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How to Dispute Credit Report Errors

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Your credit reports are maintained by each of the three national credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These important documents list how much money you owe on your credit cards and the balances on any auto, student or mortgage loans you might carry. They also list any financial mistakes you’ve made in the recent past, everything from missed and late credit card payments to bankruptcy declarations and foreclosures.

This information makes up your three-digit credit score, the number lenders use to determine if they’ll lend you money or extend you credit. A high score means you’re more likely to qualify for the best credit cards and loans at lower interest rates.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure that the information on your credit reports is accurate. A single mistake on these reports could send your credit score tumbling — and errors aren’t as uncommon as you might think. In fact, a report by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012 found that 26% of participants in a study found at least one potential error on their credit reports. That same study found that 5.2% of the participants who corrected these mistakes saw their credit scores increase enough so that they would be more likely to nab a lower interest rate on a loan.

Fortunately, it is easier today to dispute and correct a mistake on your credit reports. And doing so could help you improve your credit score.

How to dispute errors in your credit report

It’s easier to dispute items on your credit report today, because you can open an inquiry with each credit bureau online.

When you find an error on your credit report, you’ll work directly with the bureau that issued the report. You might have a mistake on your TransUnion credit report while your reports from Experian and Equifax are error-free. In this case, you’d start an online dispute with TransUnion.

Log onto the bureau’s dispute resolution center — using the information listed earlier in this story — and click on the appropriate button to start a new dispute. Doing this will bring up your credit report with an option to dispute each piece of information on the report. Once you locate the incorrect information, whether it is a credit account still listed as open even though you’ve closed it or a late payment that you believe is inaccurate, click on the “dispute” option for that item.

You will then have the option to select a reason for your dispute. If you’ve never paid your auto loan late, but Experian reports that you have, you’d be able to explain using a dropdown box that you never paid that bill late.

Once you’ve selected all the items you want to dispute, you’ll be given the option to upload documents that help prove there is a mistake in your report. Take advantage of this: the more information you can provide, the better your chances of winning your dispute. If Equifax lists a late credit card payment from April 2017, attach the credit card statement from that month showing that you paid your bill on time. If TransUnion lists an auto loan as being open even though you’ve paid it off, upload your title paperwork showing that you own the car free and clear.

After you submit your online dispute, the credit bureau will send you alerts by email confirming that an investigation has been launched. The bureau will also send you emails every time there is new information about your dispute and when the investigation has been concluded.

You can also write a letter to the credit bureau if you’d prefer that method to opening a dispute online. Again, you can contact the bureaus using the information listed earlier in this story.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, your letter should include your complete name and address and should clearly identify each item in your report that is incorrect. Include the reasons why an item is incorrect and request that the offending item be removed or corrected.

The commission recommends sending a copy of your credit report with the incorrect items circled or highlighted. You should send this letter by certified mail, with a return receipt requested. This way, you can be certain that the credit bureau will have received your letter.

The Federal Trade Commission also recommends that you contact the institution that provided the credit bureau with the incorrect information. If the bureau reports a missed payment from your mortgage lender and you are disputing this, contact your mortgage lender, too, to inquire about the mistake.

Sample dispute letters for credit bureaus and creditors

Want to send a dispute letter to one of the three credit bureaus? Here is a sample dispute letter provided by the Federal Trade Commission. Just fill in the blanks when you send it.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you also send a dispute letter to the company — bank, lender or credit card provider, usually — that send the information you think is incorrect.

Here is a sample letter, provided by the FTC, for that step in the process:

What happens after you submit a dispute

The credit bureaus are required to investigate your dispute and will usually do so within 30 days, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Once you submit your dispute, either online or by writing, the bureau will forward your information to whatever organization provided it with the information in dispute. If you are disputing a late payment by one of your credit card providers, the credit bureau will send your information to that provider.

If the company does find that the information you are disputing is incorrect, it must then notify all three credit bureaus so that they can correct the information in your reports.

Once the investigation concludes, the credit bureau must provide you the results in writing, along with a free copy of your credit report if the dispute ended with a change. The bureau will also send you a written notice that contains the name, address and phone number of the company that provided the incorrect information.

