Credit bureaus, also known as credit reporting companies or consumer reporting agencies, accumulate data about your personal finances based on information reported to them from creditors, such as credit card companies and other lenders. The information reported includes your credit activity, loan payment history, and the status of your credit accounts. Once this is compiled into a report, this is known as your credit report—used by lenders to determine your creditworthiness and what type of interest rate you should receive if they choose to approve you for a loan. Most people have multiple credit reports, because there are three main credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Credit reports are also frequently referenced by landlords, employers, and cell phone and utility providers, making it important to have a favorable credit report and score.
When to use a dispute letter
Credit reports are not perfect, and sometimes errors occur. If you suspect there is an error on one of your credit reports, you can use a dispute letter to try to resolve the issue. Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian allow dispute letters to be filed online or sent by mail. There is no penalty for disputing an error on your credit reports, but you are responsible for reviewing your reports to check their accuracy. Since not all creditors report your information to each of the major credit bureaus, it’s important to check all of your credit reports—you may find differences among them.
A few of the things you can dispute on your credit report include:
- Late payments
- Bad debts after seven years
- Foreclosures after seven years
- Bankruptcies after 7-10 years
If you notice a mistake on one of your credit reports, you should submit a letter to the corresponding credit bureau to have it corrected. Be sure to send your dispute letter via certified mail, so you can document when the credit bureau received it. In your letter, include the following information:
- Current date
- Personal information - Name, date of birth, contact information, account number
- Credit bureau information - Name and contact information
- Description of the error - Keep this clear and concise.
- Supporting documents - Payment records or court documents to support your case
- Request - What do you want the credit bureau to do? In most cases, this is to research and remove the item from your report.
- Credit report copy - Highlight the error.
- Proof of address - Include a copy of your driver’s license (or government-issued ID) and a bill or other document to prove your address.
Types of dispute letters
In the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Section 611 states that everyone has a right to dispute information believed to be incorrect from their credit reports—and if the information cannot be verified, it must be removed. Section 609 of the FCRA talks about your rights to request copies of your credit reports, but some dispute letters have been nicknamed “609 dispute letters” nonetheless. These are typically templates you can purchase that dispute an item on your credit report by asking the credit bureau to produce hard-to-find evidence. For instance, the 609 dispute letter may request the original, signed copy of your credit application to dispute a late payment. In theory, if the credit bureau cannot produce the requested evidence, they would need to remove the item from your credit report.
A wide variety of dispute letter templates exists online, but your rights remain the same no matter which style you choose. Rather than spending money on an expensive template, you can submit a straightforward letter that includes all the necessary information to prove the error—and you can do it for free.
Should you use a dispute letter?
Sending a dispute letter can resolve errors on your credit report, which is important for obtaining future loans—like a mortgage or credit card—with the lowest possible interest rate. If you notice an error on any of your credit reports, there is no downside to sending a dispute letter. If you write your own letter or use a free template, then it costs nothing and could help improve your credit health.
Credit bureaus are typically required to look into your dispute within 30 days of receiving the dispute letter. They also need to finish their investigation and notify you with their decision within 90 days. The credit bureau must provide your results in writing, and they will send you a free copy of your credit report if the dispute results in a change.
In some cases, you may be asked to provide more information or your dispute may be rejected. If you disagree with the results of your dispute, you can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.