How Do You Fix Errors (or Fraud) on Your Credit Report?
When Jessica Roy lost her wallet in a San Francisco bar, she didn’t think she would need a credit dispute letter. But weeks later, she was drowning amid phone calls from debt collectors and notifications about fraudulent activity and bounced checks in her name [*].
Criminals had stolen Jessica’s identity — and were wreaking havoc on her good credit.
Your credit score is an important part of your financial well-being. A strong credit score unlocks lower interest rates and gives you easier access to loans. But while a good credit score takes years to build, it can be destroyed in seconds.
Over 42 million Americans were victims of identity theft and fraud last year, with more than $52 billion in losses and fraudulent charges [*].
Even if you haven’t been the victim of identity theft, there could be situations in which you’ll want to correct or dispute information on your credit report.
In this guide, we’ll explain what a credit dispute letter is, show you how to use one, and provide a credit dispute letter template that you can use to dispute fraud or inaccurate information on your credit report.
What Is a Credit Dispute Letter?
A credit dispute letter is a written query about an error on your credit report that you send to one (or all) of the three major credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
This letter should present specific details about inaccuracies or negative items and include proof demonstrating why the bureau should correct them.
It’s good practice to dispute any incorrect information on your credit report — as leaving potential mistakes unattended could have a negative impact on your credit history. Over time, a poor credit history could prevent you from getting a mortgage, a car, or even a job.
Disputing errors on your credit report is protected by law. Section 611 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives consumers the right to challenge any questionable items on their credit reports free of charge [*].
A credit report dispute letter can be used to:
- Remove fraudulent accounts and loans
- Eliminate bad debts and reporting errors
- Notify lenders and employers of the updated report
- Increase your credit score
By sending a credit dispute letter, you formally invoke your rights and start the credit repair process.
When Can You Dispute Errors on Your Credit Report?
If you’re going to write a credit dispute letter, you must be sure that you have a legitimate case to file a dispute. You can’t — and shouldn’t — dispute correct information, such as late payments or a recent bankruptcy.
Each year, everyone in the United States can order one free credit report from each of the three bureaus. This service was originally due to sunset in 2022, but the bureaus announced that they would offer free access until December 2023 [*].
You can get your free reports today at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Here are seven scenarios in which you may have grounds to dispute incorrect information on your credit report:
- Fraudulent accounts or debts incurred due to identity theft. If somebody opened an account in your name, like for a bank account or credit card, you should be able to dispute this and get it removed.
- Inaccurate account status information (such as late payments). For example, your credit report might incorrectly state you made a late payment. If you can prove you paid on time, the bureau can amend your records.
- Accounts that belong to other people. Whether it’s the result of fraud or a technical mistake, the numbers on one of your accounts may be transposed or mixed up with another person’s account.
- Ex-spouses who are still listed on accounts. After a divorce or separation, it's crucial to remove your former partner’s name from your accounts. Otherwise, you could be held responsible if a debt collection agency comes to inquire about your ex-spouse’s financial habits.
- Wrong credit limits or balances on existing accounts. If you recently paid off student loans or other debts, make sure the bureaus are up to date with your balances.
- Accounts that are too old to be included on a credit report. If you notice old accounts that should no longer be on your report, it’s worth disputing. Foreclosures should be removed after seven years, while bankruptcies are usually removed after 7 to 10 years [*].
- Questionable hard inquiries. A hard inquiry is made when someone requests to review your credit report. While it’s a standard process when applying for a loan or car, multiple checks from identity thieves or unauthorized inquiries can quickly damage your credit report.
📚 Related: How To Remove Hard Inquiries From Your Credit Report →
What To Include in Your Credit Dispute Letter [Template]
When you’re ready to submit your credit dispute letter, you can download a dispute form from each of the three credit reporting agencies. You can mail the completed form with your dispute letter to the relevant bureau that reports the disputed items.
Below is a checklist of essential information to include in your credit dispute letter.
Section 1: Personal information
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Current address
- Driver's license number
- Social Security number (SSN)
- The account number of the tradeline you're disputing (e.g., account number of your credit card, auto loan, utility bill, or mortgage statement)
Section 2: Date of writing the letter
Section 3: Credit bureau address
- Name of the credit bureau
- Its address
Section 4: Body of the letter
To [Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion],
I recently reviewed my credit report and came across an inaccuracy that requires your attention. Below, you'll find a list of the erroneous item(s) along with a detailed explanation. I've attached supporting documents to help your investigation.
