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Credit is important for many reasons -- including access to funds when you need them most. (If you don't have credit, you can still get it.)  An important factor in determining the amount of credit you can get is the information in your credit report. A credit report is a summation of your credit history. It includes information about your past use of credit, including borrowing, repaying and bankruptcy. The summation of your credit report is your credit rating.

The most important credit reports are created by three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

You are entitled to one free CREDIT report from each bureau every year. It is advisable to protect against identity theft and incorrect information showing up on your report by ordering a FREE report from a different credit bureau every four months. According to a report by the FTC released in 2013, 20,000,000 credit reports have significant mistakes in them.

If you have to pay for a credit report, they do not cost much money.

If your report is incorrect, you are legally entitled to ask the credit bureau to correct it. If after investigating, the credit bureau refuses to change an entry, you have the right to add a statement explaining your view of the error to your report. (It may save time to try to settle the problem with the merchant before filing a dispute with the credit bureau. You are not legally obligated to go to the merchant first.)

You can improve your credit score on your own, without charge and without hiring a company to do it for you. In fact, there is nothing a credit fixing company can do for you othat you cannot do on your own. It helps to start by understanding how a credit score is calculated. (If you prefer to hire a credit repair company, first learn what you need to know by clicking here.  As an alternative, consider hiring a good nonprofit credit counseling service to help. For information, click here.)

Who Creates A Credit Report?

Fair Isaac is a company that created software used to calculate credit scores. The software is generally referred to as FICO scoring software.

Each of the three nationally recognized credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, uses FICO software but has its own credit information for each individual. 

Credit information is provided by major creditors such as credit card companies, banks and finance companies to three national credit bureaus. Only members of the credit bureau are able to report information about you. Many very small landlords, smaller local retail stores and other vendors are not members of the credit bureaus. Non-members cannot report information (favorable or unfavorable) that will appear on your report.

Some creditors report to all three bureaus. Some only report to one or two.

The result is three scores which are usually at least slightly different -and sometimes very different.

NOTE: There are some credit organizations which calculate scores without using FICO. Non-FICO scores are rarely checked by lenders.

What Is In My Credit Report?

A credit report usually contains:

Identifying information:

  • Your name.
  • Current and previous addresses.
  • Social Security Number.
  • Telephone number.
  • Date of birth.
  • Your current and previous employer.

Your credit history: Your bill-paying history with creditors such as credit card companies, retail stores, banks, finance companies, and mortgage companies. (Not every creditor reports to the credit bureaus.)

Public records: Items that are a matter of public record which may affect your credit, such as tax liens, judgments, and bankruptcies.

Inquiries: Lists that identify the names of companies that have asked for your credit report. Inquiries also contain lists of the companies that have asked for your name and address for the purpose of offering you credit.

It is within the discretion of creditors HOW to report many items. For example, it is the credit company's option whether to report a credit payment holiday as "late payment" or "payment as agreed."

In spite of popular misconceptions, credit reports DO NOT contain the following information:

  • Medical history.
  • Bank account information.
  • Business accounts.
  • Credit scores. Lenders generate credit scores based on your credit report. The credit bureaus themselves do not devise these numbers.
  • Your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or age.

How To Get A Free Copy Of My Credit Report


You can obtain a free credit report through independent web sites or directly from the credit-reporting bureaus.  When you request a credit report, include identifying information and follow up. Each of these subjects are discussed below.

Web Sites

An excellent source which provides a free annual credit report from all three companies is offsite link, Tel. 877.322.8228.

NOTE: advertises that you can get a free credit report from their site. You have to look at the fine print to find out that when you order your free report, you are automatically enrolled in a credit monitoring service that costs money per month. You can avoid the monthly payments if you cancel the registration in 7 days.

Through the Three Major Credit-Reporting Bureaus


The three major credit-reporting bureaus -- TransUnion, Experian and Equifax -- are all required to provide a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months upon request.


You are also entitled to a free report from each bureau if:

  • You live in any of the following states:
    • Colorado
    • Georgia
    • Maryland
    • Massachusetts
    • New Jersey
    • Vermont
  • You are a welfare recipient.
  • You believe that you have been a victim of fraud.
  • You've been turned down for credit in the past 60 days based on a report provided by the agency from which you're requesting it.
  • A company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment, and you request your report within 60 days of receiving the notice of the action.
  • You send a credit bureau an "update," such as a change in address. Credit bureaus usually send a copy of your "updated" credit report.
  • You ask a question about the contents of your report of almost any sort (for example, "can you please verify that my birth date is listed correctly in your files as…"). Even if you have asked the same question before, the reporting bureau will usually send a copy of your "updated" credit report along with the response.

