Maintaining an accurate credit profile can be a tricky business sometimes. With all of the potential sources of information such as banks, financial institutions, mortgage lenders, public records databases, and more, it’s no wonder information gets a little messed up once in a while. Unfortunately, with millions upon millions of consumer data constantly being refreshed by one of the three credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, there’s no real automatic checks and balances in place to ensure the accuracy of your credit report data. It’s all on you.
That’s why monitoring your credit is so important. You can choose to monitor your profile yourself on a regular basis. You may check in on your score every few months or at the very least every six months. In the process of doing so, you’re looking to see whether your credit score went up or down and why. You may look at the actual data that caused the fluctuation in the score in the first place by evaluating your credit report in detail.
Credit Monitoring Services
You could be employing the services of credit monitoring software that will do all the checking in for you. These services are pretty diligent about notifying you of changes to your credit pretty quickly. You could decide to just go with the basic service that the credit monitor company provides or the deluxe package. Either way, you feel you’re covered.
What if, by chance either looking in on your credit yourself or receiving an alert from a credit monitoring service, you find an anomaly in your credit report? What do you do? While many mistakes appearing on your report are little and don’t have a huge influence on your score, others may have more significant consequences.
If you hadn’t been monitoring your credit at all, you may have not noticed the mistake for a very long time, letting it sit and wreak havoc on your credit score. If you have been paying attention, however, you can step into action immediately to rectify the mistake on your credit report.
Each agency has its own process for filing disputes. Since Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are all independent, they do not communicate with each other regarding disputes. So you’ll need to do a little homework to determine if the mistake appears on just one credit report or all three.
But before you start the dispute process with any of the three credit bureaus, try talking to the source of information first. You may save yourself a lot of time and a little bit of stress by calling up the source of the mistake and discussing the problem.
If you do go straight to the credit bureau, that’s fine too. Here’s a rundown of the dispute process for TransUnion in particular:
1) Creating an Online Account
The easiest way to dispute an entry on your credit profile with Transunion is to do it online at their dispute center. You’ll need to create an account to access your data. This is absolutely free and fairly straightforward.
TransUnion will ask you for your name, address, email address, date of birth, and social security. They will ask you to create a username, password, and answer a secret question.
2) Verifying Your Identity
Next, TransUnion will ask you specific questions that pertain to your personal or financial information found on your credit report. This step is to verify your identity and protect your privacy.
3) Starting The Dispute Process
Once you click on the begin dispute process, TransUnion will notify you that it may take up to 45 days to resolve or reply to your dispute. They will also inform you if the data you’re disputing is deemed to be accurate, that entry on your credit profile will not change. Lastly, TransUnion states that you will need to include all the entries you’re disputing in one submission. If you agree to those terms, TransUnion will let you proceed to the next stage.
4) Selecting Your Disputed Information
TransUnion will ask you in which of the two total categories you’d like to dispute: personal information such as name, address, or employer or account information such as credit cards, loans, mortgages, or collections. Some information such as your name, employer, or date of birth cannot be changed online. If you do need to change one of these items, TransUnion will require you to send in your dispute via mail, phone, or fax. These types of errors may show up more often if you’ve experienced a name change from marriage or as a result of divorce.
5) Submitting Your Dispute
You’ll be given the chance to submit as many disputed items as you like, both personal and credit-related. Once you’ve added all your disputes, TransUnion will ask you to submit your dispute. Once you do so, TransUnion will have 45 days to respond to your entries. You can always log into the TransUnion site to check on the status of your dispute during this period. TransUnion will also notify you as your claim is going through processing.
While minor details in either personal or credit category may not be that important, bigger issues could have a significant impact on your creditworthiness, especially inaccurate records indicating late payment. You may need supporting documentation regarding your dispute. This paperwork cannot be submitted through TransUnion’s dispute center site, but they say you can dispute it through their primary site.
Going Straight To The Source
If you have documentation that will help support your claim, you may want to talk to the creditor directly before submitting a dispute with TransUnion or either of the other two credit bureaus for that matter. You may have to submit that documentation to prove your dispute is valid, but the process may be much quicker than going through TransUnion and waiting up to 45 days for a response. Once you’ve found a resolution with the creditor and they’ve updated their records, a copy of that update will be sent to the credit bureaus so the corresponding entry on your credit profile can be updated too.
