How Long Do Creditors Have to Respond to a Dispute?

Last Updated:
April 6, 2023

American consumers sometimes have to file credit disputes with creditors, such as businesses and utility companies, or the big credit bureaus themselves, which include Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. If you need to file or have already filed a dispute letter with one or more organizations, you’re probably wondering how long you need to wait for a response.

Today, let’s take a closer look at how long creditors have to respond to a dispute and how you can shorten that timeline through some smart steps.

Dispute Investigation Timeline According to the FCRA

Creditors are bound by very strict laws regarding investigation timelines; they’re essentially forced to investigate and respond promptly whenever they receive a report about a credit dispute or a letter indicating an issue.

According to the FCRA, creditors – which include lenders, businesses, bankers, utility companies, and any other organizations that provide credit information to the credit bureaus – have 30 days to investigate a dispute upon receiving information regarding it.

Say that you send a credit dispute letter to a utility company stating that you already paid your month’s bill, but that bill’s amount due shows up on your credit report. Once the utility company receives your credit dispute letter, they must investigate it within 30 days.

Note that this only concerns “investigating” the matter, such as assigning an agent to look into your credit report or your utility bill account. It doesn’t include the timeframe for responding to you.

If a creditor doesn’t investigate a credit dispute within 30 days of receiving a report or letter, it could be held liable for legal actions. 

What if You Submit Extra Information?

There's one exception to the above 30-day timeline: if you submit extra information that is relevant to your dispute within the 30-day timeframe.

For example, if you send a dispute letter utility company, but they send you a letter back after 10 days asking for extra information, and you provide them with that information, the company then has 15 more days to investigate the matter.

In theory, this can bump up the investigation timeline to a total of 45 days, starting from credit dispute receipt. In practice, most creditors investigate credit disputes within 2 to 3 weeks at most.

Dispute Response Timeline According to the FCRA

The FCRA also has strict timeline provisions regarding dispute responses. If a creditor receives a dispute letter from a consumer, they must investigate the matter within 30 days and then respond within five business days with their decision one way or the other.

In keeping with the above example, if a utility company receives a credit dispute letter from a consumer, then it investigates the issue within two weeks, that company must send a letter responding to the consumer within five days after the investigation.

This ensures that consumers receive important information about their credit reports promptly. Then, consumers can take further steps or decide what to do about the erroneous information. If a company or creditor investigates a credit dispute but doesn't respond to a consumer within the timeframe, they could be held liable for legal actions and face severe fines.

However, this timeframe only applies to when the company sends out its response. So if a utility company sends a response letter to a consumer on day 5, they’re still acting legally, even if the consumer doesn’t receive the letter until a few days after the deadline.

What if Your Dispute is Denied?

If your dispute is denied, you do have some further options.

For example, you can then file a credit dispute letter with the credit bureaus instead of the creditors in question. You can also contact legal representatives if you believe your rights are being violated per the FCRA, or if you believe the creditor has made an inaccurate or illegal decision.

Credit Bureau Investigation Timelines

When you file a credit dispute letter with one of the big credit bureaus, the investigation and response timelines are similar.

Specifically, each credit bureau has 30 days to investigate the dispute in question, then another five days to respond to you once it makes a decision or investigates the matter. Furthermore, the credit bureaus also have the 15-day deadline extension if they request more information from a consumer and receive it promptly.

Once again, this extends the potential response timeline to up to six weeks from receiving a dispute letter. In practice, you should receive a response within a month or so.

What Can Affect Dispute Response Timelines?

Credit dispute responses and speeds can vary heavily from case to case. As a consumer, you can maximize your chances of a fast response and minimize the chances of a delay by keeping these tips in mind:

  • File your dispute letters online instead of by physical mail. 

That way, the utility company, credit furnisher, or credit bureau will receive your dispute instantly instead of having to wait another few business days

  • Always include as much information as possible about the dispute case

including the number of your credit report, the line item or account number that has the problem, etc. This will make it faster and easier for an investigating agent to identify the issue and come to a conclusion rapidly

  • Check your mail every day for a response, especially if you filed your initial credit dispute letter by mail
  • If the creditor or credit bureau requests additional information about your case, have it ready and send it immediately. The longer you delay, the longer your case will take to resolve in one way or another

Wrap Up

Creditors generally have 30 days to investigate any issue brought to their attention through a dispute letter, though this can be extended to up to 45 days. Once a creditor investigates an issue, they should respond to you within five business days. Credit disputes with the credit bureaus follow similar timelines, so you should see a resolution to your problem (one way or another) within 2 to 6 weeks.

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