How to Dispute a Consumer Report or Debt: Know your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

You have a federally protected right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to dispute a report made to a consumer reporting agency about a debt. You also have the right to dispute a debt or any portion of a debt that a debt collector claims you owe by filing a dispute under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Here's how:

FCRA: How to dispute a consumer report

Contact the Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) or the data furnisher.

If you believe the debt amount is wrong or that the debt does not exist or never has existed, contact the data furnisher (usually the debt collector or the original creditor) or the CRA, such as Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.

What you need to file your dispute:
  • The reason for your dispute.
  • Your consumer report file or confirmation number.
  • Social Security number.
  • Date of birth.
  • Current address.
  • Company name of the disputed item.
  • Account number.
  • Reason for the dispute.
  • Any corrections to your personal information.
Where to file your dispute:
What to do when you file a dispute with a CRA:
  • Your dispute must state that an item in your consumer report is inaccurate or incomplete.
  • You can not file a dispute if you simply failed to pay the debt because you were ill or unemployed.
  • Once the CRA has received your dispute in writing or via a phone call, within five business days the CRA must notify the data furnisher of the dispute and the debt must be marked as disputed on your consumer report.
Once a debt is disputed with the CRA, the data furnisher must take the following steps:
  1. Conduct an investigation regarding the disputed item.
  2. Review all relevant supplementary documentation provided to the CRA by you.
  3. Report the outcome of the investigation to the CRA.
  4. If the investigation reveals information that is inaccurate or incomplete, the data furnisher is required to inform all CRAs that compile and maintain consumer information on a nationwide basis of the result of the investigation.
  5. If an item is determined to be inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable, the furnisher shall modify or delete the item in the consumer report or permanently block the reporting of that item.
What to do when you file a dispute with a debt collector or creditor (data furnisher):
  • The process is essentially the same as filing a dispute with a CRA.
  • Identify and explain the specific item of information in dispute.
  • Include all supporting documentation.
Once a debt is disputed with the data furnisher, the following occurs:
  • The data furnisher conducts a reasonable investigation into your dispute.
  • All information is reviewed.
  • The data furnisher completes the investigation and responds to you within 30 days; 45 days if additional information was requested and provided.
  • If the investigation determines the disputed item of information is inaccurate, the data furnisher must correct the inaccuracy with each CRA to which the data furnisher has provided the inaccurate information.
Frivolous or irrelevant disputes.

You should know that the FCRA makes an exception if it is evident that your dispute is not worth reinvestigating. Data furnishers are not required to investigate frivolous or irrelevant disputes that they receive directly from you. A reasonable determination that a dispute is frivolous or irrelevant may be supported by:

  • Your failure to provide sufficient information to investigate the disputed item.
  • The data furnisher determines that you have previously submitted the same dispute either directly to the data furnisher or indirectly through a CRA; and the data furnisher has already fulfilled its duties with respect to your dispute.

FDCPA: How to dispute a debt

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), you have the right to dispute a debt or any portion of a debt the debt collector claims that you owe. In order to exercise your rights under the FDCPA, you must follow certain steps.

You will receive your initial notice of the debt. Here's what is required to be sent to you within five days of the debt collector's first contact with you (commonly called the validation notice):

  • Amount of the debt.
  • Name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed.
  • Statement telling you that you have 30 days to dispute the debt or the debt will be assumed to be valid.
  • Statement that if you dispute the debt in writing within 30 days, the debt collector must provide written verification of the debt, including name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor
First you must dispute the debt in writing.

You can always dispute a debt, but only a written dispute from you to the debt collector during the 30-day validation period will trigger a debt collector's duty to provide verification of the debt. When you verbally dispute a debt, the debt collector is required to mark the debt as “disputed” with any consumer reporting agencies to which the debt has been reported. However, the debt collector is still free to continue to pursue debt collection without providing you with verification of the debt.

How to dispute your debt in writing:
  • Your letter must make clear that you are disputing the accuracy and/or validity of the debt.
  • Provide specific information regarding your dispute such as a wrong name, suspected identity theft, or any other information that could help substantiate your dispute.
  • Though not required, you may want to send your letter by certified mail so you have proof that the debt collector received your written dispute.
Verification of the debt is important.

If, within 30 days after you receive the validation notice outlined above, you request verification of the debt in writing, the debt collector must cease collection of the debt until the debt collector has obtained verification of the debt and a copy of the verification has been mailed to you. If the debt collector is unable to provide you with verification of the debt, he or she must cease all collection efforts.

For verification of a debt, generally it is considered sufficient for the debt collector to provide you with a statement that the amount being collected is the amount owed, along with any supporting documentation or records from the creditor.

If you fail to dispute the debt in writing within 30 days of receiving the validation notice, the debt collector is not required to provide you with verification of the debt under the FDCPA. Also, the debt collector is not required to comply with subsequent verification requests if the debt collector has previously provided verification of the debt.

Beware of Web sites that claim to verify your debt.

Some consumer Web sites claim to provide consumers with information concerning their rights. These sites often cite erroneous information about what debt collectors are required to provide to verify a debt under the FDCPA. Your best source for accurate information regarding any disputed debt should come first from the debt collector. Then, if there is something you find objectionable, follow the process described above for disputing that debt.

You also have rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

As mentioned earlier in this section, you have additional rights to dispute a debt if the debt is being reported to a consumer reporting agency.

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