Thanks in advance,
Section 5: Dispute information
- Dates of the disputed information
- Account number (this should match the account number listed in the personal information section)
- Type of disputed information (e.g., wrong account number, incorrect balance, old account, etc.)
- A detailed explanation of what you believe is inaccurate on your credit report
Section 6: Enclosures
To aid the bureau with its investigation, you should include supporting documents that back up your claims. For example, you could append the following information:
- Your credit report — with the incorrect information highlighted
- Previous billing statements
- Confirmation of balance payoff
- Confirmation of accounts closure
- Proof of fraud or identity theft in your name
You can get a sample letter from The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, which provides a template to create your own.
How To Dispute Errors on Your Credit Report
The letter is just one part of an official credit dispute. Here is a step-by-step guide to lodging a dispute with any of the credit reporting agencies:
1. Check your credit reports for incorrect information
First, request a copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com.
It's essential to check your report with all of the bureaus, as some companies or lenders only report to one or two agencies. You might miss inaccurate or fraudulent information if you only review your report with one bureau.
Here’s what to look for in your credit reports:
- Identity errors include a misspelled name, wrong address, or different date of birth. Because of identity theft or some administration error, you could discover accounts that are incorrectly attributed to you.
- Balance errors can happen if the bureau doesn’t get the most accurate information about the limits and balances on your credit card accounts. If the company reports a balance that is higher or lower than the actual balance, it will impact your report — and your credit score.
- Account status errors include incorrect reports about payments, account ownership, and whether or not an account is opened or closed. If you have closed an account, make sure the bureau doesn't list it as open on your report.
2. Fill out a credit dispute letter and include supporting documents
Use the credit dispute letter template above to clearly explain what you think is wrong on your credit report. You should submit the letter along with the bureau’s official dispute form and any additional supporting evidence.
Here’s what to do:
- Ask the credit bureau to remove or correct inaccurate or incomplete information on your credit report.
- Include detailed information about all of the credit report errors that you want to be corrected and why you believe each is wrong.
- Enclose copies of supporting documents that prove your claim. Keep the original documents.
3. Send your credit dispute letters to each of the credit bureaus (by mail)
Send your letter by certified mail to the bureau that has reported the errors. Don’t rely on online dispute forms or phone calls as these are harder to track — and make it easier for your dispute to slip through the cracks.
When you mail your documents, pay for a return receipt so that you have a record of when the credit bureau receives your dispute.
Here’s the contact information for each credit bureau:
- Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
- Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion LLC Consumer Dispute Center, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
📚 Related: How To Dispute a Credit Card Charge (2023 Guide) →
4. Wait for your investigation results
The bureau must investigate the dispute on your credit report within 30 days of receiving your letter by mail [*]. In many cases, you will receive a response sooner, but there are some exceptions.
Keep the following conditions in mind:
- The bureau has 45 days to investigate if you lodge a dispute after getting your free annual credit report.
- If you submit any additional information after the initial 30-day investigation period has begun, the bureau can extend the investigation period for 15 additional days.
- After completing the investigation, the agencies have five business days to notify you of the results.
📚 Related: The Top 5 Credit Protection Services of 2023 →
5. Continue to monitor your credit and credit reports
Monitoring your credit and bank accounts is a vital part of practicing good cyber hygiene. You can monitor your credit yourself by requesting free credit reports. However, this can be time consuming and complex, which means you might miss important errors.
A credit monitoring service automatically warns you of any errors, mistakes, or suspicious activity on your credit report (as well as your bank and investment accounts).
Here are some red flags and alerts to look out for:
- Unexpected changes to personal information on your bank accounts and home titles, such as your address, name, or phone number.
- Unfamiliar transactions on credit cards, or new lines of credit opened in your name.
- Transactions over a set limit (you set the transaction threshold).
📚 Related: The 7 Best Credit Monitoring Apps of 2023 →
What Happens After You Send a Credit Dispute Letter?
When you file a dispute, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the credit reporting bureaus to show that a particular item is “in dispute.”
To do this, the bureaus place the code “XB” on the disputed credit entry. This Compliance Condition Code signals that the credit bureaus received your dispute letter and are actively investigating.
The bureau may rule in your favor if it has enough information. But more often than not, the bureau liaises with the original creditors, vendors, or lenders related to the dispute. For example, the bureau may contact an auto loan company that made hard pulls on your credit report.
Whenever a company receives a dispute from any of the three bureaus, it must do the following by law:
- Investigate the disputed information and report back to the bureau.
- If the company can’t verify the disputed information, it must change or delete it from all records.
- In the event of changing or deleting information, the company must notify all credit reporting companies to which it provided the wrong information.
