Checking your credit reports is the first step in the credit repair process. The goal? To find inaccuracies (which may be hurting your credit score), dispute them, and have them resolved. It sounds simple enough, but as revealed by complaints received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) last year, tens of thousands of consumers had a hard time with it. Here’s a breakdown of common credit reporting complaints and what to do if you experience the same.
How the CFPB helps with credit reporting complaints
Best case scenario, you have no problem accessing your credit reports, and you find no inaccuracies. Or, if you do find something wrong, you dispute it and the credit bureau’s investigation results in removal or correction of the mistake.
Worst case scenario, you’re unable to access your credit reports at all. Or, if you do, they include inaccuracies that you can’t get the credit bureaus or the data furnishers to correct.
In 2016, the CFPB received 54,000 complaints about worst case scenarios like these involving credit reporting. But they do more than simply accept complaints. The CFPB investigates complaints and tries to help consumers resolve them.
If necessary, they may be able to help you, too.
Before you give up on resolving problems with your credit reports, remember that this part of the credit repair process doesn’t have to be limited to the credit bureaus or data furnishers. You can and should bring in the CFPB to help you deal with unresolved issues.
What sort of complaints does the CFPB accept?
Pretty much anything having to do with credit reporting (or any other financial product or service). Just be sure to try and resolve the issue with the credit bureaus or data furnishers first.
Whatever you do, don’t discount the importance of the problem. If something is wrong on your credit reports, you have the right to correct it. And remember, you’re not alone. Just take a look at what tens of thousands of consumers had to complain about last year, as revealed in the CFPB’s Consumer Response Annual Report.
2016 credit reporting complaints, by category
Incorrect information on credit report – 74 percent of complaints
Don’t be surprised by inaccuracies in your credit reports; it’s by no means uncommon. In fact, according to a 2013 FTC study, 1 in 4 consumers found mistakes on their credit reports that might affect their credit scores. This prevalence is reflected in the CFPB’s annual report, as 74 percent of credit reporting complaints received in 2016 were about incorrect information.
That’s why checking your credit reports is the first step in repairing bad credit. The last thing you need are errors causing bad credit or making already-damaged credit worse.
If you haven’t already, send a credit dispute to the appropriate credit bureau about inaccurate information on your credit reports. If that fails to correct the problem, go through the data furnisher. If the inaccuracy remains unresolved, submit a complaint the CFPB.
What sort of incorrect information are we talking about? According to the annual report, sub-issues of incorrect information cited in credit reporting complaints to the CFPB include:
“Information is not mine”
Incorrect information about your own accounts is bad enough. But it’s especially maddening to find information on your credit reports that doesn’t even belong to you. Maybe you’ve been mixed up with someone else and their credit accounts ended up on your reports. Or maybe a thief got a hold of your personal information and opened accounts in your name.
In 2016, “Information is not mine” represented:
- 35 percent of incorrect information on Equifax credit reports
- 38 percent of incorrect information on Experian credit reports
- 32 percent of incorrect information on TransUnion credit reports
When you work hard to keep your credit accounts in good standing, it’s beyond frustrating to find that an account status doesn’t reflect your good credit practices. Maybe an account you know you paid on time is showing up as paid late. Or maybe an active credit account is showing up as closed. Dispute these and other inaccuracies relative to your account’s status.
In 2016, “Account status” represented:
- 30 percent of incorrect information on Equifax credit reports
- 32 percent of incorrect information on Experian credit reports
- 27 percent of incorrect information on TransUnion credit reports
If you have a credit limit of $5,000, but it’s only listed as $3,000 on your credit reports, that means $2,000 isn’t getting counted toward your overall credit limit. That matters because your credit utilization ratio – which influences your credit score – is based on how much of your available credit you’re using. In other words, your utilization ratio will be higher than it actually is (a bad thing). The same problem presents itself if an account shows a higher balance due than what you owe. Dispute these and other inaccuracies associated with your account terms.