Maintaining or improving your credit score can be a tricky thing sometimes, especially when fraudulent entries occur on your credit report. Disputing items on your credit profile can seem like a daunting task. But, it is necessary in order to avoid hurting your credit. To dispute entries on your credit report, procedures for doing so may vary between each of the three credit reporting agencies (or credit bureaus): Experian, Equifax, or Transunion.
Entries you need to dispute may consistently appear on each report across all three agencies, or they may appear on only one or two. To dispute entries appearing on your Experian report, you should follow these steps:
Choose the dispute format
There are three ways you can initiate a dispute with Experian. It can be done online, by phone, or by mail.
Online Dispute Center
To initiate online, start by accessing Experian’s online dispute center. You can access this site on a computer or from a mobile device. In doing so, you’ll have access to your Experian credit report. Experian will walk you through an online form to complete with information, such as your first and last name, address, phone number, email address, social security number, and date of birth.
This will register your account with Experian. An account with Experian will give you access to the dispute center, email notifications, a free credit report that refreshes every 30 days, credit monitoring alerts, and a dark web surveillance report.
You’ll be asked a series of questions based on your credit profile to authenticate your identity. You’ll be given five minutes to complete the questions. Once everything has been completed, Experian will send you directly to the dispute center where you can begin the dispute process.
Locating The Dispute
Experian will ask you to locate the disputable item on the report, whether it be an account, incorrect personal information, or incomplete data records. After you’ve identified the problem, Experian will contact the company that furnished the initial information to Experian and ask them to match up your dispute with the records they have on file.
Experian has thirty days to complete this step (unless you live in Maine, then it is 21 days). Once the results are in, Experian will notify you by email. Or, you can log on with your Experian account and check the status of your claim in the dispute center.
Disputing By Phone Or Mail
You can dispute any entry by mail or phone as well, although online is the most efficient method. To dispute by phone, you can simply call 1-855-414-6048. A customer service representative will walk you through the process. To submit a dispute by mail, you can send the request P.O. Box 9701 Allen, TX 75013.
What Happens Next?
When Experian contacts the original agency, information is usually corrected, updated or deleted, or left unchanged. Any information an original creditor can verify accurately is left unchanged. Any information that cannot be verified by the original data submitter is either updated or deleted. Information that has been mistakenly entered by the original source will be corrected.
When you file a dispute, you will experience no impact on your credit score by just the act of filing the dispute. If, however, there is a change in the information as a result of your dispute, your score may be affected in a positive or negative way.
Experian provided a list of dispute results on their website and what each result means.
Disputes Related To Accounts Or Public Records
Updated: This can mean a couple of different things, such as:
The information you disputed has been updated, which may include an update to the disputed information.
The information you disputed might have been verified as accurate, but information unrelated to your dispute has been updated.
Deleted: The item was removed from your credit report.
Processed: The item was updated or deleted from your credit report.
Remains: The company reporting the information has certified to Experian that the information is accurate, so the item wasn’t changed.
Disputes Related To Your Personal Information Or An inquiry
Added: This item was added to your credit report.
Updated: The information you disputed has been updated on your credit report.
Address Updated: May appear to you as ‘deleted’ as your address is updated to the current address.
Deleted: The item was removed from your credit report.
Processed: The item was either updated or deleted.
Remains: The company reporting the information has certified to Experian that the information is accurate, so the item wasn’t changed.
Information is the most important when correcting your credit profile in any incorrect data that can hurt your credit ratings. These include mistakenly entered missed payments, bankruptcy-related accounts, negative public records, collection attempts, creditor-received deed, foreclosure records, government claims, negative settlements, repossessions, contract defaults, voluntary surrender of assets.
Monitoring your credit is an important step in keeping tabs on mistakes or misentries that could hurt your credit rating.
Directly Contacting Companies
An often quicker way of resolving disputes is by contacting the original company that submits the information to Experian in the first place. By contacting them directly, you may be able to resolve the problem efficiently and shorten the processing time so that the correction will appear on your credit report as soon as possible.
Sometimes, an active dispute on file or a dispute statement will prevent lenders from granting you a loan. Every case is unique, however. A dispute statement, which is a statement indicating an account was previously disputed, can appear in some states on credit reports even when the information disputed was never changed.
If you are planning on opening a line of credit or applying for a major loan in the near future, it may be to your advantage to hold off on the dispute until after that process has completed. If you’re disputing fraudulent activity, however, you should act right away.
