You have followed my—and everybody else’s—advice and checked your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Congratulations! That’s a great first step. The problem is, you have found an error on one or more of them and are reluctant to file a dispute because you’re worried that making waves might affect your credit score. I find that the best antidote to worry is information. Read on to find out how a dispute could affect your score.
The Mysterious Credit Score
One reason people worry about doing something to lower their credit score is that they don’t understand what the score is. It’s a powerful number, but it’s a mystery to many of us. We know that a low credit score can affect our ability to get a loan or rent an apartment and can raise the interest rates we get when we are approved for a loan, but that’s about all we know. Here’s a quick explanation: the credit score you see on your Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion credit report is calculated by applying a formula developed by the credit bureaus to your credit history, which includes your available credit, payment history, credit balances, and other factors. The better your history with credit is, the higher your score will be.
Finding an Error on Your Reports
The reason you should be checking your reports every year is that there are often mistakes and inconsistencies on them. Some mistakes are minor—a previous address is incorrect, or there is a strange phone number listed. But there can also be accounts that are not yours, payments reported as missed when they were paid on time, and old debt that should have been removed. When you see a mistake—whether it is minor or major—you should file a dispute with the credit bureau. Instructions for doing this are on each bureau’s website.
Filing a Dispute Will Not Affect Your Score
Simply informing a bureau that there is a mistake on your report will not affect your score, so this should not dissuade you from filing a report. In fact, it’s important that you get the misinformation corrected or removed so that it doesn’t affect your score down the road. If you are correcting identification or contact information, the change will not affect your score. However, if you successfully get harmful information removed, your score may go up. Really, you have nothing to lose by disputing an error on your report.
When You May Have Cause for Damages
When you file a dispute with a credit bureau, they have a limited amount of time to respond and take action. If you have taken all the required steps to communicate with them and they have failed to respond, you may have cause to sue for damages. If you have reached the end of your rope with a credit bureau, call me to discuss your options. I help Californians exercise their consumer rights.