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Credit report inaccuracies can ruin your life

by Peter Andrew

Maybe you're not too worried about your credit report, which is the document used to calculate your credit score. Perhaps you're not planning to get a mortgage or auto loan. Maybe you aren't going to fill in a credit card application anytime soon. So you don't think you should be concerned.

Well, think again. Your credit report isn't just viewed by lenders. A poor one may make it difficult or impossible for you to rent an apartment, obtain phone service, get a job or land a promotion. Yes, many employers run credit checks before hiring people or promoting existing staff. These are all reasons to take your credit report seriously.

Credit report errors widespread

You should certainly monitor your credit report closely and regularly. The fact is that errors on credit reports are much more common than many think. Addressing this issue in December (Five rules for fixing credit report errors), this blog quoted experts' estimates that between 50 percent and 70 percent of all reports in the U.S. contain at least one inaccuracy.

As a rule, everyone should check their record at least once a year. Many people are comfortable with services that provide continuing access, including Equifax 3-in-1 Monitoring and TransUnion's TrueCredit Monitoring.

Credit report errors hard to shift

It's a mistake to assume that credit bureaus are happy to correct any inaccuracies that arise on your report. They're paid by credit providers, not you. Often, they won't accept your word about anything. If you set out to correct an inaccuracy, start out with the assumption that you have a battle on your hands. Treat the credit bureau that has the error as the enemy. Having said that, being rude or confrontational could be counterproductive. Be polite but persistent.

Last week, Tara Siegel Bernard wrote a New York Times piece on this very subject, and her advice closely reflected this blog's advice:

  1. Don't use a credit bureau's online dispute resolution service.
  2. Mail letters "certified mail, return receipt requested" and keep copies.
  3. Don't provide originals of documents that support your assertions (cancelled checks, old statements, proof of previous addresses, court papers and so on), but do enclose copies.
  4. Copy everything, again using certified mail, return receipt requested, to the creditor (credit card company, auto loan provider, mortgage lender, etc.) that originally supplied the incorrect information to the credit bureau. As the bureau's customer, its request for a change is more likely to succeed than yours.
  5. Don't give up if you fail to correct an error yourself. Find an attorney who has in-depth experience of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and go to court if necessary. You can find a lawyer through the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Published 05/23/11 (Modified 11/18/13)

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