Where to dispute credit report errors

You can report credit report errors online — however, we recommend doing it both in writing and online. If you do not like the outcome of the dispute, a paper trail will be helpful if you want to continue pressing for a change in your credit report. Plus, a written letter, sent by certified mail, can be more effective.

TransUnion

You can dispute with TransUnion at dispute.transunion.com, or contact the bureau by phone at 1-800-916-8800. You can also dispute information on your TransUnion report in writing at TransUnion, LLC, Consumer Dispute Center, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022.

Equifax

You can dispute online with Equifax online at equifax.com/personal/disputes/. If you’d prefer to dispute in writing, you can send a letter to Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374-0256. You can also call Equifax at 1-866-349-5191.

Experian

You can dispute online with Experian at www.experian.com/disputes/. You can dispute in writing at P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013.

How to check your credit report for errors

The first step to checking your credit reports is to order your free copies. You can order one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Be sure to only order your reports from this site. Other sites offering free credit reports might try to sign you up for credit-monitoring services that you might not need.

But once you get your reports, how do you check them for errors? The key is to figure how credit reports are organized and what information they contain.

Your credit reports start with a list of personal information, including items such as:

  • Your full name
  • Current and recent addresses
  • Telephone number
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Spouse’s name
  • Current and recent employers

Reports also contain a section for three types of public records: bankruptcies, tax liens and civil judgments. (Credit reports won’t list arrests, misdemeanors or other non-financial records.)

Maybe you failed to pay a tax bill. Your credit report would list the amount of the unpaid taxes and the filing date of a tax lien against you. If you’ve recently declared bankruptcy, your report will list the type of bankruptcy you’ve filed, the filing date of your bankruptcy and the court in which you filed.

You don’t want public records listed on your reports; these will cause your credit score to tumble. Fortunately, these records don’t stay on your reports forever: foreclosures and Chapter 13 bankruptcies fall off your credit report seven years after their filing dates, while Chapter 7 bankruptcies disappear from your report after 10 years.

Another important part of your credit reports is the accounts section. This section lists your credit card accounts and balances, and the balances of installment loans like auto and mortgage loans. Your report will list these accounts as either open, negative or closed.

For instance, your credit reports will list a mortgage loan that you are still paying off as open, including the loan’s current balance, the date you took out the loan and the lender behind the loan. Reports will also list whether you have any late or missed payments on this loan and will list whether the loan is open — meaning you are still paying it off; closed — you’ve finishing paying off the mortgage; or in foreclosure.

This section will list open credit card accounts, too, listing your current balance, the highest your balance has ever been and whether you are late on your payments.

If you are interested in a sample credit report, credit bureau Experian has a good example here.

Common errors in credit reports

Certain errors are more likely to pop up in credit reports. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warns consumers to look for:

  • Errors made in your personal information, including reports that list your name incorrectly or contain an incorrect address or phone number.
  • Closed credit card accounts that are still listed as open.
  • Credit card or installment loan payments reported as late, even if you paid them on time.
  • Debt that is listed on your report more than once, possibly with different names for each listing.
  • Reports might say you owe more on your credit cards than you actually do.
  • Reports might list credit limits on your accounts that are too low.

If you spot any of these errors, make sure to correct them. All of them could impact your credit score.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Dan Rafter is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dan here

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Know About the Different Credit Scoring Models

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Did you know that there are hundreds of credit scoring models being used today?

With different lenders creating different credit score models based on their own credit criteria, it is very possible that you could have a hundred credit scores. While it is impossible to obtain or keep track of all your credit scores, you should be aware of the models most used by lenders.

FICO score

The FICO score is the most commonly used credit score when applying for credit or a loan. FICO is an abbreviation for Fair Isaac Corporation, the first company ever to offer credit scores. You have different FICO scores at each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Your FICO Score ranges from 300 to 850, and is based on several factors:

  • 35% Payment History – The most important factor in determining your FICO credit score is your payment history. Delinquent payments could stay on your report for seven years.
  • 30% Debts/Amounts Owed – Your total debt. The lower your debt, the more likely it is that your score will be higher.
  • 15% Age of Credit History – The longer your credit history, the more likely it is that your score will be higher.
  • 10% New Credit/Inquiries – The number of accounts you have opened recently, as well as the number of hard inquiries you have.
  • 10% Mix of Accounts, Type of Credit – The more varied your accounts, the more favorable your score.

