Your credit mistakes don't have to stay with you for the rest of your life. Under federal law, most negative information on your credit report is only valid for seven years. After that time, it should drop off your report. In some cases, though, that information stays on a credit report, usually due to a mistake on the credit bureau's part. Since bad ratings can affect your ability to get a mortgage or other loan, you have a right to request that any outdated bad credit ratings be removed from your report.
Request a copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus (see Resources). You can order a free copy from each bureau once a year.
Examine the report, looking for any outdated bad ratings. Remember that you can't do anything about negative ratings that are within the seven-year time frame.
Draft a letter to the reporting agency if you find an old bad rating. Explain the item that you're disputing, why you're disputing it and what action you would like taken. If you're disputing an old negative rating, you should ask that it be deleted from your report.
Provide proof that the information is too old to be on your report, such as an old billing statement. Give the agency copies, not the originals. Also include a copy of your report with the disputed item circled.
Mail the letter using certified mail so that you have a guarantee that the company receives it.
- If you have a legitimate dispute, the credit bureau has 30 days to look into the issue and attempt to fix it. Once the negative information is removed, the bureau has to provide you with a new copy of your credit report as well as giving confirmation in writing.
- In some cases, the bureau may not be able to remove the negative data. If that’s the case, you can ask that your dispute be kept in your file and on future reports.
- Watch out for companies that claim they'll repair your credit. According to the Federal Trade Commission, most of those companies are a scam. Some may even try to convince you to commit fraud, such as creating a new identity.