Drafting Your Dispute Letter

Start drafting your disputes immediately after receiving your report(s) and identifying the negative items. Don't wait for all credit reports to arrive first before drafting your initial dispute. Time is of the essence. If you tend to procrastinate you are better off seeking professional help to restore your credit.

We do not provide you with standard form letters because the credit bureaus can easily spot such forms and will reject any submissions based on them. Rather, we outline general strategies which have proven effective in getting the credit bureaus to fulfill their obligation. Be prepared to invent your own techniques.

General Strategies and Guidelines

Never lie or make misleading statements when disputing your credit report. For one, it's a federal offense. It's also very counterproductive. You have the right to dispute your credit report as long as you have reason to believe that the information is unverifiable, inaccurate, or obsolete. In order to dispute information that is technically accurate you will need more persuasive reasons than "the listing is not mine" or "the payments were never late."

Always indicate why you are challenging a particular listing— is it because the listing contains incorrect or inaccurate information, or the listing does not belong on your report in the first place? The bureaus will not begin an investigation until you have clearly communicated to them what it is you are challenging, and why. If you appear unclear about the nature of your dispute in any way they will return your letter promptly.

If you claim that you were not late on a particular item, the bureau will contact the creditor and ask for verification of the listing. Should the creditor fail to provide such verification, the listing will be converted to positive status. On the other hand, if you dispute a listing claiming that it is not yours and the credit bureau fails to verify it, then the listing will be removed from the report altogether. Because a positive listing is better than no listing, you should submit every simple late-pay as a "not late" dispute. All other items must be challenged on the basis that they do not belong to you.

When you submit your disputes, you must also inform the bureau what you want done with each listing. Depending on the item you're challenging, you'll either ask that they erase the late pay notation within the listing, or you'll want the item removed altogether. Don't bother challenging collections, charge-offs, court records, repossessions, foreclosures or settled accounts. These types of listings weigh in so heavily that changing their status on your report will not yield any improvement. You'll want to dispute these on conditions of complete removal or not dispute them at all.

Lend authenticity to your dispute by including comments that only a truly frustrated consumer would make, such as "My son is a banker and he suggested that I contact you to help clear up this matter..." Get creative, but be careful not to lay it on too thick. As you brainstorm your authenticity comments bear in mind that the job of the checker is to reject irrelevant disputes and to investigate the bona fide ones. You need just enough authenticity to convince the checker that you are for real.

Don't try to sound like an expert. The bureaus receive over 10,000 disputes every day. Your letter should look, feel and smell like any other. If you quote legal statute or you remind the credit bureaus of your rights, the checker will suspect that you read a book about credit repair or that you are using a credit repair service, and will toss your letter into the "frivolous/irrelevant" bin.

Your first two disputes should be friendly and polite. As you dispute more and more items you will find it increasingly difficult to get the checker to investigate the claims. If that is the case, begin to apply more pressure, become adamant perhaps even threatening. You could threaten to hire an attorney, or to contact your State Attorney General, even the Federal Trade Commission. Be careful not to go overboard on this one. You don't want to upset the checker or the bureau— you just want to make sure they understand you are serious.

Here is a big one: don't submit more than one dispute every 90 days. Sending them more than one will have your letters returned to you before you have had time to lick your next round of stamps.

Use the inaccuracies and inconsistencies you identified in the previous section to argue how the listings are wrong. Reports from the other two credit bureaus can help you win your argument if you can establish inconsistencies by comparing them to one another. Of course, do so only if one or more of the reports do not actually confirm the negative listing which you are challenging.

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureaus must legally investigate all disputes that are not "frivolous or irrelevant." In practice, the checker is only concerned with disputes which could potentially end up as lawsuits against the bureau. Therefore it is important that you do whatever is necessary to coerce the checker into fulfilling their legal obligation. And the most effective way of doing that is to conduct an investigation into every reasonable dispute.

Each credit report should include a standard form for disputing listings. This form is supplied by the credit bureau. Don't use it. The form is vague, and the bureaus themselves do not take it half as seriously as a self-composed letter.

One last note. Unless your dispute is printed, don't expect to be taken seriously. Preparing your disputes on a typewriter or by hand will not only be a tremendous waste of your time, it will also be a thoroughly disappointing experience. Use a computer. If you do not have access to a computer, you should not attempt to repair your credit yourself. Instead, seek professional help. Either way, have your dispute letters printed on your stationery if available.

As you draft your dispute letters, remember not to verify severely negative listings by correcting minor information reported. The checker is only concerned with those disputes arising from errors by the bureau itself. An error by the bureau represents a liability threat, and therefore a potential lawsuit. Make sure your personal information appears either on the credit report accompanying your dispute, or on the dispute letter itself. Personal information should include your full name, date of birth, current address and social security number.