- How to Dispute a Credit Report Error in 5 Easy Steps
- Step 1 – Identify any credit report errors
- How an error on your credit report can affect you
- Step 2 — Contact the furnisher
- Step 3 – Dispute Your Credit Report’s Errors
- Where to send your dispute letter
- Step 4 – Allow time for the investigation
- A frivolous credit report dispute
- Step 5 – Follow up after the investigation
- The takeaway
- How to Freeze Your Credit With Experian, Equifax and TransUnion
- Freeze Your Credit With Experian, Equifax and TransUnion
- What Information Will I Need to Provide to Freeze My Credit?
- How Do I Lift, Unfreeze or Thaw My Credit Freeze?
- Final Thoughts
- More Credit and Identity Protection Resources:
- How to Freeze Your Credit
- When Should I Freeze My Credit?
- Who Can Access My Frozen Credit Report?
- When Should I Add a Fraud Alert?
How to Dispute a Credit Report Error in 5 Easy Steps
Errors on consumer credit reports can be a common occurrence. That makes knowing how to dispute a mistake on your credit report important. If you find something in your credit report that doesn’t belong there, here’s what to do.
Step 1 – Identify any credit report errors
Review your credit reports periodically for inaccurate or incomplete information. You can get one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — once a year at annualcreditreport.com. You can also subscribe, usually at a cost, to a credit monitoring service and review your report monthly.
Some common credit report errors you might spot include:
- Identity mistakes such as an incorrect name, phone number or address.
- A so-called mixed file that contains account information belonging to another consumer. This may occur when you and another consumer have the same or similar names.
- An account incorrectly attributed to you due to identity theft.
- A closed account that’s still being reported as open.
- An incorrect reporting of you as an account owner, when you are just an authorized user on an account.
- A remedied delinquency such as a collections account that you paid off yet still shows as unpaid.
- An account that’s incorrectly labelled as late or delinquent, which could include outdated information such as a late payment that’s over 7 years old or an incorrect date regarding your last payment.
- The same debt listed more than once.
- An account listed more than once with different creditors.
- Incorrect account balances.
- Inaccurate credit limits.
How an error on your credit report can affect you
Is it really necessary to keep close tabs on your credit report? Can one error really have an impact on you? Yes. Your credit report contains all kinds of information about you, such as how you pay your bills, and if you’ve ever filed for bankruptcy. You could be impacted negatively by an error on your credit report in many ways.
To start, it’s important to understand that credit reporting companies sell the information in your credit reports to groups that include employers, insurers, utility companies, and many other groups that want to use that information to verify your identity and evaluate your creditworthiness.
For instance, if a utility company reviews your credit history and finds a less-than-favorable credit report, they may offer less favorable terms to you as a customer.
While this is called risk-based pricing and companies must notify you if they’re doing this, it can still have an impact on you.
Your credit report also may affect whether you can get a loan and the terms of that loan, including your interest rate.
Step 2 — Contact the furnisher
Your next step is to contact the furnisher, or the company that provided the erroneous information, which could be an entity your bank or a utility company. Verify their records and confirm the error. You may be able to resolve the issue at this point. If the issue can’t be resolved, contact the credit reporting bureau directly.
Step 3 – Dispute Your Credit Report’s Errors
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting bureau and the company that reports the information about you to the credit bureau are required to accept disputes from consumers — and correct any inaccurate or incomplete information about you in that report.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends taking these actions:
- Tell the credit bureau, in writing, what information you think is inaccurate. The Federal Trade Commission provides a sample dispute letter that makes this step easier. The letter outlines what information to include, from presenting the facts to requesting that the error be removed or corrected.
- Include copies, not originals, of materials that support your position.
- Consider enclosing a copy of your credit report with the errors circled or highlighted.
- Send your letter by certified mail with “return receipt requested” — to ensure the letter is delivered. Keep your post office receipt.
- Keep copies of everything you send.
Where to send your dispute letter
Send your credit report dispute letter to the credit reporting bureau, as well as to the company that reported the inaccurate information about you.
Step 4 – Allow time for the investigation
Credit reporting bureaus must investigate the disputed items. The process usually takes fewer than 30 days. They’re required to send relevant information to the information provider — meaning, whoever reported the disputed item. The provider must investigate the dispute and report back to the credit reporting bureau.
If you’re right — and it is an error — the information provider has to notify the three major credit bureaus so they can correct the information in your credit reports.
