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It is always a good idea to request a copy of your credit report on an annual basis to check it for any errors. An error in your credit report could be responsible for keeping you from being approved for a loan or being able to buy a home. Some professions even run a credit check for certification of new applicants, which means that an error in your credit report could keep you from getting a job. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to give you a free copy of your credit file every 12 months upon request. Be careful to only order a credit report through a reputable website or phone number so that you do not give away your personal information to hackers.

Once you receive a copy of your credit report, if you notice an error, you should take the following steps to make sure that it is corrected as efficiently and accurately as possible. Even though this might seem like a stressful process to go through, it is important to see it through because you could suffer the effects of an error on your credit report for the rest of your life.

1. Begin the Dispute Process with a Letter

You have the option of either sending a letter by regular mail or uploading on the website for each of the credit reporting companies. Whichever option you choose, be sure to keep a copy for your records. If you have any supporting documents that reflect the error in your credit report, be sure to include those as well. It is always best to send as much proof as possible that there is an inaccuracy in your report. If the credit reporting agency requires additional information, they will reach out to you directly, but this could delay the investigation and resolution process.

2. Be Prepared to Follow Up

Having your credit report dispute resolved will take some determination on your part. There are as many as one in four people in the U.S. with errors on their credit reports, according to the Federal Trade Commission. This means that the credit reporting companies are likely handling millions of disputes. It is quite possible for your paperwork to get lost in the enormous shuffle. If you do not receive a response to your inquiry within several weeks, it is a good idea to send a follow up notice.

3. Respond to All Inquiries Timely

If you receive a request for additional information regarding your dispute, be sure to submit any additional information promptly. If you delay too long in responding to any notices, this could jeopardize your ability to resolve your claim. Also, the longer the dispute is on your credit report, the more negative an impact it has on your financial situation. It can also make it easier for someone to steal your identity and create even more inaccuracies in your credit report.

4. Consult with an Attorney

If you have a dispute that languishes for months at a time and does not appear to be getting resolved, you may want to consider speaking with an attorney. An experienced consumer advocate will be able to tell you if there is any additional recourse you could take to resolve your dispute. You should do your best to resolve the dispute first on your own because it can be expensive to have an attorney act on your behalf.