Recently, a jury awarded Julie Miller $18.6 million from a credit reporting agency for failing to correct inaccurate information on her credit report. According to the findings, the lack of action by the agency resulted in missed credit opportunities for Miller, a damaged reputation and the inability to obtain credit to help her disabled brother—a very costly mistake.

“Today, information on credit reports is tied not only to the ability to access credit and better interest rates, but also to the amount you pay for insurance, deposits on services and even employment,” states Jana Castanon spokesperson for Apprisen. The Federal Trade Commission says that one in five people have an error on at least one of their credit reports which could mean money coming out of consumers’ pockets that doesn’t need to be. In order to ensure that credit report errors are not costing you, Apprisen offers these tips to help:

  • Check your credit report. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit agencies through AnnualCreditReport.com. A good practice would be to check one of the reports today, another four months from now and then again four months thereafter. That way, you are reviewing your reports on a consistent basis and will be able to identify errors in a timely manner. Checking your credit report does NOT impact your credit score.
  • Note items that can be disputed. You can dispute items that you believe are inaccurate, such as your payment history, account status, or accounts that are listed but are not yours. Typically, most items can stay on your credit report seven years from the date of the last delinquency except for bankruptcy, student loans, child support, liens and judgments. Check with your attorney general’s office for specific laws pertaining to your state.
  • Make your dispute. You can file your dispute online, by mail or by phone. Make sure you provide any additional documentation to support your claim.  Credit bureaus have 30 days to respond to your dispute or 45 days if you need to provide additional documentation. They will send any data you provided to the business that reported the account. The business will then be required to investigate and respond back to the credit bureau. Anything that cannot be verified must be removed from the report. However, they have the right to reinsert previously deleted items if those items are later verified. If a credit reporting agency corrects inaccurate information on your account, it will share that information with the other bureaus. Make sure you re-check your credit report to ensure the mistake has been corrected. Never assume that because you’ve reported it, corrective action will automatically be taken.
  • Don’t pay someone to do this for you. Be wary of any business that claims that they can get all negative information off your credit report. Often times, these companies will charge large fees for something you can do yourself. You have the right to dispute any item on your credit report. However, by law, all accurate information cannot be removed unless it is done so by the creditor.
  • Be persistent. The majority of consumers do not experience the extreme problems that Miller did in trying to resolve her dispute. In any case, keep records of all communications to and from the credit reporting agency as a way to verify your actions in the dispute process. If your request gets denied, request that the agency reopen the dispute case. If you feel you are getting nowhere, contact the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (ConsumerFinance.gov) or your state’s attorney general. They are excellent resources.

Disputing items on your credit report can sometimes be a frustrating task. But take the time to look at your reports, file the dispute if necessary and follow up to make sure the changes have been made. Because having good credit impacts so many aspects of life, your goal is to be sure that the information on your report is accurate and reflects your credit history in the most positive light possible.

Apprisen, a national nonprofit credit counseling agency, has been helping consumers manage their finances and get out of debt for over 55 years. Visit them at Apprisen.com.