In 2016, “Account terms” represented:
- 10 percent of incorrect information on Equifax credit reports
- 11 percent of incorrect information on Experian credit reports
- 11 percent of incorrect information on TransUnion credit reports
Among the most damaging of listings on your credit reports are bankruptcies, civil judgments, and tax liens. And these adverse public records don’t go anywhere anytime soon – bankruptcies stay on your credit reports for 10 years, civil judgments and paid tax liens 7 years. (Unpaid tax liens can stay on your credit reports indefinitely.)
So if you see an adverse public record being reported beyond the 7- to 10-year mark, dispute it with the credit bureaus. And dispute it immediately if you discover an adverse public record on your credit reports that does not belong to you.
In 2016, “Public record” represented:
- 11 percent of incorrect information on Equifax credit reports
- 7 percent of incorrect information on Experian credit reports
- 8 percent of incorrect information on TransUnion credit reports
While the personal information on your credit reports does not directly impact your credit score, incorrect personal information could mean your credit report has been confused with someone else’s, or could be in the future. Examples of personal information to correct include wrong names you have never gone by (including misspellings of your name), wrong current or previous addresses, wrong current or previous employers and, of course, wrong date of birth or social security number.
In 2016, “Personal information” represented:
- 8 percent of incorrect information on Equifax credit reports
- 8 percent of incorrect information on Experian credit reports
- 8 percent of incorrect information on TransUnion credit reports
“Reinserted previously deleted information”
Yes, this can happen. But it’s not always wrong.
Maybe the credit bureau didn’t complete its investigation of a disputed item within 30 to 45 days. In that case, the item had to be removed, but could be reinserted if the data furnisher subsequently provides verification of the listing. You can still dispute the listing if you believe it to be inaccurate, but the reinsertion wasn’t illegal.
On the other hand, if a data furnisher reports a listing that previously fell off after the designated 7 to 10 years, that’s not right and should be disputed.
It’s also possible that the reinsertion was simply a mistake (again, something to dispute).
In 2016, “Reinserted previously deleted information” represented:
- 6 percent of incorrect information on Equifax credit reports
- 4 percent of incorrect information on Experian credit reports
- 15 percent of incorrect information on TransUnion credit reports
Again, in any of the above circumstances relative to incorrect information on credit reports, try and resolve the issue first with the credit bureau and/or data furnisher. If that doesn’t work, submit a complaint to the CFPB.
Credit reporting company’s investigation – 11 percent of complaints
Once you dispute a listing with a credit bureau, they are legally obligated to investigate. TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax describe their dispute processes a little differently, but it is generally the same for all three credit bureaus:
- They forward your dispute – and supporting documents – to the data furnisher
- If the data furnisher verifies the disputed information, nothing is corrected or removed
- If the data furnisher does not verify the dispute information, it is corrected or removed
- You are notified of the results of the investigation within 30 to 45 days
Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan, which is why problems with investigations represent 11 percent of credit reporting complaints.
“No notice of investigation status or result”
Once an investigation is complete, the credit bureau has 5 business days to notify you of the result.
As stated in the Fair Credit Reporting Act under “Notice of Results of Reinvestigation,” the credit bureau must provide you with the following:
- Statement that the investigation is complete
- Credit report reflecting any corrected or deleted information
- Name and contact info of the data furnisher contacted for verification
- Notice letting you know of your right to add a statement to your credit report acknowledging that you dispute the listing.
If you do not receive this necessary information, submit a complaint to the CFPB.
In 2016, “No notice of investigation status or result” represented:
- 36 percent of investigation complaints about Equifax
- 44 percent of investigation complaints about Experian
- 41 percent of investigation complaints about TransUnion
“Problem with statement of dispute”
If an item you dispute is not corrected or removed from your credit reports, you have the right to add a 100-word statement to your reports explaining that you dispute the listing. Whether or not you do this is up to you (see pros and cons of adding a statement). If you do choose to add one, make sure it’s account-specific, as a general statement will stay on your reports for 2 years – not a good thing if the negative listings you’re referencing fall of your reports before then. Should you have any problem with your statement of dispute, try to resolve it first through the credit bureau. If that doesn’t work, submit a complaint to the CFPB.