However, the FICO model is not as simple as the above breakdown may seem. FICO often makes changes to its credit score model to make it a better reflection of how creditworthy individuals are. As a result, there are currently more than 50 FICO credit score models that are used for different types of debt. A different version of your FICO credit score is used for a mortgage, auto loan, credit card and more.

The latest version of the FICO score is FICO 9, which allows unpaid medical bills to carry a lower weight than other unpaid debts, disregards collections accounts that have been paid off in full and factors in rent payments that are reported.

FICO 9 was developed because unpaid medical debt may not be an indicator of financial health, as an individual may be waiting on insurance payments before paying the debt, or may not even know a bill has been sent to collections.

FICO score 8 is still the most commonly used by lenders. This model does not allow for the lower weighting of medical debt.

Consumers should also be aware of the newly launched UltraFICO Score.  This score is the result of a partnership by FICO, Experian and data aggregator Finicity.  The key difference between it and other FICO scoring models is that it allows bank account transactions to be factored into the final score. This is a score for which consumers will have to opt in by linking their deposit accounts to their credit profiles. This can help consumers with a sparse credit history to boost their scores based on their banking behavior, which includes a history of positive account balances, frequency of bank transactions, length of time the accounts have been open and evidence of consistent cash on hand.

As this is a very new feature, there will be a slow rollout of availability. You can sign up here to receive news and updates on the UltraFICO score.

VantageScore

VantageScore is the main FICO credit score competitor, and in a similar manner, the VantageScore is constantly evolving to portray a more accurate picture of a person’s financial health. It was developed by the three major credit bureaus. While still not as widely used as the FICO score, an October 2018 study by consulting firm Oliver Wyman found the use of VantageScore rose over 20% year over year, and was up more than 300% over the past five years. Like the FICO score, VantageScore has a scale of 300-850.

  • VantageScore 4.0 was designed with these changes in mind, and it gives those records less negative impact when calculating scores for consumers who have those records in their credit files. VantageScore 4.0 also penalizes unpaid medical collections less than other types of unpaid collections, and ignores unpaid medical collections less than six months old, to give insurance companies ample time to make payments. Consistent with the VantageScore 3.0 model, paid collections (including paid medical collections) are excluded in the VantageScore 4.0 model.

The most recent version is VantageScore 4.0. As is the case with FICO score 9, VantageScore 4.0 puts a lower weight on unpaid medical debt (medical debt less than six months old is completely disregarded). Both VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0 exclude paid collections from their model.

While VantageScore 4.0 debuted in 2017, 3.0 is still the most widely used model. The score takes the following factors into consideration:

  • Extreme Weight: Age and Type of Credit – This refers to your length of credit history and your account mix, and is also factored heavily into your 3.0 score.
  • Extreme Weight: Credit Utilization – The V3 score calculates your utilization percentage by dividing your balances by your available credit. Generally, you should keep your utilization under 30%.
  • High Weight: Payment HistoryVantageScore uses your payment history as the number one predictor of risk. Late payments can appear on your report for seven years.
  • Medium Weight: Total Balances – Refers to your total debt, both current and delinquent. As with credit utilization, the more you lower your debt, the higher chance you have of increasing your score.
  • Low Weight: Recent Behavior – How many accounts have you recently opened? Your recent behavior includes newly opened accounts and the number of hard inquiries recently.
  • Extremely Low Weight Available Credit – The amount of credit you have available to use.

MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, offers a free credit monitoring service that uses the VantageScore 3.0 model.

Where can you obtain your credit score for free?

It used to be pretty difficult to obtain your credit score across all three bureaus for free. Now, several financial institutions offer consumers the chance to obtain their FICO scores at no cost.  Here is a sampling of banks and credit unions that offer this service:

For Experian: If you have an American Express card, a Chase Slate account, or a credit card with Wells Fargo or the First National Bank of Omaha, you can get your FICO score from Experian. Discover offers an even better service, as anyone can sign up to view their Experian score at Creditscorecard.com, even if they do not have an account with Discover.

