credit & debt

Beware Errors on Your Credit Report

Mistakes could boost your borrowing costs, but they're usually easy to clear up, if you spot them.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance.

Imagine the frustration of paying more than necessary for a loan because of an error on your credit report. According to a Federal Trade Commission study, that was the case for 5% of consumers, who had errors on their reports that could boost borrowing costs. One in four consumers found errors, although most weren’t serious enough to affect loan terms. Nearly 80% of those who filed disputes were able to resolve errors, at least partially.

If you spot a mistake, file a dispute with the credit bureau. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling recommends that you focus on account inaccuracies, information that isn’t yours, negative info that remains past the allowed reporting time (typically seven years, ten years for bankruptcies) and credit limits listed as lower than they really are.

If you don’t get satisfaction the first time, you can dispute an item more than once, although you’ll need new information or documentation to trigger another investigation. You can also take disputes directly to the bank, retailer or other creditor that provided the information; they’re obligated to investigate, too.

If, after the investigation, the negative information remains, add a statement to your credit report (you’re allowed 100 words or fewer) explaining the circumstances. Don’t pay a credit repair company to do what you can take care of free.

You won’t spot errors if you don’t examine your credit report. You’re entitled to a free copy every 12 months. Stagger requests to each of the three major bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com to see a report every four months. Credit-monitoring Web site Credit Karma offers consumers the ability to examine their TransUnion credit report free of charge any time they want.A free service at Creditsesame.com tracks activity on your Experian report and alerts you to changes.

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