A frivolous credit report dispute
The credit bureau or the company that provided the information (the furnisher) also can determine that your claim is frivolous, in which case they can decide not to investigate your claim. But they must let you know they’ve declined to investigate your dispute by written notice within five days.
Step 5 – Follow up after the investigation
Here’s what to expect when the investigation is complete:
- The results of the investigation, in writing, from the credit reporting bureau.
- A free copy of your credit report, if the report has changed.
What about parties who have seen your incorrect information? You can ask the credit bureaus to notify them of the corrections, the FTC says. This includes:
- Notifying anyone who received your report in the past six months.
- Sending a corrected copy of your report to anyone who received it in the past two years.
But what if the investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute? If the furnisher continues to report the error, you can ask the credit bureaus to include a statement in your credit file that describes your side of the dispute and it will be included in future credit reports. For a fee, you can usually ask the credit bureau to send a copy of the statement to anyone who has recently received a copy of your report.
Also, if you believe you were treated unfairly or a valid error remains on your credit report, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB is required to forward the complaint to the company with which you have an issue. The CFPB usually will provide you with a response within 15 days.
How long can it take for an error to be corrected on your credit report after the dispute is resolved? Credit bureaus have five business days after finishing their investigation to notify you of the results.
Disputing a credit report mistake is a process that takes time to resolve. It’s important to be organized, disciplined, persistent, and professional. It can be worth the effort. Eliminating errors on your credit report can help improve your credit health and help save you money on loans and credit.
How to Freeze Your Credit With Experian, Equifax and TransUnion
Freezing your credit with all three major credit bureaus is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself against identity theft and stop criminals from opening lines of credit in your name — and it’s free!
In this article, we’ll show you how to place a security freeze on your credit with all three main credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
We’ll also answer questions that Team Clark gets most often surrounding credit freezes and let you know about the one key step you need to take before you freeze your credit.
Freeze Your Credit With Experian, Equifax and TransUnion
You’ll need to contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies individually to freeze your credit with them. You can do this online, via the phone, or through the U.S. mail.
The quickest and easiest way to freeze your credit is online. Here’s how:
Important note: If you choose to request your credit freeze via mail, make sure you do so by certified mail. You can use this sample letter to do it. Please be sure to include the attachments necessary to freeze your credit by mail.
What Information Will I Need to Provide to Freeze My Credit?
In order to freeze your credit, you will need to give each credit bureau some information in order to prove your identity. This typically includes your:
- Previous name, if applicable
- Date of birth
- Social Security Number
You will also ly be asked some questions about prior places of residence and credit accounts you may have or have had in the past. This is all to ensure that you are actually the one requesting the freeze.
How Do I Lift, Unfreeze or Thaw My Credit Freeze?
Once you’ve frozen your credit, you may find that you need to apply for a loan or open a new line of credit.
In that case, you’ll need to unfreeze (some credit bureaus may use the terms “lift” or “thaw”) your credit with one or more of the credit bureaus, depending on which one your lender uses.
Here are some important things to keep in mind when you go to lift your credit freeze:
- If you unfreeze your credit online, you don’t need the PIN that you set up when you froze your credit.
- If you choose to call the credit bureaus to have your freeze lifted, you will be asked for your PIN, but if you don’t remember it you can still unfreeze your credit by answering some challenge questions.
- If you request to lift your credit freeze by mail, you will be required to provide some documentation ( a driver’s license) to prove your identity.
If you are having issues unfreezing your credit or retrieving your PIN, your goal at that point is to gain access to your account. Here’s how to get in touch with a live person at the major credit bureaus.
Team Clark’s Consumer Action Center gets a lot of calls about freezing your credit. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions:
- How long does it take before your credit freeze is activated? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that the agency must activate the freeze within one business day if you freeze your credit online or by phone. If you request online that your credit be thawed, the agency must lift the freeze within one hour. If requested by phone, it must be done within three business days, according to the FTC.
- Will freezing my credit hurt my credit score? The short answer is “no.” Freezing your credit will not hurt your credit score at all. You can find out more here.
- Does freezing my credit affect my existing credit cards? No, freezing your credit has no effect on your existing credit cards. You will still be able to use them as you have been. However, if you want to request a credit line increase from your credit card company, you may need to unfreeze your credit.
