March is National Credit Education Month, a month dedicated to educating people about their credit scores and take steps to improve them. A 2021 Consumer Reports study found that more than a third of consumers found errors in their credit reports. About 11% contained unrecognized accounts, unrecognized debts reported to collection agencies, and wrongly reported late or missing payments, which could result in a loan application being rejected.
“Many people don’t realize that data from their credit reports constitutes their credit scores,” says Shannon Doyle, financial education program manager for LSS Financial Counseling, a service of the Lutheran Social Service in Minnesota. “Now is a great time for people to pull out their free credit reports to make sure there are no errors and to dispute them if there are. Errors in free credit reports creditworthiness are very common, but there are simple steps that can be taken to correct them.”
Doyle recommends the following actions:
First, extract reports of the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – to annualcreditreport.com (the only official site to get free reports). For the past two years, the credit bureaus have allowed weekly retrieval of credit reports and they recently extended this capability through the end of the year.
Next, review the report data. Credit reports are divided into four sections: personal information, negative accounts, accounts in good standing, and inquiries. Doyle says to be sure to review all sections for errors, paying particular attention to how accounts are reported, as errors in this area are what affect scores. Types of errors to look for may include on-time payments listed as late or missed, accounts with no balance still showing an account or accounts that the individual does not recognize as their own. Negative information can remain on a credit file for seven years; if older information is on a report, it can also be challenged. Positive information stays on reports indefinitely.
“Under the CARES Act, federal student loan repayments have been suspended and are expected to be reported as current. There have been instances where repairers have misreported these payments as late,” Doyle warned.
Finally, if an error is found on a credit report, dispute it immediately. This can be done online, over the phone or by mail to each of the credit bureaus. Clearing errors can take 30-45 days as credit bureaus need time to investigate the dispute.
For more resources on credit reports and scores, visit Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Article reproduced with the kind permission of: LSS Financial Counseling: lssfinancialcounseling.org.
LSS Financial Counseling provides confidential, non-judgmental support through counseling and financial education – empowering people to achieve their goals and achieve financial wellness. Services include budget and debt advice, debt management plans, free credit report reviews, student loan advice, homebuyer services, foreclosure prevention and more. To make an appointment, call 888.577.2227 or visit lssfinancialcounseling.org.