Whether you’re the most diligent of credit score checkers or one of those people who only check in on your credit once in a while, there may come a time when you have to dispute an item on your credit report. The thought of wrangling in a correction with a credit bureau may not be your idea of a good time. Luckily, the three credit reporting agencies (aka credit bureaus) are doing their part to make the process as painless as possible.
If you do find one or more discrepancies on your credit report, you should first consider if these mistakes can impact your score in a negative way. If they are just minor issues, it may not be worth the time it takes you to rectify the situation. However, if the mistake is affecting your credit score, then the proper time and attention are definitely worth the pay in the end.
Steps For Submitting A Dispute
Here are some key steps to follow when going through the process of submitting a dispute with Equifax. The process for Transunion or Experian may be a little different, and you’ll need to make sure the mistake isn’t also on their credit reports as well since each agency acts independently.
First, verify that the mistake is actually a mistake. For obvious problems like a misspelled name or incorrect address, this is a non-issue. But for bigger fixes like incorrect balance amounts or issues with late payment records, you’ll benefit from taking a few minutes to verify in your own records that a mistake does indeed exist. This may mean you need to look back through your statements or access your account with a lender online to look back in your transaction and payment history. You may need to verify with your bank as well if the problem involves specific payment dates.
Go To The Source
Once you’ve confirmed that there is a legitimate problem with your credit report, you may consider contacting the source of information before addressing it with Equifax. Of course, you can go straight to Equifax first but, sometimes resolving the issue with the creditor can speed up the dispute clearing process. It will also avoid an “active dispute” entry on your credit report which may impede some future lenders from doing business with you, depending on the severity of the dispute.
To do this, simply call up or access your lender online and notify them of the nature of the dispute. They’ll be able to check their records on their end and fix the mistake quickly if there is an obvious error. Once they’ve corrected the mistake, the record of the clarification will be sent to Equifax, and the correction will be reflected in your credit report.
Submitting A Dispute Online
If you’d prefer to work with Equifax first, the easiest way to submit a dispute is to access their dispute center online. You’ll be asked to submit appropriate information to verify your identity, such as verifying first and last name, social security number, date of birth, home address, and email address.
Equifax will then ask you a series of questions regarding information on your report to confirm if you are actually who you say you are. Once Equifax has verified your identity, they will present your credit report in four sections: personal information, accounts, negative information, and inquiries.
Navigating The Dispute Process
You can click on any one of these categories and select an item to dispute within them. For each item, you’ll have the ability to select a number of checkboxes, listing possible problems with the entry, and you’ll have a text box you can use to enter additional information. Once you’ve clicked dispute on all applicable items, Equifax will send you to the next step which is to Upload Documents.
Submit Support Documentation
Here, you can submit any documents that you feel will help support your claim. Once you’ve finished submitting documents, Equifax will give you the option to review and submit your dispute. After that step is complete, Equifax will give you a confirmation number for your records.
Once your claim is submitted, Equifax has 30 days to resolve the issue. They do this by contacting the source of information and asking the source company or entity to double-check their records. That’s why it may be quicker to deal with the source company in the first place before going to the credit bureaus. Your disputed item may be rectified, left alone, or deleted. Either way, you’ll know within 30 days. You can also log in as often as you like to check the status of your disputes. You’ll need your confirmation number to check the status of your disputes.
Submitting By Phone Or Mail
To submit by phone, call 1-866-349-5191. To submit by mail, you can send your documents and request to P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374-0256. But, submitting online at Equifax’s site is by far the most efficient means to do so.
Once you’ve finished the dispute process with Equifax, be sure to get a copy of your credit report from Transunion and Experian as well, to see if the same issues are listed on their credit reports as well. Chances are mistakes will be on their reports, but you have to communicate with each agency independently in order to rectify the error. If you’re able to fix the mistake with the source of the information first, however, you may be able to have the information fixed with all three credit reporting agencies more quickly.
Regardless of the process, fixing serious mistakes on your credit report is an important step in maintaining your creditworthiness. If you have exceptional credit, the smallest discrepancy can sometimes have a serious impact. Check your credit reports often and take care of any discrepancies as soon as you can. It may be worth getting help from a credit monitoring agency that will do the checking in for you.
The system of obtaining and granting credit in the U.S. is built on a long history of credit reporting agencies determining credit worthiness through an ever evolving system of standards. Today, three major Credit Bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, also known as Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRA) follow a strict method to deliver assessments of credit worthiness to a variety of customers.
