How to Write Effective Letters to Dispute Credit Report Errors
The below is general information only. The information is not legal advice, and should not be treated as such and is subject to the legal disclaimer. That said, the below offers some guidance for writing effective dispute letters to remove errors from your credit report.
We can help you through the dispute process. Please call or email for a free consultation. But for do-it-yourselfers, what follows is a best-practices guide gleaned from personal experience and authoritative sources such as the National Consumer Law Center’s treatise on Fair Credit Reporting. Because the credit reporting agencies themselves offer no guidance, this is meant only to be a guide and a source of general information and is not intended to be legal advice concerning any specif case or set of facts, and is subject to the Legal Disclaimer. That said and subject to the LEGAL DISCLAIMER, here you go:
File any Dispute Directly with the Credit Reporting Agencies
You MUST file any dispute directly with the Big Three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. The FCRA contains an odd quirk. While a furnisher has a duty under the Act to report accurate information concerning debts to credit reporting agencies, you cannot sue a furnisher for reporting false, misleading, or incomplete information. Rather, in order to trigger liability under the Act, a furnisher first must receive notice of a dispute from a credit reporting agency. This is not to say that you shouldn’t also file a dispute directly with the furnisher, but you should do so in conjunction with dispute letters to the credit reporting agencies.
What To Put In A Dispute Letter
A dispute letter should contain the following:
- The consumer’s full legal name, including any suffix such as Jr. or Sr.
- The consumer’s current address and any other address where the consumer has lived in the past two years.
- The consumer’s Date of Birth.
- The consumer’s social security number. For security reasons, you should limit this to the last four digits of the SSN # clearly identified as such. For example, ***-**-1234.
- The full name of the consumer’s spouse if married.
- A clear and plain description of the dispute. The consumer should include a copy of the credit report with the disputed item circled or highlighted in order to avoid any claim of confusion as to the disputed item in question.
- An explanation of the dispute. For example, if it’s a Chase credit card account and the consumer has no credit cards with Chase, the letter should state that the account does not belong to the consumer and, therefore, the consumer does not owe the particular account listed on the credit report or any other Chase credit card account.
- The letter should clearly and plainly request that the disputed item be deleted or removed from the consumer’s credit report.
Most sources will advise you to include copies of any supporting documentation with your dispute letter, including the FTC. But I think it’s best to wait. If a credit reporting agency concludes that the consumer’s initial dispute is frivolous, the agency can treat as frivolous any repeat dispute based on the same information. But the consumer may be able to avoid this trap by including additional information in a subsequent dispute letter. So I think it’s best to hold at least some documentary evidence for use in a subsequent dispute letter.
The Dispute Letter Must Come From The Consumer
The FCRA is clear that the consumer must directly send the dispute letter to the credit reporting agency: “. . . if the completeness or accuracy of any item of information contained in a consumer’s file at a consumer reporting agency is disputed by the consumer and the consumer notifies the agency directly . . . .”15 U.S.C.A. § 1681i(a). An attorney, however, may draft a letter on behalf of the consumer and still meet the requirements of the statute.
Consider Including An Affidavit
You can convert a dispute letter into an affidavit by signing it under oath and notarized. You could also include a separate affidavit signed and notarized. An affidavit may increase the credibility of your claim and, consequently, cause a credit reporting agency to take your dispute more seriously.
Document everything. Dispute letters should be sent certified mail with return receipt requested. Keep the green card return. Keep copies of all dispute letters. Keep copies of all correspondence from the credit reporting agencies. Keep copies of your credit reports. Keep copies of your expenses. Document any phone calls. Start a file and keep it updated.
Correcting errors on a credit report requires work and effort. A credit reporting agency has 30 days to respond to a dispute letter. Most likely, the first dispute letter most likely will not fix the problem, nor the second, nor the third, etc. Like the woman in the 60 Minutes story, it may take years for a consumer to fix the problem on his or her own.
Most people only become aware of errors in their credit reports after being denied credit, rejected for employment, etc. The best practice is to be proactive. Review your credit report before it becomes an issue. If errors exist, start the long march to fixing the errors now so that the errors won’t cost you later.