You’ve taken a look at your credit score to see if you qualify for a loan, only to find that it’s taken a sudden plunge from a misreported item. Yikes! In a hurry, you send a dispute letter to your credit bureau to point out the error. With relief, the credit bureau says they’ll remove the inaccurate item and restore your credit score to its proper rating.
But wait – when you check the next week, your credit score still looks low. What gives? In some cases, it’s because the other two credit bureaus kept the inaccurate item or account.
If one credit bureau removes an item, don’t the others have to as well? No, in fact. That said, you can get an inaccurate item removed from all three credit bureaus and restore your credit score to its rightful rating with the right steps.
Let’s back up a step and start from the beginning.
When you first start using credit or taking financial actions, like paying utility bills or taking out loans, you get a credit score. The credit score is calculated by the three big credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Though they all do roughly the same job, these organizations are separate. Remember that, because it’s important for later!
The three big credit bureaus calculate your credit score based on things like:
Your credit score is displayed on your credit report. Think of a credit report as a collection of your credit accounts and financial activity over the last 7 to 10 years. It’s the record that banks look at when you apply for a loan or other financial assistance.
The higher your credit score, the better. A higher credit score means you qualify for loans with better terms, can take out credit more easily, and so on. In short, you want your credit score to be as high as possible!
But just where do credit bureaus get the information about your financial activity? It’s usually from credit furnishers. Credit furnishers are organizations, such as businesses or utility companies, that report your financial activity directly to the bureaus. For instance, when you make a utility payment on time, the utility company furnishes the credit bureaus with information about that payment.
Credit furnishers get to choose which credit bureaus they report to. While some credit furnishers, like many major utility companies, report to all three, others only report to one credit bureau. This can get a bit confusing, but what it boils down to is this: the three credit bureaus don’t always have the same information about your financial activity.
Say that you look at your credit report, only to find that your utility company falsely marked your last payment as “late.” Naturally, that means your credit score takes a hit. You’ll want to get that false report removed or edited to reflect the fact that you paid your utility bill on time.
Fortunately, the Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA ensures that you have the right to dispute any item on your credit report – like a bill payment, a credit account, or something else – with a credit bureau. When you “dispute” a report, you effectively say that the line item is inaccurate and should be edited or removed.
You might dispute a line item on your credit report when:
Credit bureaus don’t have to agree with your FCRA dispute, of course. But if they do agree, they’ll remove or adjust the inaccurate item on your credit report and your score will update shortly.
In most cases, removing a bad item or account on your credit report is pretty easy: just write a credit dispute letter directly to the credit bureau that reports the error. Say that you look at your credit report from Experian.
Experian has a line item that says you have an open credit account. But you already paid off that account last month. To fix this, you write a credit dispute letter saying:
It’s super easy to get started with this, so don’t be intimidated. You can download credit dispute letter templates online and file your disputes directly with credit bureaus. Make sure that you get all of your personal information correct, like your name and address!
Then all you have to do is wait. Credit bureaus usually respond within 2 to 4 weeks. If the dispute is accepted, the credit bureau will update your report within 30 to 45 days. So check your credit report regularly to see how the situation evolves.
If a credit bureau fails to remove an incorrect item that you know shouldn’t be there, they may be violating the terms of the FCRA and you may be entitled to compensation. With legal assistance, you may be able to force them to remove the item and fix your credit score.
Remember how we mentioned earlier that the three credit bureaus are separate organizations? That’s literal. In fact, in a lot of cases, the three credit bureaus don’t talk to each other at all.
So, if one bureau removes an item on your credit report, the others do not remove it, too. Let's return to the example above with an incorrect line of credit on your Experian report.
You look at your TransUnion report and see the same wrong line item. When Experian fixes its credit report, your TransUnion credit report stays inaccurate. Even if Experian fixes the credit report, that’s not enough evidence for TransUnion to do the same for its credit report. Its own internal agents need to take a look at your report and make a separate decision. You need to alert TransUnion with a separate dispute letter.
There’s one big exception to this: when credit bureaus are legally required to delete old items from your credit reports. For instance, bankruptcies are usually required to be removed from your credit reports 7 to 10 years after they appear. Therefore, if you have a bankruptcy record on your credit report, all three credit bureaus should delete that record around the same time once the legally mandated time has elapsed.
To make sure the same incorrect line item gets removed from all three credit reports, you have to send a credit dispute letter to each individual bureau. That means sending a letter to Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Fortunately, you don’t have to change much about the contents of each letter. You can use the same credit dispute template for each and just change the mailing address or slight details. For instance, if your Experian credit report number is 11111, and your TransUnion credit report number is 22222, just make sure you include the right information on each version of the letter.
All in all, it can be frustrating and time-consuming to get an incorrect item removed from your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. Still, that’s the only way to make sure that your credit score is accurate and fair if you notice an incorrect item on one report. Be sure to review all three of your credit reports regularly and file credit dispute letters when needed!