How To Fix an Error on Your Credit Report Without Losing Your Damn Mind

Welcome back, beloved bitchlings! Last time you heard from me I was in Furious Economic Justice Avenger mode with my news about how credit scoring is a racist, classist system that has us all trapped in its nefarious clutches. I didn’t leave you with much by way of optimism in that article… but I did dangle a carrot of hope. Specifically, how to fix errors in your credit report.

As we discussed, the credit reporting bureaus have no legal obligation to be accurate. Which seems like a major oversight, but hey—this is America. They are, however, obligated to investigate and correct errors at your request.

So today I’m going to walk you through the steps of identifying and fixing errors on your credit report. Statistically speaking, you might have a few! The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau says that one in five people have a mistake in at least one of their credit reports. One in five, I shit you not! And getting all three of the major credit reporting bureaus to correct those mistakes could give your credit score a needed boost.

Caveat emptor

First, a note on safety. Identity thieves are legion. And they really want to steal your data.

My primary source for this article is the Federal Trade Commission. They’re an agency of the United States government responsible for “antitrust and consumer protection laws affecting virtually every area of commerce. . . . The agency leverages its resources and targets its enforcement efforts at practices that cause the greatest harm to consumers.” Which is to say: you can trust them.

Anyone else who asks for your private data in order to help you fix errors on your credit report is highly suspect. Right on their home page, the FTC says: “The FTC will never demand money, make threats, tell you to transfer money, or promise you a prize.” So if anyone does that stuff… run.

Identity theft or financial scamming can happen to anyone—even if you’re a smart cookie, financially savvy, and generally cautious with your money, as evidenced by Charlotte Cowles’s recent shocking story. So keep your wits about you.

For more on how to protect yourself, check out our articles on financial scams and identity theft:

Step 1: Access your credit report

Your credit report is the raw data on which your credit score is based. It lists your credit history: all the stuff you’ve ever done with credit including credit cards, student loans, mortgages, and auto loans.

Even if you don’t suspect there’s an error in your credit report, you should still take a look at yours every year. After all—it’s free!

To request a peek at your credit report, The FTC recommends you go to and click “request your free credit reports.” Fill in your info, and then (this is important) request your report from ALL THREE of the major credit reporting bureaus.

Take screenshots and download everything, as they won’t let you access the report more than once per week.

Step 2: Identify errors in your credit report

If you’re not a huge money nerd, you might be intimidated by the prospect of reviewing your own credit report. Worry not, my darling personal finance neophyte: each item on the report is easy to identify by the name of the financial institution, date opened, and amount owed.

For example, my three student loans were all on there under Nelnet, the dastardly student loan servicer I worked my shapely hiney off to pay for years. Each one indicated the date I took out the loans and the outstanding balance of zero spiteful dollars.

If you see something on there you DO NOT RECOGNIZE… then you have a problem. It could be an error introduced by the credit reporting bureaus, or a sign that your identity has been stolen.

Before you launch into action, check with close family members like your parents or spouse to make sure they didn’t open a line of credit in your name. It happens. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Step 3: Dispute errors in your credit report

Assuming you found a mistake on your credit report, now the hard part begins. I will warn you that while the FTC lists a very straightforward process for contesting credit report mistakes, the experience is anything but straightforward. It’s more like a three-foot-long noodle of rotini… or a duck penis (clicking that link is only for the bravest of souls).

On a basic level, both the credit reporting bureau and the business that gave them the incorrect information have to correct the error in your report. So you need to contact them both to tell them you want to dispute your report. And they have to handle it for free.

Remember: there are three separate credit reporting bureaus. So if the mistake shows up in reports from multiple bureaus, you have to contact them individually. Get a snack and settle in. This might take a while.

Step 3.1: Contact the bureaus and businesses

In researching for this article, I became faint with horror and disbelief as I read about how you need to physically mail shit in to dispute your credit report. Pearls were clutched, y’all. Pearls were clutched.

I became righteously indignant, suspecting that this was just a tactic to make it harder to dispute errors on your credit report and, thus, discourage folks from going through the trouble. Because remember: the bureaus don’t get paid to fix their own mistakes, but they do make money from selling your mistaken information.

So imagine my utter relief when I found that these days you can now use email and even the phone (shudder) to dispute your credit report. The FTC conveniently lists all methods of contact.

Step 3.2: Gathering your evidence

You need to send a letter detailing the problem, a copy of the bureau’s dispute form (which you can download), and any supporting documents that show you’re right and they’re wrong. Make copies of e v e r y t h i n g and take notes.

The FTC has a great sample letter you can use to craft your own. It should include:

  • A request for the credit reporting bureau to remove or fix the error.
  • Your full name and address.
  • A copy of your credit report with the mistakes highlighted or circled.
  • An explanation of each mistake you want fixed and why you want them fixed.

Send one copy of everything to the credit reporting bureau with the mistake, and one to the business that reported the mistake. Save another copy for yourself.

Step 4: ???

It might feel like you’re sending a message in a bottle out to sea, hoping Aquaman or whoever finds it and rescues your credit score. But supposedly, your dispute will trigger a very regimented process at the credit reporting bureaus.

After they receive your dispute, they have 30 days to investigate. If they believe your dispute is “frivolous or irrelevant,” they’ll stop investigating. But they’re required to tell you why (or request additional evidence from you).

If they determine you’re right about the dispute, they’ll first forward the evidence to the business where they got the error. “But wait,” say you, “didn’t I already send that information too?” You sure did! Yet this is the process! The FTC says so! The business then must investigate and notify all three credit reporting bureaus to correct the report. This can… take a while.

At long last, the bureau has to give you the results of the dispute in writing, along with a copy of your corrected credit report. Don’t consider the matter settled until you get this written confirmation. They’ll also inform anyone who looked at your report within the last six months of the change… if you ask them to. So ask.

If the error originated at the credit reporting bureau itself… it’s not really clear what steps they take. The FTC doesn’t consider this a possibility in their official how-to guide, despite copious evidence to the contrary. And here’s where you can run into even more trouble.

Step 5: … Prosper?

Scour the interwebz for, like, a second and you will read countless horror stories of people driven halfway to madness and back by this process. The CFPB says they get more complaints about the credit reporting bureaus than any other business.

And it’s no secret why! The credit reporting bureaus (name ’em and shame ’em: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) make their money by selling lots of data really quickly. Fixing errors and making their reports more accurate is a time-consuming and expensive process. And their customers are financial institutions—not the individual humans whose credit scores they hold in their clutches.

They have little incentive to get through credit report disputes quickly. And absolutely no incentive to make it easy or pleasant for you, the consumer. So if you succeed in disputing a credit report error with your sanity intact… throw yourself a goddamn party because you’re a winner, baby.

If everything goes according to plan, the errors on your credit report will be cast into the fires of Mount Doom in which they were forged, ushering in a Fifth Age of grace and enlightenment not seen since the height of the Númenorian Empire.

One last thing…

Did you find an error in your credit report? Were you able to dispute it? Share with the whole class in a comment below! For while I know how statistically common these kinds of mistakes are, nothing soothes my soul like anecdotal evidence. Let’s rage together! It’ll be cathartic!

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One thought to “How To Fix an Error on Your Credit Report Without Losing Your Damn Mind”

  1. My husband once sold his house to his son (same first and last name, different middle name.) You can imagine the difficulty in clearing the son’s mortgage info off my husband’s credit report! Same name! Lived at the same address! The son’s mortgage was even with the same mortgage company! It was a couple of decades ago now, so I don’t recall how long it took to clear up, but we managed to get it off and, after years of diligent effort on my part, his credit score is now almost as high as mine!

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