For Equifax: If you have a Citibank card, or an account with DCU Credit Union or PenFed, you can access your Equifax score for free. Keep in mind that Citibank uses a scoring model from 250 to 900 based on Equifax and the FICO Bankcard Score 8 model, which emphasizes credit card behavior.

For TransUnion: If you have a Barclays card, select credit cards with Bank of America or a Walmart Credit Card, Walmart MasterCard, or Sam’s Club Credit Card, you can access your TransUnion score.

Knowledge is power

The credit scoring system has a long way to go before it becomes transparent and accessible. Currently, it is up to lenders to use a national score, like the FICO score, their own internal credit score, or a mix of the two.

While it would be impossible to monitor all of your credit scores, there are ways to monitor the most important factors in every score. It’s your right to get annual access to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus. You can do this at annualcreditreport.com.

Even though no lender uses the same credit score model, all scores look at the same basic information, so taking steps to build and keep strong credit will benefit you no matter which score is being used.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Gretchen Lindow
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Gretchen Lindow is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Gretchen at [email protected]

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What Factors Affect Your Credit Score?

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The 5 factors that determine your FICO score
There are five major components FICO uses to determine a credit score. Understanding the secret sauce can help you build a strong score and healthy credit report. While FICO is not the only credit scoring model out there, it is the most widely used by lenders. So a score in the 700s, along with a healthy credit report, should enhance the rest of your financial life by enabling you to get approved for top-tier financial products at a lower interest rate.
Here’s everything you need to know about the five pieces of the FICO-scoring pie.

35%: Payment history

This is the single most important part of your credit score. Quite simply, this looks at how many on-time payments you make. You will:

  • Get rewarded for on-time payments.
  • Be punished for missed payments. Not all late payments are created equally. If you are fewer than 30 days late, your missed payment will likely not be reported to the bureaus (although you still will be subject to late fees and potential risk-based re-pricing, which can be very expensive). Once you are 30 days late, you will be reported to the credit bureaus. The longer you go without paying, the bigger the impact on your score, so 60 days late is worse than 30 days late. A single missed payment (of 30 days or more) can still have a big impact on your score, shaving off anywhere from 60 to 110 points.

If you don’t pay a medical bill or a cell phone bill, your account may be referred to a collection agency. Once it’s with an agency, they can register that debt with the credit bureaus, which can have a big negative impact on your score. Most negative information will stay on your credit report for seven years. Positive information will stay on your credit bureau forever, so long as you keep the account open. If you close an account with positive information, it will typically stay on your report for about 10 years, until that account completely disappears from your credit report and score. If you don’t use your credit card (and therefore no payment is due), your score will not improve. You have to use credit in order to get a good score.

However, there is a big myth that you have to borrow money and pay interest to get a good score. That is completely false. So long as you use your credit card (it can be a small charge) and then pay that statement balance in full, your score will benefit. You do not need to pay interest on a credit card to improve your score. Remember: Your goal is to have as much positive information as possible, with very little negative information. That means you should be as focused on adding positive information to your credit report as you are at avoiding negative information.

30%: Amount owed

This part of your score will look at a few elements:

  • The total amount of debt you owe across all of your accounts. If you have a lot of credit card debt, your score can be hit.
  • In addition to the total amount of debt that you have, your utilization is very important.

To calculate utilization, divide your statement balance (across all of your credit cards) by your available credit. For example, if you have credit limits of $40,000 across four credit cards, and you have a total balance of $20,000 – then you have a utilization of 50%. That is high, and a high utilization rate is not good.

To have a good utilization score, you will want your total to be below 30%. However, the lower the, the better, so aim as low as possible here.

Why is utilization such an important concept? If you use every bit of credit made available to you, then it looks like you do not have self-restraint. Maxing out all  your credit cards is a big warning sign to lenders.

If you are able to restrain yourself and have a lot of available credit (that you do not use), then you are showing self-discipline.

It may sound strange, but one key to having a good credit score is having a lot of available credit and not using most of it.