In 2016, “Problem with statement of dispute” represented:
- 32 percent of investigation complaints about Equifax
- 30 percent of investigation complaints about Experian
- 28 percent of investigation complaints about TransUnion
“Investigation took too long”
By law, a credit bureau is supposed to complete an investigation within 30 days of receipt of your dispute. This timeframe varies if you sent supporting documentation separately, in which case the credit bureau has 45 days.
If they fail complete the investigation within that timeframe, the information in question must be corrected or deleted according to your dispute. So keep track of when you sent the dispute (which you should do via certified mail with return receipt so that you have proof of when the credit bureau received it).
If you have not heard back within the 30- to 45-day period, send this letter to the credit bureau (edited to your unique circumstance). If they fail to respond accordingly, submit a complaint to the CFPB.
In 2016, “Investigation took too long” represented:
- 23 percent of investigation complaints about Equifax
- 17 percent of investigation complaints about Experian
- 19 percent of investigation complaints about TransUnion
“Inadequate help over the phone”
Ideally, you can resolve credit reporting investigations in writing, through the mail. However, should you find it necessary to call a credit bureau, you should expect to receive a good-faith attempt by the representative to resolve your issue. If you are unsatisfied with the experience, submit a complaint to the CFPB.
In 2016, “Inadequate help over the phone” represented:
- 10 percent of investigation complaints about Equifax
- 10 percent of investigation complaints about Experian
- 12 percent of investigation complaints about TransUnion
Improper use of credit report – 6 percent of complaints
Only those with permissible purpose are allowed to see your credit reports. As outlined in Who Can See Your Credit Reports? those who qualify include:
- Lenders you’ve applied to for credit, including credit card companies, auto finance companies, mortgage lenders, student loan lenders, and the like
- Landlords you’ve submitted applications to
- Insurance companies you’ve submitted applications to
- Utility companies you’ve applied to set up accounts with
- Government agencies you’ve applied to for assistance
- Collection agencies attempting to collect debts from you
- Employers or potential employers, to whom you’ve given consent
- Court order or subpoena
- Anyone who you give written consent to see your credit reports
- Services you’ve given permission to monitor your credit for you
Another example of improper use of credit report is you receiving marketing offers after opting out.
If you discover that a credit bureau has violated your rights – and given access to your credit reports to anyone outside of these parameters – submit a complaint to the CFPB.
Unable to obtain report or score – 6 percent of complaints
By law, you are entitled to see your credit reports for free – from all three national credit bureaus – every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com. Beyond that, you have the right to purchase your credit reports and scores directly through TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax any time of year. If you have trouble accessing these reports and scores under either of these circumstances – and the credit bureaus are unable to resolve the issue – submit a complaint to the CFPB.
Credit monitoring or identity protection – 3 percent of complaints
All three of the national credit bureaus offer paid credit monitoring and identity protection services. These services include access to credit reports and scores, as well as fraud alerts letting you know when there has been significant activity on your credit reports. Should you have a problem with the execution of these services, or problems with billing or cancellation, submit a complaint to the CFPB.
On that note, keep in mind there is no reason to pay for credit monitoring at all. Yes, it’s something you should be doing (especially if you’re trying to repair your credit), but there are plenty of ways to monitor your credit for free.
How to Submit a Complaint to the CFPB
Learn more about submitting credit reporting complaints to the CFPB, including what information gets included in its online complaint database, how long it takes to receive a response from the CFPB, and what to do if you disagree with the result.
When you’re ready, click here to submit your complaint on the CFPB website or go to ConsumerFinance.gov/complaint.