Last month, the Federal Trade Commission released a new study that found a whopping 26 percent of people identified at least one error on their credit report. And it wasn't just people crying wolf -- even the notoriously difficult credit bureaus agreed with the consumers 79 percent of the time and made at least some changes to their credit reports. About half of those identified errors resulted in a change in the consumer's credit score -- meaning that by the credit bureaus' own admission, 13 percent of people had incorrect credit scores. Of course, when the FTC asked the consumers themselves, the picture got even worse. Around 63 percent of people that alerted the bureaus to credit report errors said the bureaus did not correct all of the erroneous information.
The study estimated that the credit bureaus report on at least 200 million consumers. That means that about 52 million people would probably find errors on their credit reports if everyone took the time to check them, and about 26 million people could easily have their credit scores increased by simply reporting those errors to the credit bureaus. If you add it all up, it's likely that Americans are paying billions in extra interest due to errors on their credit reports.
How your credit score affects your wallet
Your credit score is not just about whether you get approved for a credit card or loan. It also dictates what kind of interest rate you are offered or how much your credit limit will be.
Many lenders have score cutoffs for certain rates or credit limits. If your score is 696 and their cutoff is 700, you will be missing out on the better interest rate by only 4 points, which means you will be paying extra interest for no reason. Fixing the errors on your credit report will help guarantee that you are getting the best interest rate or the highest credit limit possible. And of course, it will also give you the best chance at getting that credit card or loan in the first place.
Here's how to fix your errors
Contact the credit bureaus: You can contest any entry on your credit report yourself. You will need to fill out a separate dispute request for each credit bureau the error occurs on -- either Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. Each credit bureau has directions on how to file a dispute on their website. After the bureau receives the dispute, it will be noted on your credit report that the item is being investigated.
Follow up: According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureaus have 30 days (or a "reasonable" amount of time) to research your dispute. After the 30 days are up, they can either verify the item (meaning it was correct and no changes will be made), modify the item to make it accurate or delete the item. They can also categorize your dispute as "frivolous," which means that the credit bureau does not believe that you are serious. If you are not satisfied with the credit bureau's investigation or the outcome, you can ask them to include a statement of the dispute in your credit report and to make it available to anyone who views your report, although this will cost a fee. If you are convinced there is a meaningful error that the bureaus refuse to fix, you should consider getting help. While there are a lot of scams out there, the best credit repair services can provide you relatively inexpensive legal assistance in doing everything the law allows to get those errors fixed.
Continue to monitor your credit: Errors can occur on your credit report at any time. It's always a good idea to monitor your credit on a regular basis. There are many credit report monitoring services that will give you copies of your credit reports and updated credit scores, watch your credit report for you and alert you whenever there are changes to your reports or scores. This is also an effective way to protect against identity theft.