All three credit reporting bureaus have websites that let you view your report online and also give you information to order your report by mail or telephone.

Since the information held by each bureau may differ, it is advisable to obtain copies of all three reports.

If money is tight and you already received your annual free report, at least obtain a report from one of the companies. If there are problems, you can then order reports from the other two. (In most states you can order a report from each of the three main bureaus for $10 or less.)

When You Request A Credit Report

When requesting your report, include:

  • Your name (Include any other names by which you have been known such as maiden names or previous married names).
  • Addresses for the last five years.
  • Date of birth.
  • Social Security number.
  • Telephone number.

In case there is a problem or no response, use certified mail, return receipt requested and pay for the report with a check or money order.

If you do not hear from the bureau within thirty days, send another request with a copy of the first request.

Now is also a good time to tell the credit bureaus you do not want them to give your name to credit card issuers looking for new customers. If they do give out your name and you receive an offer for "pre-approved" credit, don't believe it. These issuers don't have to accept you, and if you get turned down, the rejection will show up in your credit report.

NOTE: Write on your calendar or create alerts in your computer for every 4 months to check your credit report. As noted above, your credit report is free from each of the 3 major credit bureaus every 12 months. If you stagger the free report requests among the three major bureaus (a different one of the three every four months) you will be updated throughout the year without charge.

What Should I Look For In My Credit Report?

Luckily, the credit bureaus provide a reader-friendly version of your credit report that makes checking the report simple. Make sure you do so, thoroughly. Inaccurate entries can lower your credit score.

Step 1. Make sure all your personal information is correct -- including your name, address, and Social Security number.

Step 2. Check each account for the following:

  • Your name and Social Security number. It is possible that your report includes information about someone else who has a similar name or Social Security number.
  • That the report accurately reflects whether the account is single or joint with someone else.
  • Account number.
  • Status of the account. Each account will be listed as open or closed. If an account is closed, make sure the report says so. Too many open accounts can have a negative effect on your credit score.
  • Type of account: Is the type of account accurately reflected as installment, revolving or some other kind?
  • Balances: Is the outstanding balance on the account correct as of the date listed? Don't worry about whether it is accurate to the penny. For this purpose, ballpark numbers will do.
  • Highest Credit or Credit Limit: This is the credit limit on the account or the highest amount you have ever charged. If it's not accurate, it may appear that you're using a greater portion of your available credit than you are. This could possibly lower your credit score.
  • Status of account. This can be a difficult section to review. This section relates to your payment history on the account. Credit bureaus use codes to indicate the number of times you paid the account on time, or the times that you paid 30, 60, 90 or 120 days late.
  • Late Payment History. This is a summary of your total late payment history. Make sure there aren't any late-payment entries that don't make sense to you.
  • Comments. Both you and your creditors may supply comments to the credit report. If there are any, are they accurate?
  • If any suits, judgments, tax liens or similar items are listed, are they still outstanding? If so, are the facts correct? These facts are important for your future credit.
  • Are there any other claims against you listed on the report? Are they accurate? If so, consider clearing them up. At least provide the information necessary to defend against the claim to the person or people who would handle your affairs if you were to become incapacitated or die.
  • Records of debts that you did not incur and inquiries about loans that you did not apply for.
  • Unfamiliar addresses or odd variations of your name. These mistakes to not affect your credit. However, they may suggest your information is being mixed with someone else's.
  • Is there any other incorrect information in the report?

If your report includes coded information it should include a key which explains the codes. Feel free to contact the credit bureau to request an explanation about any information you do not understand.

Step 3. Review your report in total. Do you have good credit standing with any lenders who haven't reported your performance? If so, contact the lender and ask if they would report the experience they've had with you. If the lender won't contact the credit bureau, call the credit bureau yourself and ask that the experience be added to your report.

How Do I Get New Favorable Information Included In My Credit Report?

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), creditors are allowed, but not required, to report your credit history. Creditors (not the reporting bureau) can also freely add information to your credit report. They can also remove it.

Suggested steps for getting favorable information included in your report follow. If your account is severely delinquent or has already been charged off, see the next section.

  • The easiest way to get something reported to all 3 major credit bureaus is to start by asking the creditor for what you want

  • Remind the creditor that you are their customer and that you value doing business with them. Use polite language, phrasing your words to indicate that you are working together and not confronting one another.
  • Explain to the creditor that you want to clean up your credit report, and ask for help (again emphasizing you are both on the same "team").

