If you’ve ever discovered there is erroneous credit information in your records, either by getting a letter from a creditor or, more commonly, in a line item on your credit report, then you know how disturbing it can be.
A single credit blemish can have a major negative impact on your credit score.
Your first instinct is probably to call someone and try to get it fixed, but that’s not necessarily how the credit universe works. At some point you will need to challenge the error with a credit dispute letter.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to credit dispute letters, so in this article we’re going to provide you with an example of a credit dispute letter, as well as provide advice on how to prepare it, and what to include with it.
You might be tempted to use a template you download rather than go through all the work to create your own.
Don’t do it!
The credit bureaus can spot templates a mile away. And when they do, chances are high they will trash your request.
Take the little extra time it takes to do this correctly. It takes a bit of work. It’s a multi-step process, and you will have to make sure that you cover them all in order for the process to work. But it’s worth it.
Contact the Creditor First, not the Credit Bureau
Since credit errors typically first appear on a credit report, your first instinct may be to contact the credit bureau. But that’s not the place to start.
Credit bureaus are really credit information aggregators, which is to say that they collect and report credit information, but they don’t create it.
That’s important to realize when you are challenging a credit error. The point of origin of the error is the creditor, not the credit bureau. That is why you must first contact the creditor in order to fix the problem.
Contact information for each creditor is usually listed on the credit report. If a phone number is provided for the creditor, make a call and find out the name and address of the person or the department who you need to contact.
You should also get the appropriate direct phone number so that he will have it available to follow up later.
But don’t lodge your complaint via the telephone or internet. In many cases, you waive your rights unless you send an old school letter.
Make Sure You Have Documentation Supporting Your Claim
This point is critical! You can’t get an error corrected simply by challenging it based on your recollection of the facts.
You will have to have documentation that proves your point. In fact, in most situations a credit error will stand unless you have written proof that it’s inaccurate.
Written documentation includes evidence that a debt was fully paid, a series of canceled checks proving that payments were made on time, or correspondence from the creditor indicating that a discrepancy had been previously resolved in your favor.
You should include copies of these documents with your credit dispute letter.
Include a Copy of a Notice You Received Or an Edited Copy of Your Credit Report
Any time you contact a creditor you need to include source documentation of the error. If you have received a collection notice, you should send a copy of the notice with your letter.
If the error was discovered on your credit report, you should send only as much of your credit report as will be required to clearly identify the account in question.
This should include the part of your credit report that shows your name and address and the credit report number and date.
If your Social Security number is included in this part of the report, block it out with a black magic marker.
You should then include the page that reports the discrepancy, being careful to include that line only.
Other credit information reported on the same page should either be blocked out, or the page folded in such a way that unrelated information is not transmitted to the creditor.
You want to provide the creditor only with enough information to clearly identify the error in question, but not anything else. This helps them focus on fixing your problem.
Credit Dispute Letter Sample
The following is a sample of a credit dispute letter you can base your letter on.
It is a recommended format from the Federal Trade Commission website. Simply insert your own information in the brackets and then customize, customize, customize.
[Your City, State, Zip Code]
[City, State, Zip Code]
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. I have circled the items I dispute on the attached copy of the report I received.
This item [identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.] is [inaccurate or incomplete] because [describe what is inaccurate or incomplete and why]. I am requesting that the item be removed [or request another specific change] to correct the information.
Enclosed are copies of [use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation, such as payment records and court documents] supporting my position. Please reinvestigate this [these] matter[s] and [delete or correct] the disputed item[s] as soon as possible.
Enclosures: [List what you are enclosing.]
Customize the Sample Letter – NEVER Send a Form Letter
The sample letter above is a form letter, but as I said earlier, you must customize it and put it into your own words.
Since this is a popular format, if you don’t make it your own there is a very good chance that it will be ignored by creditors.
For that reason, you should use it only as a model, and make sure that it looks like a genuine personal appeal, rather than a form letter.
Keep Copies of Everything You Send
Any time you are trying to challenge information provided by a creditor – particularly if it is reported on your credit report – you must be methodical about the whole process.
That means keeping copies of anything and everything that you send to the creditor. If need be, you should consider sending the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, that way the creditor can’t deny having received it.
Also keep a phone log recording any conversations related to the error, your letter, and any other attempts that you make to correct the problem.
Include the date and time of each conversation, the party spoken to, the party’s phone number, and a detailed description of the conversation and what was agreed to.
If the creditor agrees that the error is on their part and needs to be corrected, there are two more things that you must do:
- Demand that the creditor report the corrected information to each of the three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian)
- Provide written confirmation by the creditor to you acknowledging the error – in the event that the creditor does not report the corrected information to the credit bureaus (which is a common occurrence) you will have written evidence to go back to the credit bureaus yourself, and have them correct the error
Not all creditors will cooperate with an attempt to fix an error, even if the error is obvious. And that brings us to our next topic…
What If the Creditor Doesn’t Cooperate?
This is not an unusual outcome, particularly if the error involves a creditor who was reporting that you owe a balance that you have already paid. This is simply an attempt to get more money for the same obligation.
If your efforts to resolve the problem with the creditor are not successful, then you will have to contact the credit bureau. This is especially true if the creditor doesn’t respond to your letter.
Forward the letter and attached documentation to the credit bureau, with an explanation that you attempted to contact the creditor to correct the problem, but they have not responded.
The credit bureau is legally required to contact the creditor within 30 days, to resolve the situation. If the creditor does not cooperate with the credit bureau, the credit bureau should delete the error from your credit report.
If you are unable to get the error corrected by the creditor, and you don’t get help from the credit bureaus, you may need legal representation.
This is particularly important if the error being reported has a particularly negative impact on your credit score. This can include a series of late payments or a large outstanding balance due.
Sometimes just having an attorney send out a letter is enough to fix the problem. But sometimes he or she needs to go farther than that.
If that turns out to be the case, professional help will be your only option, and the sooner in the process you get it, the quicker it will be resolved.
Have you ever tried to fix a credit error? What was most effective in getting this done?