Purpose of The Credit Bureaus
The number one role of these credit bureaus is to collect and analyze consumer financial data and disseminate it to appropriate customers. Each agency uses a credit analysis methodology built on standardized, qualitative measures to assign a credit score. The most popular method is the FICO score, which comes in a variety of formats and emphasis depending on specific customer requirements.
To obtain the score, the credit bureaus collect financial data from data providers such as creditors, debt collection agencies, vendors, and public record offices. After assessing credit scores and compiling credit reports, they provide this information to banks, mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and the consumers themselves.
Each consumer has access to a free copy of his/her individual credit report to see where they rank and to look for mistakes or discrepancies. Providing this kind of information to customers helps retain the legitimacy of the credit determination process in all aspects of the cycle: creditor, reporting agency, and lender.
The existence of credit bureaus may seem like a nuisance to many, but they are actually here to protect both the consumer and the lender by providing accurate, up-to-date information on where we stand individually with our credit worthiness. Credit scores are valuable pieces of information that allow us each to be defined by standardized, qualitative measures concerning our credit, instead of subjective, often prejudice-filled decision factors of the past.
How The Credit Reporting Agencies Began
There wasn’t always such a thing as a credit score. In fact, before 1970 when the Fair Credit Reporting Act was passed, assessing one’s financial credibility was largely subjective. The origins of the three major credit bureaus we know today – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, all began as credit bureaus that each assessed credit using very unregulated standards.
The birth of credit came thousands of years ago in regions where credit was needed for agricultural purposes. It experienced a ban for a while, but then made a comeback in the 19th century with a group of English tailors who shared information on who paid their debts. This method of information sharing made its way over to the United States, and transformed into a business of sorts.
Equifax is the oldest of the three major credit bureaus we use today. Equifax can trace its beginnings to 1899 when it was originally called the Retail Credit Company. It was founded by the Woolford brothers, who kept a list of people they deemed as creditworthy. They used agents called the Welcome Wagon in different towns who assessed the financial position of newcomers there. The Retail Credit Company made money by selling their lists to businesses considering extending credit to certain individuals.
Before the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, credit bureaus, of which there were many in the United States, kept their lists of consumers and their corresponding creditworthiness assessments all on index cards. Imagine how quickly today we can obtain information about our own credit compared to the wait time that must have been necessary during that time period.
All those index cards probably meant a few of them were lost here and there, and many mistakes from human error were involved. Luckily in the 1960’s, the U.S. Association of Credit Bureaus decided to move their data to computerized systems. Although, we still suffer from error in credit reporting, the effort to keep data clean and accurate is not quite so daunting.
TransUnion kept nearly 3.6 million consumer data cards in over 400 filing cabinets
In fact, before the U.S. Association of Credit Bureaus started investigating computer storage options, another company called TransUnion kept nearly 3.6 million consumer data cards in over 400 filing cabinets. All those cards helped establish TransUnion as one of the three major credit reporting bureaus still in existence today. (They actually started out as railroad leasing company that in 1969 decided to buy one of the many credit bureaus in existence.)
What once was an incredibly subjective experience finally witnessed some real transformation into a quantitative, standardized way to measure credit worthiness. Although it’s not flawless, it’s a huge improvement on the old system that often refused to give credit to people who were actually more than capable of handling it.
Decades ago, there was a good chance you could walk in a bank and be refused credit, despite your lack of bad debt, all because the loan officer didn’t like that you were female, or a different ethnicity, or elderly, and so on. And, although unfair lending practices is still a problem we must continue to battle, the amount of discrimination and prejudice in lending was astronomically higher before 1970.
One of the biggest credit reporting agencies of the 70’s and 80’s was TRW, which happened to actually be a part of a defense conglomerate. TRW was often used as a replacement for the “credit score” term because it was such a popular brand. Some would say, “Let’s pull a TRW,” to find out how credit-worthy someone was. Experian bought TRW out during that time frame, and remains a huge player today.
Closing Thoughts – New Challenges
As technology plays an increasing role in our lives – for better or for worse – the vulnerabilities our data has, as witnessed by the most recent Equifax data breach of 2017, must be protected in order to maintain the privacy of individual information and the integrity of the credit granting mechanisms. Knowing where we’ve been and where we are headed as an economy built on giving and receiving credit will help us implement better methods in the future and ensure our three major credit agencies are doing their part to protect our data.
What are you thoughts about the credit reporting agencies and their roles? Should we replace or improve upon them? Let me know in the comment section below!