error on my credit reportsDespite the far-reaching and seemingly never-ending effects of the Equifax breach, many consumers still haven’t checked their credit reports for errors. In fact, according to a recent poll by CreditCards.com, 50% of U.S. adults have not checked their credit reports since news of the breach broke last year. More alarming than that statistic is that 18% of American haven’t checked their credit reports, ever. Because credit report errors can have damaging effects on your overall credit, it’s vital to regularly check and monitor your credit reports. But what kind of information is on your credit reports? And if you do find errors, which ones can you dispute and have removed? Keep reading to find out.

What information is on my credit reports?

Personal information

The personal information on your credit reports includes things like your name, (including nicknames or other aliases), date of birth, social security number, phone numbers and addresses. Any known phone numbers you’ve had or addresses you’ve lived at will also show up here.

Account information and account details

All of your credit accounts, such as student loans, credit cards, personal loans and home mortgages, will be listed under your accounts — or trade lines — on your credit reports. They will include details for each account as well, such as the date you opened the account, your credit limit, your account balance and its corresponding payment history (including any missed payments). If any of your accounts have become delinquent and have been sent to collections, you will also see this information listed on your credit reports.

Credit inquiries

Whenever you apply for a new line of credit, such as a credit card, the lender requests a copy of your credit report(s) and score(s), which results in a hard credit inquiry on your credit reports. It doesn’t matter whether you were approved or denied for the line of credit, the inquiry will still appear on your credit reports and remain there for two years.

Public records

Another item on your credit reports are public records. This will include 3 things: bankruptcies (which can stay on your credit reports for up to 10 years, depending on the type of bankruptcy you file), tax liens and judgments (such as lawsuits, evictions, repossessions and foreclosures).

What counts as an error on my credit reports?

Typically, anything that is factual and historically accurate is not an error and cannot be disputed. This means that you cannot dispute derogatory items, like missed payment dates or a collections account, just because you want the items removed from your credit reports; it must contain an error, such as an incorrect balance or incorrect date of last payment. Other valid reasons for disputing an account detail include accounts that were mistakenly reported as delinquent, accounts that are reported multiple times with different creditors and closed accounts that show as open (or open accounts that appear as closed). You also can and should dispute accounts that you do not recognize, as this could be a sign that you are a victim of identity theft and someone has been using your name, personal information and your credit history to an open credit line.

It’s important to note your accounts aren’t the only section of your credit reports that can contain errors. When I recently checked my own credit reports, for example, I noticed two errors in my personal information. One was a phone number that shared the same area code as my phone number, but I did not recognize the rest of the numbers. After a quick web search, I found it belonged to a woman with a name different from my own. I also noticed an address that was similar to one of my previous addresses appeared on my credit reports. It had the same city, state and zip code, but the street number was wrong and the street name was misspelled. These are all examples of errors you can dispute to have removed from your credit reports, in addition to account errors and account detail errors, as we discussed above.

What else should I know about errors on credit reports?

If you have an outstanding debt, such as a delinquent account or an account in collections, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. First and foremost, verify if the debt is even yours. If it’s not, you can dispute it as an account that does not belong to you. If the account does belong to you, pay close attention to the dates and balances reported. The balances could appear higher than what you remember (if the credit report takes interest and late fees into account) or lower than the current amount (if the credit report does not show the increasing interest applied to a past due account). That said, your credit report(s) could still reflect a totally incorrect balance — interest and late fees aside. In cases like this, you’ll likely have to provide proof of the amount you owed when filing a dispute.

The dates are also important to verify, as debt collectors can sell your account to other collection agencies, and the new agency, in turn, can mistakenly or intentionally change the original date on your account. And, because some collection agencies are notorious for changing and reporting incorrect dates, these derogatory items can remain on your credit reports for far longer than they should. If you do file a dispute for an error like this, having evidence of the date you opened the original account or the date it first became delinquent may be required if you wish to have the error removed or corrected on your credit reports. It’s also worth mentioning that just because you have paid down or paid off a delinquent account does not mean that it will automatically fall off your credit reports, as most derogatory items will remain on your credit reports for up to 7 years. If you’re currently negotiating with a debt collector, make sure they agree to remove the account after the balance is paid off, as this can help your credit scores.

How do I dispute errors on my credit reports?

Because not all creditors and lenders report to all three credit bureaus, you may see something on one of your credit reports that’s not the other two. This is why it’s crucial that you regularly check and monitor all three of your credit reports — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax — to get the best idea of where you credit stands. If you do find an error on any of your credit reports, you can dispute it with the credit bureau directly in one of three ways: online with a web form, via phone or by mailing in a letter. If you choose to file your dispute online, the reporting bureau will give you a drop-down list of reasons to choose from for your dispute (e.g., this account does not belong to me or the account balance is incorrect), as well as a small text box for any additional details you wish to include. If your dispute reason requires more than a few sentences to explain, you may want to file your dispute another way. The FTC provides consumers with a sample dispute letter, should you choose to file your dispute via mail.

The more evidence you provide to help your case, the better your chance of fixing or removing the error(s) on your credit reports. You can learn more about how to dispute an error on your credit reports by checking out our guide to disputing credit report errors. It should also be noted that if you’d prefer to not deal with the credit bureaus directly, a credit repair service can help by disputing errors on your behalf.

Want to learn more about your credit? Follow our credit monitoring blog to get more information about your credit reports, scores and everything in between.