  • Say that although you had trouble making payments in the past, you have paid on time for "x" number of months, etc. Ask the creditor to delete the negative information to better reflect your current ability to pay. Typically, the longer an account has been paid on time, the better your chances are of getting negative information removed, and/or positive payment history included.
  • If the person with whom you speak at a creditor says nothing can be done, don't argue. Some customer service representatives don't know how to make a positive change, or are not authorized to remove the information. Ask to speak to a supervisor or another person in charge of credit reporting. Be firm, but remain courteous and polite. Remember you want their help and they're under no obligation to give it to you.

How Do I Fix An Error In My Credit Report?

If an item in your credit does not seem legitimate, challenge it.

Consider starting by calling the creditor. Ask for the person in charge of fixing an error in information submitted to a credit bureau. Have documentation that supports your understanding of the facts handy so you can be specific. If the company asks that you send documentation, send a copy, keeping the original. Once the company agrees with you, ask that a correction be sent to the credit bureau(s) to which the information was submitted - and that you be sent a copy of the correction. Then check your report to be sure the correction was made.

If the matter is not resolved to your satisfaction, contact the credit bureau(s) with the misinformation. If you question an entry, a credit bureau is legally obligated to either verify the report as legitimate or remove it from your report. 

All three credit bureaus provide instructions for disputing an item on your credit report. Following are links to information about starting a dispute with each of the three major credit bureaus. As you will see, you have a choice between submitting the dispute online or via regular mail. Regular mail is preferable so you can attach documentation. Contact information for the three bureaus is:

According to Smart Money magazine, the people processing disputes are under enormous pressure to process disputes and forward them as quickly as possible. Therefore it is advisable to keep your explanations short and to the point. It may help to write out what you want to say before submitting your dispute. Walk away from what you wrote for at least an hour. Then review it before sending. It will help you see what you wrote from the point of view of an independent reader. Alternatively, ask a friend or family member to read what you wrote for the same reason.

What should be in the letter to the credit bureau

The letter to the credit bureau should include the following:

  • Identify who you are (name, current residence address, Social Security number)
  • Your reason for writing (basically to correct an incorrect entry)
  • What is wrong with the report and why it is wrong (including any story and proof)
  • Why it won't happen again (e.g., it was a very unusual situation that is not likely to occur again)
  • What you want the credit bureau to do.
  • A request for confirmation that the action you require was completed,
  • A polite "thank you" for their consideration.
  • Your signature.

The Federal Trade Commission has a sample letter posted at offsite link

Correspondence should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested and should include copies (not originals) of documents that support your position.

Be sure to keep a copy of everything you send a credit bureau.

What happens once the credit bureau receives your letter

Once the credit bureau receives your letter disputing information in the report, the bureau must investigate the items in question, usually within 30 days. The only exception is if the bureau considers your dispute to be frivolous.

The investigation starts with the bureau contacting the creditor and forwarding all relevant data you provide about the dispute.

After the creditor receives notice of a dispute from the consumer reporting agency, it must investigate, review all relevant facts you provided, and report the results to the consumer reporting agency - generally within 30 to 45 days.  

When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau must give you the written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. (Be sure to request the copy of the bureau doesn't send it to you).

  • If the creditor says the information is correct, you will receive notice from the bureau advising you that the information has been checked and is accurate. You will be given an opportunity to note on your report that you dispute the item. (If you then apply for a major loan or credit, it is advisable to submit a letter explaining the dispute.)
  • If the creditor finds that you are correct and the disputed information is inaccurate, the credit bureau will eliminate the item. Also the creditor must notify all consumer reporting agencies to which it has reported the inaccurate information.
  •  If a creditor fails to respond to an investigation, the law requires that the disputed item in the report be removed until it is verified by the creditor.

If the creditor doesn't agree with your version or the credit bureau won't fix the error, see: What If The Creditor Or Credit Reporting Bureau Won't Fix An Error In My Report?

NOTE: At your request, the credit reporting agency must send a notice of correction to anyone who received your report in the past 6 months.

What Do I Do If My Account Is Already Very Delinquent or "Charged Off" As Bad Debt?

If you want a change an entry for a very delinquent account or one that has been charged off as a bad debt account, you'll have to negotiate a settlement with the creditor, which you may be able to do for pennies on the dollar.

Step 1. Think about whether you are a good person to negotiate with the credit card company, or whether you have a friend who is better at it who is willing to make the call for you.

Step 2. Contact the original creditor to find out where the account is located. You may be transferred to an in-house collection department or be referred to an outside collection agency. The account may even be in the hands of a third party if the original creditor "sold off" delinquent loans.

Step 3. Either you or your negotiator are ready to negotiate a settlement. Especially if the loan is held by a third party and not the original creditor, a creditor is likely to settle for much less than the original amount. Some money is better than none at all. Plus, third parties generally only pay pennies on the dollar when they buy a delinquent account.

