake is on your report?
Start by checking your report. You’re allowed to request a free credit report once annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Trans-Union, and Equifax. Make a point of doing that yearly and going over it line by line. You might be surprised by what errors turn up and why.
First, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: If you know you’ve been the victim of identity theft, report it to both the authorities and the credit bureaus immediately. Similarly, if there are any points where your identity is being mistaken, even if you’re just getting junk mail from a previous tenant at your apartment, correct it immediately. Even the simplest-seeming things can result in messy errors you have to clean up.
When you find a mistake, first, make a point of circling it on your report. Make notes of the amount, what type of debt it is, when it was entered on your report, and any other information you can find. While you hear stories of people with no kids being saddled with thousands in medical bills from a birth or other tales, more often than not the mistake is going to be something smaller that you may not notice at first.
Next, contact the credit bureau by registered mail, keeping a copy of the letter you send. That way, you can confirm they’ve received the letter, and you have the contents of the letter. Report the mistake, detail what’s happening, and request that it be fixed. Follow that letter up once receipt is confirmed with a phone call, and ask for the name of the furnisher.
Follow up with the furnisher directly; the credit bureau is essentially reporting on their error. While the credit bureaus can be fairly efficient with resolving disputes, the furnisher may be providing the incorrect information to many different sources.
If a phone call doesn’t resolve the issue, collect any documentation that proves you’re not the debtor in question and send copies certified mail to the furnisher. A word of warning; if they demand you pay them to resolve the complaint, don’t give them a nickel. Instead, speak to your state’s attorney general directly.
Resolving errors may not be a simple process, but it should be done. There’s no reason you should pay for someone else’s mistakes.