Tips to correct credit report mistakes, inaccuracies, or fraud from 7 On Your Side

NEW YORK (WABC) -- It's perennially the top consumer problem in New York and New Jersey, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Mistakes, inaccuracies, or even fraudulent accounts on our credit reports.

But how do you correct your credit?

The FTC recently found more than 20% of credit reports had mistakes. Each inaccuracy shaves points off your credit score, costing you more on loans and insurance, and even potentially hurting your chances of getting a job. While you can't dispute your credit score, you can dispute information on your credit report.

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So, how do you find an error? You have to check. Typically, everyone is entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. But because of the pandemic, you're entitled to a free credit report each week until April 20.

You can get those reports for free by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you see an error on your report, you can dispute it two ways - through the credit reporting agency and the company that made the mistake.

"You can contact a creditor to ask them who was the company who outsourced the debt to and get the information from the original creditor," debt relief attorney Leslie Tayne said.

That could be a bank, a credit card company, or even your landlord.

"Take proactive steps to contact those creditors and try to resolve or work through those issues, try to resolve the debt," Tayne said.

You can contact your credit-reporting agency either by phone, email, or mail. Your dispute should contain your contact information, including name, address, and phone number.

Include a copy of your credit report with the mistake circled. Add a brief explanation of why you're disputing the charge, with a request that the charge be removed, with proof, like a receipt showing you paid the bill.

Some big takeaways:

Generally, credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate a dispute. You should receive word back five business days after investigation is complete.

It's important that if you mail your request you send it certified, "return receipt requested," so you have proof it was received.

7 On Your Side has sample dispute letters, links to get free credit reports, and information on how to dispute directly through the three credit bureaus.

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