15%: Length of credit history

This is the easiest part of the credit score to get right. So long as you don’t close accounts, every day this part of your score improves (because all your accounts become one day older).

FICO will look at the age of your oldest account, as well as the average age of all accounts. Closing a long-time account can ding your score if it shortens the length of your credit history.

10%: Types of credit in use

If you have experience with different types of credit (installment loans, revolving loans, credit cards, etc.), it’s better for your credit score than if you don’t have a variety of experience.

The most important product is a credit card. If you have a credit card and manage it well, you will be rewarded.

Other forms of debt that will affect your credit score include your mortgage payment, auto loan payment and student loan payments. These fall under the category of installment loans, rather than revolving credit, like a credit card. A varied credit history will include both revolving debt and installment loans.

10%: New credit

If you open up a lot of new credit in a short period of time, you will be sending a warning signal to the credit bureau. But this aspect of the credit score has inspired some unwarranted fear in some people. They are afraid to shop for the best deals, because they are afraid of what shopping for credit would do to their credit scores.

The FICO score will look at credit inquiries from the past 12 months. Lets break a few of the myths down now:

  • Checking my own credit report will hurt my score: FALSE! If you check your own credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com, it will not hurt your score. You can get this report for free across all three major credit bureaus once every year.
  • If I shop around for a good mortgage or auto loan rate, my score will get crushed: FALSE! Multiple inquiries for a mortgage or auto loan are usually treated as a single inquiry.
  • If I shop around for a balance transfer credit card, my score will get crushed: FALSE! If your score does decline, it probably will not decline by much. You can expect 10 to 20 points shaved off per credit application. But remember: You can apply for a balance transfer to help reduce your balance faster. When you open a new credit card and transfer your balance, you will be able to:
    • Have a lower overall utilization rate, because you have new credit available (and of course you will not use all of it!)
    • Pay off your debt faster, because the interest rate is lower. At the end of 12 months, your score should be even higher than when you applied for the balance transfer or personal loan.

Remember, too, that you can check to see if you have prequalified for any credit cards without triggering a hard pull on your credit (this means it will not appear on your credit report).  This is a great way to shop around for cards you are more likely to be accepted for without risking any kind of ding to your credit score. Keep in mind, though, that when you actually apply for the card, there will be a hard pull of your credit history, and your application is not guaranteed to be accepted. But overall, you shouldn’t fear applying for new credit — it’s more likely to help your score over the long run, even if there is a short-term ding.

One exception is when you are aiming to get a mortgage; if this is the case, you should hold off on applying for new credit, because any small change in your credit profile can cause problems with getting a mortgage loan.

Quick steps to building and keeping a good credit score

  • Use your credit card every month, but keep your utilization at least below 30%, and even less if possible. In other words, never charge more than 30% of your available credit, and aim to charge a lot less. You can reduce your utilization by (a) paying down your debt and (b) increasing the credit that you have available.
  • Make your payments on time every month. If you repeat these two things over time, you should eventually have a score above 700. However, if your score is below 700 and you want to improve it, you need to focus on:
  • Adding more positive information to your credit report
  • Getting your utilization below 30%
  • Dealing with the negative information

Where can I monitor my credit score for free?

There are several ways to get your FICO score for free, from the three main credit bureaus. Here are just a few:

  • If you have a Citibank card, or an account with DCU Credit Union or PenFed, you can access your Equifax score.
  • If you have an account with American Express, Discover, Wells Fargo or First National Bank of Omaha, you can access your Experian score for free. You don’t even have to have a Discover card in order see your Experian score; you can simply sign up at Creditscorecard.com.   
  • If you have any Barclays credit card, you can gain free access to your TransUnion score.  Bank of America offers access with select credit cards, and you can also view your TransUnion score if you have a Walmart Credit Card, Walmart MasterCard or Sam’s Club Credit Card.

There are also several services that offer free regular credit monitoring. MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, offers free credit monitoring for anyone who wants to sign up. You’ll have access to your credit score and receive alerts to changes you should be aware of. You should know that LendingTree uses the VantageScore model, which is slightly different from the FICO score, although the score range is the same.

 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
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Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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