The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that in 2016, the top source of consumer complaints was inaccurate credit reporting. When you’re trying to rebuild after bankruptcy, a defective credit report can be a major obstacle.
Your credit rating dictates whether you will be approved for a credit card, personal loan, or mortgage and, if so, what interest rates and repayment terms are involved. After your bankruptcy discharge, it is recommended that you check your credit report from time to time to confirm that all information is accurate and there are no suspicious purchases or tradelines.
If you notice something amiss, then there are steps you can take to dispute the information and have it investigated by the credit reporting agency. Below is a general overview of the dispute process, bearing in mind that each agency is different and may have its own additional reporting requirements.
1. Check your credit report
You are entitled to one free credit report per year from the major credit reporting agencies, but it’s a good idea to check your information at a different agency every few months. For example, review Experian first, then TransUnion, and finally Equifax.
Go through each report thoroughly and carefully. Make sure you recognize all loans and credit cards and that any reports of late or missing payments are accurate. You will also be able to see if any potential lenders have checked your report, a process known as a hard inquiry. (When you access your report, it is known as a soft inquiry, which doesn’t impact your score.)
2. Look for inaccuracies
Confirm that all information about old or discharged debts has been removed. In general, debt information that is over seven years old should not be in the report. Chapter 7 bankruptcies will be referenced for ten years after discharge while a discharged Chapter 13 will appear for seven years. Your bankruptcy attorney can advise you on what to watch for in this respect.
3. Contact the creditor
Some credit report problems can be resolved by contacting the creditor directly. For example, if the bank that issued your Visa is reporting a late payment, but you have evidence that you did pay the account on time, then you can request that they retract the report.
4. Contact the credit reporting agency
If you can’t resolve the issue with the creditor or an old debt is still being reported, then contact the credit reporting agency. (The Federal Trade Commission has some guidelines here.) This is generally done by sending a letter alerting the agency about the inaccurate information and sending copies of any documentation that supports your claim. Be sure to send it by certified “return receipt requested” mail so that you can confirm receipt.
Credit reporting companies typically investigate disputes within 30 days. They will then send you a letter with their conclusions, often with a free copy of your credit report with the updated information.
In addition to checking your report throughout the year, consider setting up fraud alerts so that you become aware of potential issues the moment they happen. Filing for bankruptcy can clear your slate, but you have a part to play in maintaining a good rating.