- Can I still apply for a loan or new line of credit with a credit freeze? Yes, but you’ll have to unfreeze (thaw) your credit temporarily. See the information above for how to do that.
- What’s the difference between a credit freeze and credit lock? There’s a big difference. A credit lock costs money in most cases and should not be necessary if you freeze your credit. Read more about it here.
- Can I place a credit freeze for my child? Yes, you can. Here’s how to do it with all three main credit-reporting agencies.
As we said at the outset, freezing your credit is the most important step you can take to stop criminals from opening accounts in your name. But even with your credit frozen, you’ll still want to keep an eye out on your credit reports and scores.
That’s why money expert Clark Howard says that before you freeze your credit you should sign up for free credit monitoring with Credit Karma or Credit Sesame.
Sign up for these free tools to monitor your credit going forward to make sure your credit freeze is working as it should. Don’t pay for credit monitoring!
Experian, Equifax and TransUnion all offer credit monitoring services that cost money, but why pay when you can do it for free?
If you haven’t already frozen your credit, take a few moments today to get it done. The little time you spend following these steps will be well worth it when you consider the peace of mind you’ll have going forward.
If you have more questions about freezing your credit, contact Clark’s free Consumer Action Center.
More Credit and Identity Protection Resources:
How to Freeze Your Credit
If you've been a victim of identity theft or suspect your personal information is otherwise being abused by criminals, you can block all access to your credit reports by requesting security freezes at all three national credit bureaus. Doing so can prevent unauthorized credit checks, but can also prevent processing of your own legitimate credit applications.
Before you proceed with a credit freeze, however, you should know that a better solution for many victims of identity theft may be to enact what's called a fraud alert—more on that later.
Here's what you know about how to freeze your credit, and how to decide whether or not you should.
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, is a tool designed to help protect you from fraud and identity theft. It limits access to your credit report unless you lift the freeze, or “thaw” your credit. Having a freeze in place won't affect your credit scores, but it will prevent your credit report from being accessed to calculate scores unless you first lift the freeze.
Freezing your credit can help prevent identity thieves and other criminals from using stolen personal information (your Social Security number, for instance) to apply for new credit in your name.
Since checking your credit report and credit scores are typically the first steps in processing any credit application, freezing your credit at the national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) can help stop unauthorized credit accounts from being opened.
The major drawback of credit freezes is that, along with preventing unauthorized credit applications, they also block authorized checks. This can complicate legitimate applications for loans, credit cards and other things because you'll need to unfreeze your reports before the process can move forward.
You must contact each national credit bureaus individually to freeze (or unfreeze) your credit reports. They'll do so for free upon request.
When Should I Freeze My Credit?
If you've been a victim of identity theft, you have more than one option to consider when it comes to protecting your credit. In many cases, a security alert may be sufficient.
When you place a security alert, also known as a fraud alert, you can add a telephone number so lenders can call you when they receive an application and verify that it's you who is applying.
You also can request additional free credit reports when you add an initial security alert or victim statement.
Reviewing your report can help you determine whether or not you are a victim and help you take appropriate action.
In more extreme cases in which you're experiencing ongoing fraud attempts, you may feel a security freeze is necessary.
It's worth considering taking action to protect your credit if:
- Unexplained bills or collection notices are mailed to your address, in your name or under another's name.
- New inquiries or credit accounts appear on your credit report, indicating activity with lenders or other companies you don't recognize.
- Your bank or credit union notifies you about fraudulent activity on an account.
- You receive notification that you are or could be the victim of a data breach.
Who Can Access My Frozen Credit Report?
A credit freeze prevents most credit inquiries, but certain parties can still access a frozen report under specific circumstances, such as:
- You, when you view your own credit report.
- Lenders and card issuers with whom you have accounts, who use credit checks in their account management processes.
- Landlords and rental agencies, screening you as a potential tenant.
- Phone carriers and utility companies, to set the amount of security deposit required on equipment.
- Debt collection agencies, when attempting to obtain a payment.
- Child support agencies, for purposes of determining child support.
- Credit card issuers who have prescreened you for credit offers
- Auto insurance companies, which may include credit scores in their rate-underwriting process.
- Potential employers you've authorized, conducting background checks.
- Government agents, executing court orders or warrants.
Experian, TransUnion and Equifax maintain dedicated webpages where you can set up credit freezes. When requesting a credit freeze online, the bureau may supply, or have you create, a personal identification number (PIN) or password to use when thawing or reactivating your freeze.