If the bureau considers your report to be irrelevant or without grounds, it will stop investigating. In this case, the authorities will notify you and may request additional evidence to support your dispute.
📚 Related: How Long Does It Take To Repair Your Credit? →
When will I get a response from the bureau about my credit dispute letter?
The investigation period could last 30 to 45 days after the bureau has received your letter.
In any case, the bureau must send you the results within five (5) business days of completing its investigation. If the bureau corrects your credit report, it will issue an updated credit report to you for free.
Also, if you ask, the credit bureau must send notifications of the corrections in your credit report to anybody who received your report in the past six months and anybody who obtained a copy for employment purposes in the previous two years.
Will Disputing Information Affect Your Credit Score?
The act of filing a credit dispute letter with a bureau will not negatively impact your credit score.
However, your score may dip if the bureau rules against your dispute and finds the queried issue to be correct.
This result happens because the bureau removes the XB code after it completes the investigation into your dispute. Similarly, if the bureau finds that the disputed item is indeed inaccurate, as per your dispute letter, your credit score could increase after the bureau removes the XB code.
It’s important to keep in mind that you should only file a dispute for legitimate queries.
If you try to game the system to increase your credit score, it could backfire. For instance, some fraudsters trick people into buying a credit protection number — also known as a credit privacy number or CPN.
This nine-digit number is not a legitimate code that you should use on credit applications or with financial institutions. Any attempts to use CPN numbers or other fraudulent means to improve your credit score could land you in trouble with authorities.
Was Your Credit Dispute Denied? Here’s What To Do Next
When you make a dispute, there is no guarantee that the bureau will rule in your favor. Sometimes, you may not agree with the decision. If you feel you haven’t received an adequate response, it’s not the end of the line.
Here are five things you can do:
1. Dispute the decision with the credit reporting agency
You may file a new dispute to challenge the bureau’s original decision. In this case, it’s essential to provide additional information about the issues that help the bureau reinvestigate (and hopefully, see things your way).
2. Use a Section 609 dispute letter
If you’re unhappy with the results of your dispute, you have the right under federal law to pursue the matter further. Section 609 of the FCRA can be invoked to request additional information from the credit bureaus or put pressure on them to reassess their decision.
Section 609 addresses your right to request additional details about all of the information on your credit report. The theory is that if the credit bureau can’t provide detailed information about your credit score or transaction history, they’ll have to remove it.
Note: While there are plenty of posts online claiming to provide a special “Section 609 Dispute Letter,” there’s no real proof that any specific letter template will help you get the results you’re looking for.
Don’t waste your money on credit repair scams like this. Instead, follow the official steps and take them as far as they will go.
3. Add a statement to your credit file (where it makes sense)
If a bureau rejects your credit dispute letter, you may add a 100-word consumer statement to your report that explains your position. One caveat is that many automated systems used in the credit application process will overlook these statements.
It's best to remove any statements from your file if the issues have aged off your report. For example, if you went bankrupt 12 years ago, a statement about this dispute on your credit report could do more harm than good.
4. File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a U.S. government agency that ensures banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat consumers fairly and in line with the law.
If you feel your credit dispute letter was rejected unfairly, you can lodge a complaint with CFPB by visiting consumerfinance.gov.
5. Consider legal action against the company or bureau
If a credit reporting agency or any company involved in your dispute fails to comply with the FCRA, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.
Guilty parties may be liable for actual or statutory damages and attorney fees. If you decide to go down this route, be aware that there are time limits on filing a lawsuit.
Don’t Let Fraudsters (or False Information) Ruin Your Credit
Sometimes, an unfamiliar item on your credit report is much more than a simple reporting error by a business or bureau — it could be a clue to something more insidious. Once you spot inaccuracies or any warning signs of identity theft, you need to take action to repair your credit and limit the damage.
A credit dispute letter invokes your right to get fair treatment by creditors and lenders, and the bureau will do everything in its power to help you if you’re the victim of identity theft.
For added security and peace of mind, consider an identity theft protection solution.
With Aura, you get:
- 24/7 credit monitoring that warns you of any suspicious activity on your accounts and delivers rapid fraud alerts 4x faster than other digital security providers.
- Antivirus software and a military-grade virtual private network (VPN) to let you browse confidently, and safely access your email and online banking accounts.
- A secure password manager that enables you to create and store unique, complex passwords for every account.
- $1,000,000 insurance policy for every adult member on your plan that covers eligible losses due to identity theft.
- White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists who provide support to help you navigate the challenges involved with banks, creditors, and government agencies.