Your credit report can determine your financial freedom, but the wrong information on your credit report can result in credit rejections from potential lenders or creditors.
Learn what’s in your credit report, common mistakes and the steps you can take to repair inconsistencies and problems — and potentially prevent them from happening altogether.
What can cause a mistake on my credit report?
Errors in your credit report are most often the result of incomplete information or a mix-up in details that should be on somebody else’s report.
- Clerical errors. A person could have read or entered your name, address and other information, especially if it came from a handwritten application. A common problem is transposed or incorrect numbers in a Social Security number.
- Different names. If your name is Susan but you applied for credit as “Sue,” it could result in a problem.
- Inadvertently applied credit or payment info. Loan or card payments can mistakenly reflect on the wrong account or to the wrong person.
- Incorrectly reported details. A person may have mistakenly reported an inaccurate Social Security number and other info, resulting in their info on your report.
- Fraud or identity theft. If you see activity on your account — for example, loans that aren’t yours or applications you never submitted — it’s possible that your identity has been stolen. Take action immediately by notifying the bureau of the entries that aren’t yours.
What mistakes should I look for?
Even a typo in your personal information can prevent you from getting the best credit offers.
- Incorrect identifying info. Confirm that your name, Social Security number and all previous addresses are correct. Also review your employment history — if you find any diversion, report it immediately to limit the chance of identity theft.
- Open accounts. If you find listed an account you’ve fully repaid or credit or store cards you’ve never used, call the credit reporting bureau to report the discrepancy. You may also want to call the provider to resolve the issue.
- Incorrect payments or defaults. Late or missed payments detract from your score, but mistakes can happen. Dispute any negative info that’s reported incorrectly to the bureau and the creditor that provided the info.
- Duplicate listings. If you find an account that’s listed more than once, report it.
- Fraudulent credit applications. If your identity is stolen, you could see multiple applications, loans or unpaid services that you’ve never applied for. Report these red flags immediately.
What should I do if I find an error on my credit report?
You can fix an error in your credit report with diligence and documentation. Here’s where to start.
- Look at your own records. First, see if you can determine the source of the problem. Did the credit card make a mistake, or was it a third party you make credit payments to?
- Check with the bureaus. The big three credit bureaus don’t often communicate, so contact them individually to see if the mistake appears on each of your reports.
- Call your creditors. An error can show up on your credit report if credit card providers or lenders send incorrect information to a reporting agency.
- Gather information. Be sure you have the information you need to fix any mistakes — for example, a mailed utility statement to correct your address or bank statements showing payment.
- Document everything. To avoid problems down the road, keep track of when you contact creditors and bureaus, who you talk to and when you submitted proof.
- File a request for correction. If you’re mailing your request, include copies of the error and your proof to resolve it.
It can take months before you see the fruits of your labor, but you should follow up about a month after filing. Don’t assume that your request has been taken care of.
How to avoid credit report errors before they’re a problem?
The simplest way to keep a clean credit history is to check your report regularly. You can request a copy of your report every year from each of the three credit bureaus — which means that, with planning, you can review your credit report for errors every four months.
With consistent checking, you should be able to catch most issues before they become a problem. Other resources are available for extra diligence:
- Sign up for credit alerts. Some credit reporting bodies offer annual subscriptions for credit alerts so that you can get to fixing problems as they occur.
- Double-check payments. Make sure your payments and debits actually go through. Even autopay systems can make mistakes.
Ultimately, you may not be able to always stop credit report errors before they happen. But by staying on top of your bills and keeping an eye on your score, you can better protect yourself if a mistake is ever made.
What are my rights?
Enacted in 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act protects you when it comes to your credit report. You have a right to:
- A free copy of your report. Request your free credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus, within 90 days of a credit rejection or if you’re the victim of identity theft, among other reasons.
- Ask for your credit score. Depending on the credit bureau you’re requested it from, you may have to pay a fee of up to $10.
- Dispute and correct inaccurate information. If your information is incomplete, no longer valid or just plain wrong, an agency must correct it.
- Remove outdated information from your report. In general, most negative information is outdated after seven years, and bankruptcies are outdated after 10.
- Choose who can see your credit report. Employers or potential employers cannot see your credit report without your written consent.
- Opt out of marketing lists. Tell each of the credit bureaus to remove you from lists that can result in prescreened credit and insurance offers.
- Seek council if your rights are challenged. Credit repair law firms and other professionals can help, if you need it.
What is in a credit report?
Your credit report has a lot of information about you and your credit history. It’s a detailed record of your credit history that can affect whether lenders approve you for borrowing even help you access better interest rates and more favorable terms.
Among the details in your credit report are are your:
- Personal information. Including your date of birth, Social Security number employment history and previous addresses.
- Debts or loans. Open and close dates, credit limits and loan amounts and your payment history for that credit.
- Credit applications. If you’ve applied for a card, loan or mortgage in the past five years, a potential creditor will see it.
- Defaults and other credit infringements. Your report includes details of any overdue debts you might have, payments you’ve missed on loans and utility bills and bankruptcies.
How do I make a credit report request
- Request a copy of your credit report. You can get a free copy of your credit file once every 12 months or within 90 days of a credit rejection.
- The three main credit reporting bodies — Experian, Equifax and Transunion — each may all hold slightly different information. Stagger your requests throughout the year, to ensure that you get a report from at least one bureau every four months.
- Visit the credit website and follow the steps to order your credit file. You can also call. It can take a week or so to be delivered, so if you need to check it in a hurry you’ll pay more.
Correcting errors on your credit report can be a slow process, but it could help you get financed down the road with more flexible options and better borrowing terms.
Get your score
Your credit is an important part of your financial profile. Incomplete or incorrect information in it can lead to rejections from potential creditors or lenders, among other problems. Be proactive about your credit score to catch mistakes soon after they happen — and if you find one, you have the right to request that the credit bureaus fix it.