Q. I have one account with this creditor but on my credit report it says that I have two accounts. How can I have this error removed from my credit report?
A. Consumers who are trying to remove errors from their credit reports have two main avenues: They can report the problem to the credit bureaus or they can contact the creditors directly.
Some people may want to do both, according to a guide from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
It might be best to start by contacting a credit bureau, since there are some issues that lenders and other creditors are not required to investigate, according to the agency. That includes errors with a person’s Social Security number, name or address, as well as mistakes about a person’s work history. However, creditors do need to look into disputes over how much a consumer owes, whether the account holder is paying on time and if the account is listed under the appropriate name, according to the CFPB.
Each credit agency has its own process for disputing errors, but generally, consumers should expect to write a letter outlining the problem and attach any relevant documentation.
Consumers can file the disputes over the phone, by mail or online through the websites for Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They should be ready to provide some basic information, such as their name, address and phone number, along with the account number for the account in question. The consumer should explain in detail what the problem is and attach copies of documents that provide proof of the mistake.
Once the credit bureau has all of the relevant information, it will contact the creditor and ask the company to respond. If the lender acknowledges the error or doesn’t respond within 30 to 45 days, the detail can be taken off a person’s credit report, says Heather Battison, vice president at TransUnion. But if the lender verifies the information in question, the details may stay on that person’s report, she says.
If the dispute leads the creditor or lender to change something on your account, it is required notify all three credit reporting bureaus of the change, Battison says. That new information should show up on your credit report within 30 to 45 days, she says.
It’s a good idea to check all three of your credit reports after about 45 days to make sure the error has been corrected, says Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian. If the mistake is still showing up on your report, try contacting the lender directly to make sure they are aware of the error and to see if they can provide documentation confirming the change. That paperwork may help if you need to follow up with each of the credit bureaus.
If you find fraud on your report, such as an account opened by someone else in your name, that identity theft should be reported to the police, Griffin says. That police report can then be shared with the credit bureaus so that they can remove the fraudulent account from your report, he says. Identity theft can also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission, which tracks the issue and offers consumers guidance on how to better protect their personal information.
This is a feature in which we talk to experts about the personal finance questions that stump readers.