Dispute Basics

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Working Your Way Through The Dispute Process
Disputing inaccuracies on your credit report can sometimes be part of managing your credit. Some consumers will find the process simple and quick. For others, it may prove more complicated, as it often depends on the cooperation of the creditor that reported the information to the credit bureau. This article lays out the steps you can take in either instance.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects consumers in dispute situations, mandating that credit reporting agencies (CRAs) must respond to your dispute by initiating an investigation and collecting evidence (where possible) from your creditors. If the information is inaccurate, the CRA must either remove or correct the disputed information, usually within 30 days.

Common Types of Inaccurate Information
When you review your credit report, you'll want to look for information that is unusual or does not belong to you. The types of account information that are commonly disputed include:

  • Information from someone else's file - Accounts belonging to someone with a name similar to yours can be mixed with your credit information. The fact that certain information may actually belong to someone else is not apparent from your credit report alone. If the information is negative, such as a bankruptcy, this can impact your credit worthiness. Fortunately, this can be fairly easy to resolve. The bureau's investigation often quickly confirms that the mixed information belongs to a different person, based on social security numbers, date of birth and full legal name.

  • Inaccuracies - Because creditors sometimes report incomplete account histories or don't always account for delays in the receipt of payments, it is possible that your report may list late notations with which you don't agree. Presenting back-up documentation, such as cancelled checks, can be very useful in this situation.

  • Outdated information - With the exception of Chapter 7 bankruptcy, negative account information may no longer be reported by your creditor(s) after seven years from the date of first delinquency. If the creditor reports that the seven-year cycling off period has been reached, the credit bureau may no longer report that account.

  • Fraudulent Accounts - If your credit report lists accounts that you didn't open, there could be a possibility of credit fraud. Unfamiliar accounts opened under your name and Social Security number might be the work of an identity thief. These accounts can sometimes be difficult to dispute, so be patient. There are three steps to take immediately when you learn that identity theft has occurred:

    1. Contact the creditor(s) to close all fraudulent accounts.

    2. Contact the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your report. This stops automatic activation of pre-approved credit offers, and alerts creditors to call you first for approval.

    3. Contact the police, and file a police report. This is a crucial step, as some creditors won't take your dispute seriously until they have received a copy of this report.

Basic Tips for Filing a Dispute
Generally, disputes must be filed in writing. According to the FCRA, a credit bureau has 30 days to investigate a dispute raised regarding possible inaccuracies on a consumer's credit report. The bureau must then give you the written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change.

To dispute inaccurate information on your Equifax®, Experian®, or Trans Union® credit report, write to the bureau that supplied the information and use the address provided. Enclose a photocopy of your credit report with the item(s) under dispute circled and numbered. You can make reference to these numbers in your letter. Also be sure to include:

  • Your full name, first, middle and last and including any applicable suffixes (Jr., Sr., II, etc.)
  • Your complete mailing address
  • Your date of birth
  • Your Social Security number (this is necessary to access your credit report)
  • The name and account number of the creditor and item in question
  • The specific reason for your disagreement with the disputed item
  • Your signature

Disputing Information At The Source
It is perfectly acceptable to contact your creditor directly to dispute information they are reporting that you consider to be inaccurate. According to the FCRA, if you tell a creditor that you dispute an item, they may not then report the item to a bureau without including a notice of your dispute. Furthermore, once you have notified the creditor of your dispute in writing, they may not continue to report the information if it is, in fact, an error.

Next Phase: A Statement of Dispute
If you are not having luck persuading the creditor that an account is not yours or was never delinquent, the FCRA allows for you to add a statement of dispute to the relevant item on your credit report. If a resolution is not reached after the dispute process, you can ask the bureau to add a statement of dispute to the account. A statement of dispute is a factual description of status for the account in question, and both the consumer's and the creditor's versions are included. This statement demonstrates that all attempts at resolving the dispute have failed, and communicates the details of what happened to any future creditors.

Action to Take When Settlement Cannot Be Achieved
Achieving settlement can sometimes be difficult. When settlement cannot be reached, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau's National Consumer Assistance Center. To enter such a dispute, call the telephone number included with your credit report or complete a "Reinvestigation Request" form, which is also included with the credit report.

Although you can request a reinvestigation, there is no guarantee that you will receive a different result the second time around—once an official decision has been made, you will need to come up with documentary evidence to persuade a credit bureau to delete the item. In some cases, even if you are successful in persuading the credit bureau to delete the information, it may wind up being added to your report again at the creditor's insistence.

If you still get no response after continued attempts to contact the parties involved, you can contact your state's Attorney General Office. If you believe the creditor or a credit bureau has violated the FCRA, you have the right to sue all relevant parties in state or federal court. If you win, the creditor or credit bureau will have to pay damages and reimburse you for attorney fees to the extent ordered by the court.

You may also wish to contact the FTC to file complaints against non-cooperative creditors and credit bureaus. Although the FTC can't act as your lawyer in private disputes, information about your experiences and concerns is vital to the enforcement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You may send your questions and/or complaints to:

Consumer Response Center
FCRA, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580

You may also visit the FTC online at www.ftc.gov

To see your credit report, visit Experian, the preferred credit report provider for AutoTrader.com.

© ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. 2008. All rights reserved.

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Dispute Basics - Autotrader