If you see an unrecognized item on your credit report, there are a few things you can do to determine what the item is and what, if any, action you should take. Errors or fraudulent items on your credit report can damage your credit, so it’s important to make sure the information is accurate. Follow this list of Dos and Don’ts when reviewing your credit report.
- identify the item(s) in question
- highlight anything that you don’t recognize
- take note of hard vs. soft inquiries
- pick up the phone
- talk to a credit expert
- assume an item you don’t recognize is incorrect
- only check one credit bureau’s information
- only look at newer items
- get emotional
Credit reports generally contain items that affect your credit, such as:
- Current and past accounts
- Charged off or collections accounts
- Hard credit inquiries (credit report notations referencing applications for more credit)
As you go through your credit report, look for these different areas (and make sure your personal information is correct as well). Make note of the accounts you are said to have held, any accounts that have gone to collections, and any inquires that you may not recognize.
Make note of each item that you’d like to get more information on. Don’t get into the weeds yet. Just highlight the item and move on until you’ve read through the entire document.
While too many hard inquiries (credit report notations made when you apply for a loan, for instance) can hurt your credit because they suggest that you depend upon borrowed money just to get by, soft inquiries (background checks, credit card “pre-approvals,” or existing account credit checkups) typically do not.
If, after cross-checking other information, you still don’t recognize an inquiry or collection item, it’s time to find more information. The easiest way to do this is to contact the listed company and ask about the item in question. A phone call can be the first step, although some creditors will only release certain financial information for a written request. Still, a phone call can be the easiest way to clear up questionable inquiries.
In either case, you should ask for proof of the amount your report says you owe, or proof that you authorized the inquiry on your report. If the company in question has proof, they should be able to substantiate it. The Fair Credit Reporting Act generally requires 30 days to respond with the proof you requested.
A credit expert can help walk you through the credit repair process to address these credit report items in an effort to keep your credit report clean and free of unfair, erroneous, fraudulent, or unsubstantiated items.
Not recognizing an item isn’t necessarily evidence of error or fraud. For instance, if you applied for a credit card at a retailer which issues their cards through a third party bank, that bank’s name may show up on the report instead. In cases like this, the paperwork from the transaction in question might give you the name of the actual organization listed on your credit report.
There are three main credit bureaus that track your credit history and information – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. While these three reports may appear to be similar, you cannot assume that each credit report will contain the same information. For example, Equifax might show an account that went to collections that Experian does not. If possible, it’s better to check your information from all three credit bureaus.
Don’t neglect to look at older items on your report as well – even accounts that have since closed. Negative items are supposed to fall off your credit report after 7 years. Make sure old accounts on your credit report are accurate and that you actually held them, as well.
Finding a false item on your credit report can be very upsetting. Errors and fraudulent items can negatively impact your credit, which is a key component of your financial health. However, there’s no reason to get overly angry or upset. Luckily, the Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you certain rights that will make disputing and removing these items from your credit bureau a fairly straightforward (if occasionally irritating) process.
If you request proof from the companies that you suspect of providing false information, and they cannot or will not provide proof, your next step is to challenge, or even dispute, the information as applicable after 30 days. A credit expert can help you through the more challenging aspects of the process.
For now, though, systematically follow the Dos and Don’ts above without making any assumptions or getting emotional. Money and credit problems can get the calmest person fearful and emotional, but that just isn’t necessary—or helpful. Identify any potential problems or unrecognized items and get answers. With those answers, you can fix the problem, and contact an expert if you need further guidance.