Freeze My Experian Credit File
To freeze your Experian credit report by mail, you can write to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013. Written requests should include the following:
- Your full name including middle initial (and generation)
- Social Security number
- Complete addresses for the past two years
- Date of birth
- One copy of a government issued identification card, such as a driver's license, state ID card, etc.
- One copy of a utility bill, bank or insurance statement, etc.
Make sure that each copy is legible and displays your name and current mailing address and the date of issue. Send copies of any documents you wish to provide to us and always retain your original documents.
The same webpages used to set up credit freezes can be used to remove or suspend them. All three bureaus also provide instructions for lifting a freeze by phone, using the password or PIN connected to your freeze at each bureau.
In addition to your ability to permanently unfreeze your credit, you may have the option to lift the freeze temporarily, either by granting one-time access to a specific creditor, or by indicating a length of time (one day, one week, etc.) you want the freeze to be suspended. Policies vary by bureau so make sure you understand what your options are before you begin the process.
When you enter your password or PIN online or by phone, your credit will be thawed within one hour. If you lose your password or PIN, the credit bureaus will need to verify your identity, which will delay the process.
If your minor children have credit files, it can be a good precaution to freeze those files. Underage children ordinarily have credit files only if you've made them an authorized user on a credit card (to jumpstart their efforts at building a credit history) or as a result of identity theft.
To freeze a credit report for someone under 16, you'll need to prove you have authority to make that request. Proof of this authority can include:
- A court order
- A lawfully executed and valid power of attorney
- A document issued by a federal, state or local government agency in the United States attesting to your parental relation to the minor
- A birth certificate
You can thaw the files when the children come of age and are ready to begin seeking credit on their own.
While credit freezes restrict access to credit reports indefinitely, fraud alerts are temporary. An initial alert remains for one year, while an extended alert remains for seven.
And while freezes must be removed before most access is granted, fraud alerts give lenders access to your credit reports and ask that they verify your identity before processing credit applications made under your name.
Compared with the process of lifting and reapplying a credit freeze at all three credit bureaus anytime you need to allow access to your report and scores, a fraud alert offers a more convenient and potentially safer alternative. A fraud alert stays in place while you continue to use your credit as normal, and won't need to be lifted a credit freeze would.
Un a credit freeze, when you request a fraud alert at any one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax), alerts are automatically placed at all three bureaus. Removing fraud alerts before they expire will require you to contact each bureau separately.
When Should I Add a Fraud Alert?
You should learn more about fraud alerts and consider adding one if you:
- Are a victim of fraud or identity theft, or suspect you are a victim.
- Find information in your credit report that doesn't belong to you.
- Discover unexplained transactions or withdrawals from your bank account(s).
- Receive notice that your personal data was exposed in a security breach.
- Get notices you don't understand from collection agencies or the IRS.
Another alternative to freezing your Experian credit report is to lock it. The CreditLock feature of Experian IdentityWorks℠ Premium service lets you instantly lock and unlock your credit file, so you can give lenders access anytime you're ready.
CreditLock also notifies you in real time if anyone applies for credit in your name while your credit file is locked.
You control CreditLock using a smartphone app or at Experian's web site.
A credit freeze has no effect on your ability to qualify for loans or credit cards, but a freeze can prevent a creditor's evaluation of your credit application. Unless you thaw your credit before you submit a loan application, the lender cannot use your credit report or credit score to gauge your qualifications as a borrower. That could delay the processing of your application.
Freezing, locking or applying for fraud alerts on your credit reports are all options for protecting your credit history after confirmed or suspected identity theft or fraud.
If a credit freeze is something you'd to apply to your credit reports and scores, learn how to request one at the Experian's Security Freeze Center.
Credit Lock: An additional protection or alternative to a security freeze is to lock your Experian credit file. Experian CreditLock allows you to easily and instantly control access to your Experian credit report in real time with one click without having to remember your PIN.
Identity Theft Protection: To see other ways in which Experian can help keep your credit and identity secure, learn about our Identity Theft Protection solutions.
Free Dark Web Scan: Get a one-time scan for your Social Security number, email and Phone Number, that also includes a free Experian credit report every 30 days on sign in, and with free credit monitoring and alerts.
Free Child ID Scan: See if your child has a credit file and a social security number that has potentially been compromised with a free child identity theft scan.