Personal Finance in Your 20s and 30s: Obtain Your Credit Reports and Fix Errors

By Eric Tyson

You want to get your hands on your credit report so you know what lenders are reviewing. You’re entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report (which does not contain your credit score) every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you visit this website, you can view and print copies of your credit report from each of the three credit agencies. (Alternatively, you can call 877-322-8228 and request that your reports be mailed to you.)

When you receive your reports, inspect them for possible mistakes. Credit-reporting bureaus and the creditors who report credit information to these bureaus make plenty of errors.

If your problems are fixable, there’s no need to hire someone to do so for you — you can direct getting them fixed yourself, but you will likely have to make some phone calls or write a letter or two. Some credit-report errors arise from other people’s negative information getting on your credit report. This can happen if you have a common name, have moved a lot, or for other reasons. If the problematic information on your report appears not to be yours, tell that particular credit bureau and explain that you need more information because you don’t recognize the creditor.

Creditors are the source of some reporting mistakes as well. For example, perhaps a bill you paid off is still incorrectly being reported as a balance you owe. If that’s the case with your report, write or call the creditor to get the incorrect information fixed. Phoning first usually works best. (The credit bureau should be able to tell you how to reach the creditor if you don’t know how.) If necessary, follow up with a letter or an email. You can also dispute errors online directly with the credit reporting agency.

Whether you speak with a credit bureau or an actual lender, make notes of your conversations. If representatives say that they can fix the problem, get their name and extension, and follow up with them if they don’t deliver the promised results. If you’re ensnared in bureaucratic red tape, escalate the situation by speaking with a department manager. By law, bureaus are required to respond to a request to fix a credit error within 30 days. And if you file a dispute and the creditor doesn’t respond, the credit bureau must then remove the derogatory item.

You and a creditor may not see eye to eye on a problem, and the creditor may refuse to budge. If that’s the case, credit bureaus are required by law to allow you to add a 100-word explanation to your credit file. Just remember that if you go this route, be factual in your write-up and steer clear of broad attacks on the creditor (such as “their customer service sucks”).

Avoid “credit-repair” firms that claim to be able to fix your credit report problems. In the worst cases I’ve seen, these firms charge outrageous amounts of money and don’t come close to fulfilling their marketing hype. If you have legitimate glitches on your credit report, credit-repair firms can’t make the glitches disappear. You can easily fix errors on your own without the charge.