Don't be shy about mentioning your health condition and the economic hardship it has caused you.

If possible, offer a lump sum payment. You can start with a low-ball offer of pennies on the dollar -- 10% of the debt or even less. Expect that the creditor will try to get you to agree to pay the entire amount. As you negotiate a settlement, remind the person of the expenses involved in treating your medical condition plus your normal essential expenses that you have no choice about. If you are over your head in debt, the threat of bankruptcy can also be an effective inducement for a creditor to agree to a lower payment. Before you pay any amount, get in writing a promise of removal of the negative information in exchange for your payment.

If you can't afford a lump sum payment, offer a payment plan in which you agree to make monthly payments until the account is paid. Your negotiating position isn't as strong as if you agree to a lump sum payment. However, from the creditor's point of view it's a cost free way to get at least some money -- which is better than spending money to go after you and possibly get no money. Let the creditor know you're only willing to agree to this arrangement if the creditor agrees to remove any negative statements from your credit report upon completion of the payments. Get the promise of removal of negative information in writing in return for your agreement to make payments.

Note: In most cases, credit bureaus may not report negative information that is more than seven years old, or bankruptcies that are more than ten years old.

What If The Creditor Or Credit Bureau Won't Fix An Error In My Credit Report?

If you lose a dispute, and you have additional facts, you can resubmit the dispute with the additional facts. Without new information, the credit bureau will likely dismiss a resubmission as not having any serious value.

If you don't have additional facts, you can write the Bureau and request that it note that you continue to dispute the entry. Credit bureaus are required to accept a statement of up to 100 words which states that you dispute the entry and why. The credit bureau is also required to provide your statement to anyone who asks for a copy of your report.

If you need help preparing a statement, each of the credit bureaus will help you prepare a statement.


Following is a sample letter requesting a statement to be included in your credit report:


ABC Credit Bureau
13 ABC St.
AB, XY 10000

RE: {account number}

Dear People:

Your report lists a debt to Dr. Sam Smith in the amount of $325.00. Although I sent you supporting information to show that I do not owe this money, you continue to list it on my report.

Please add the following statement to my report and be sure that anyone who legally asks for a copy of my report gets a copy of the statement:

This account was paid for in cash on (date). The dentist who uses this collection agent gave me a cash receipt, which I lost. (Add supporting facts, if any, such as:) I have the receipt from the cash machine for money I took out in the morning of that day to pay Dr. Smith.

If you have any questions, please call me during the day at 555 555 5555.

Very truly yours,

Your Name

How Can I Prevent Errors In My Credit Report For The Future?

If you do the following when you apply for new credit, it will help minimize errors or missing information in your report:

  • Use the same name on all your credit cards and loans. For example, don't use a middle initial sometimes, but not others. If your name has a suffix, like "Junior" or "III", always use it. If you don't use the same name, your report could be mixed up with your parents or people with similar names.

  • Always provide your Social Security number when applying for credit. It's a big country -- chances are someone else has your name or something similar.

List your address and previous addresses on your credit applications. This will help bureaus link your history together, even if you've moved a lot.

How To Improve Your Credit Score

The following tips for improving your credit score come from FICO - the credit scoring company.

  • Request a copy of your credit report and check it for errors. As noted in the summary, you are entitled to a free report each year from each of the national credit bureaus. If you have to pay, cost is minimal.
  • Since paying bills on time is one of the largest factors in your score, consider setting up automatic payments or at least payment reminders. 
    • If you can't set a reminder on your computer or mobile device, many banks offer reminder services.
    • Keep in mind that paying off a collection account still doesn't remove the note from your credit report. It stays on the report for 7 years.
  • Reduce the amount of debt you owe as quickly as you can. Start by paying the bills with the highest rate of interest. (For information on setting bill paying priorities, click here.)
  • If you are having difficulty paying your bills, contact a legitimate credit counseling agency. (To learn how, click here.)
  • Keep balances as low as you can on each of your credit cards. The less you use the available credit, the better. 
  • Do not close unused credit cards as a strategy to improve your credit score. (Keep in mind that credit can be critically important in the event of uninsured medical bills).
  • Opening unnecessary credit accounts can hurt your score. However, if you can get additional credit, it can be handy because of your health history. To learn more about the new uses of credit because of your history, click here
  • When you do open new credit accounts, do not open a whole batch at once.
  • Re-establish your credit history if you have had problems. Opening new accounts responsibly and paying them off on time will raise your credit score in the long term.
  • Note that it's OK to request and check your own credit report. This won't affect your score, as long as you order your credit report directly from the credit reporting agency or through an organization authorized to provide credit reports to consumers.