Monday, November 16, 2015
New York Times: Fixing Credit Report Errors Online Gets Added Heft
By Ann Carrns
Disputing mistakes found on your credit report has become a bit easier because of expanding electronic options for challenging errors.
The three major credit bureaus have long provided online channels for challenging inaccuracies, but some consumer advocates advised against using that option because the systems didn’t allow for the inclusion of supporting documents.
That is changing, however, because the bureaus now offer consumers the ability to upload documents, like bills you have paid or letters you have written. (Equifax, for instance, said it added the document upload option in late 2013.)
“Now that you can upload documents, it allows for a more robust dispute online,” said Chi Chi Wu, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center. The center previously warned consumers against using the bureaus’ online dispute systems, but it now says that it can be a viable option for those who want to have errors removed quickly.
Errors in credit reports are a problem because they may lower your credit score, the three-digit number that serves as a summary of your credit history. That can possibly result in a higher interest rate on a loan or even denial of credit. A study by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012 found that about a quarter of consumers had errors in their credit reports. A smaller proportion — about 5 percent — had errors that could significantly lower their credit scores, but that still means millions of people are affected.
Consumer credit scores are calculated from data in credit reports, which are provided by the three big credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. The reports are compiled using information supplied by lenders and credit card companies where you hold accounts.
In addition to the bureau systems, at least one online credit management site, Credit Karma, is now promoting a free tool that allows users to dispute some mistakes with a few clicks.
Users of the site can obtain a free credit report weekly and, if they spot an error, click a “dispute” button to start a challenge. The site has been testing the service for months, and it is now making it available to all users, said Kenneth Lin, the founder and chief executive of Credit Karma. In testing, he said, the site handled 600,000 disputes, and 87 percent resulted in a change to a member’s credit report.
There are some caveats. The service currently works only with TransUnion credit reports. That means you may not catch errors on reports prepared by Experian or Equifax.
Also, the site allows challenges only for inaccuracies that don’t typically require supporting documentation to correct. For errors that require documentation — like corrections to inaccurate personal information — users need to contact the bureau directly.
The site’s services, including the dispute tool, are offered free, but to use them you must register and provide personal information, including your Social Security number. The site has access to your credit report and uses it to make suggestions about managing your finances, like suggesting a loan with a lower interest rate. If you choose to apply for such a loan, the site earns a referral fee from the lender.
Here are some questions and answers about credit reports:
■ How can I check my credit report for errors?
By law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from the three main credit bureaus. To get the report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com.
■ What if I want to file a dispute on paper?
The credit bureau websites provide instructions if you want to go that route, which consumer advocates still recommend, if you think your dispute is complex and could potentially result in legal action. (If that is the case, Ms. Wu advises, use certified mail with a return receipt option.) The Federal Trade Commission offers sample letters on its website.
■ What if I am unhappy with the result of my dispute?
You can add a note to your credit file. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on its website.
Copyright 2015 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.
Posted by James Shenwick