By Kaiwa Zawadi

In order to avoid the headache of cleaning up your credit report due to inaccuracies, it would be beneficial to check your credit report with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) annually. If there is any indication of any suspicious or fraudulent activity on your report, there are ways to dispute these errors.

According to a study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission, one in four consumers identified errors on their reports that might affect their credit rating in 2013. In addition, four out of five consumers who filed a claim or dispute, noticed a change to their credit report.

In addition, an Oregon woman recently sued Equifax and was awarded $18 million after she repeatedly contacted them to dispute incorrect information on her report. While this is an extreme case, there are plenty of instances in which credit bureaus will misreport information, so it's important to dispute errors immediately.

Don’t feel frustrated as there are ways you can fix these errors. Below are some steps to possibly erase these errors for good off of your report.  

1. Order Copies of Your Report
Order the most recent copy of your credit report. If there are any inaccuracies that you come across, this is the perfect opportunity for you to dispute it. Do not order a report from a third party agency. By law, you are entitled to a free copy of each of your reports. You may also qualify to receive a free report if you’ve been rejected from applying for credit within the last 60 days.

2. Pay Attention to Detail
Not only should you pay attention to major discrepancies such as inaccurate purchases or court judgments, watch out for smaller mistakes such as wrong addresses or misspelled names. These mistakes can spell fraudulent activity.

3. Highlight Mistakes
Make copies of the page reflecting the errors. Highlight the mistake and if there is more than one error, specify those with a bullet point or number. You can refer back to these errors when it’s time to file your dispute. Make copies of the highlighted and bulleted errors.

 4. Write the letter, don't dispute online
The process may seem quicker and easier by sending a dispute online, but it may not allow you to fully state your claim.

5. File Each Dispute Separately
If there are multiple errors on your report, write a dispute letter for each error and mail separately. Also, write separate letters to each of the three credit bureaus that report the mistakes. Don’t assume one credit agency will notify the other of discrepancies, plus, this helps keep track of what information is sent to each agency.

6. Keep it Basic
When you write your letter, keep it simple and easy to read. Be polite and very clear in what you’re disputing in plain language that spells out why the information doesn't belong on your report.

7. Evidence
This could be the most important part of your dispute. Including proper documentation and specific detailed information can determine the outcome of your claim. This way, the credit bureau can’t say you didn’t provide enough information. Remember to make copies of all your correspondence.

8. Organization
Keep very good records of all your claims and correspondence. Write down the names of all of the people you speak with in customer service including dates and times and what was discussed. You never know if this pertinent information can be used later.

9. Mail Your Claims
If you’ve thoroughly checked each report you should know which collection agency or data furnisher (the one sharing your information) is reporting the errors on your history. Disputes can take a least a few weeks to process. They will then let you know if your claim is valid or not.

10. Keep Pushing
If you know that the discrepancy is valid and it continues to be verified through the credit bureaus, you may want to seek legal help. There are lawyers experienced in Fair Credit Reporting Act cases. The National Association of Consumer Advocates provides a detailed list of attorneys.

MyBankTracker is an independent resource that helps consumers make smarter banking and money decisions.

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