Before your toes start to curl when you read the word "dispute," let me reassure you. A 609 dispute letter isn't really about disputing in the sense of creating conflict or having an argument.
If you find information on your credit report that's not accurate, you can easily figure out why when you get one of these letters. It's important to keep an eye on your credit report, especially if it's dragging down your credit score.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the primary federal law that regulates the collection of consumers' credit information and access to their credit reports. This act was passed in 1970 to make sure any personal information contained in the files of the credit reporting agencies is fair, accurate, and kept private.
It also has rules that manage how a consumer's credit information is obtained, how long it is kept, and how it is shared with others — including consumers themselves. If you're interested in some bedtime reading guaranteed to send you to sleep, you can read the entire act here.
While section 609 doesn't come right out and say that you have a right to challenge inaccurate information, it does defend your right to get a copy of all the information in your credit file.
You have the right to ask for:
While that's all good, section 609 doesn't give you the right to require credit bureaus to provide proof of your accounts. They also have to provide a description of the dispute process if you ask for it in writing.
You can argue over any information you think is incorrect or unverifiable. The credit reporting agency is responsible for deleting any information that can't be verified or confirmed. But if the information turns out to be accurate, they don't have to remove it.
You might think that credit bureaus are all about checking and checking again to ensure they don't make mistakes. Unfortunately, they're still human and can type in the wrong information, get numbers mixed up, and generally mess up.
Apparently, the most common types of mistakes that credit reporters make are these two:
Your credit report can also mistakenly show credit card payments as being late when they're not or show utility bills as unpaid when they were really paid.
Errors like this lower many Americans' credit scores. And when your credit score is low, it can affect your ability to qualify for a loan or a credit card. This can be totally frustrating if your credit card score is lower than it should be because of a clerical error.
Even if you do qualify for a loan or credit card, you might have to pay a higher interest rate. If you don't deserve this higher interest rate, you'll be losing money every month.
In some cases, if you're applying for a new job and your employer wants to run a credit check to make sure you're a financially responsible employee, a bad series of entries on your credit report can ruin your chances of being hired.
In the United States, credit reports are created by three big credit bureaus:
These companies package, analyze and put together credit reports and credit scores. Lenders then use these scores to decide whether they'll lend you money.
There's no evidence that sending a section 609 dispute letter is better (or worse) at figuring out an error on your credit report than other ways of checking. If you send a dispute letter and the credit bureau can't produce the information that's being used to calculate your credit score, action must be taken.
If the credit bureau can't show you:
Then they have to remove the disputed item or items because it's unverifiable. Just know that while the FCRA states you're entitled to all the information a credit reporting agency has in their system, they're not responsible for giving you information they don't have in their system. Totally reasonable.
The flaw with just relying on a 609 letter theory is that the FCRA doesn't require credit bureaus to keep or provide signed contracts or proof of debts. This means the information could still be valid and correct, even if the specific documents you're looking for can't be produced. That's not helpful.
First, you'll want to get copies of your credit reports so you can review them for errors. You have the right to a free copy of your credit reports once every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also call (877) 322-8228 to ask for a copy of your credit report over the phone.
A good start is to get yourself organized. If you have a lot of bills that you pay through a loan or credit card, a simple spreadsheet is a great way to get a clear picture of who you owe, how much, and whether you're on track with your payments.
Create a spreadsheet that lists:
You might find it helpful also to identify what type of debt each charge is. Some debts have different rules about how they're allowed to be collected.
The three main types of debts are:
Secured debts are debts that are attached to something of value. Like your car, boat, or your house. Something you can touch. If you don't make payments, these things can be repossessed.
Unsecured debts aren't attached to any material thing. These kinds of debts include student loans, medical bills, or credit card debt.
Priority debts refer to back taxes, spousal support, or child support payments. You can't get around paying what you owe, even if you are forced to declare bankruptcy. Every other type of debt may be wiped out, but these three will stay with you until you pay them.
You'll want to keep your papers in a better place than by stuffing them into a shoebox. You don't necessarily need a fancy file cabinet, and you can just get a sturdy box, invest in some folders, and file the same type of account or debt in its own file.
Mark the account name on the top of the file and put them in alphabetical order. It's the simplest and easiest way to keep track of what you owe and to see if your credit report is accurate.
There's a lot of information online about 609 dispute letters, but there's really no evidence that any one letter template is more effective than another. Apparently, you could write your credit report dispute letter on a paper towel. As long as it includes all the necessary information, can be read, and is true, the credit report must be corrected.
And while you could spend money buying a letter template, you really don't have to. There's nothing special about the format or wording, it just needs to include accurate and complete information about you, plus you need to make sure to include all the documentation required.
Make four copies of the following documents:
Once you have those copies, you'll want to write a letter that includes:
Your name: John Smith
Your street address: 123 Main Street
Your town, state, and zip code: Anywhere, any state, 123456
Your phone number, including area code: 123-456-7890
Today's date: Month, day, year
Subject line: Fair Credit Reporting Act Section 609
Dear Credit Reporting Agency (Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian),
I am exercising my right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Section 609, to request information regarding an item that is listed on my consumer credit report:
Account name: Worldwide Collection Agency
Account number: 0987654321
Reason for dispute: Example: This isn't my account/I've already paid this account
As per Section 609, I am entitled to see the source of information, which is the original contract that contains my signature.
My identifying information is as follows:
Date of birth: Month, day, year
Social Security number: 123-45-6789
[Note: If you have a lawyer, state that you have legal representation and provide that person's contact information.]
As proof of my identity, I have included copies of my:
Social Security card
A cellphone bill.
I have also included a copy of my credit report. I've circled (or highlighted) the account I want to have verified.
If you cannot verify the account with the original contract, please remove the information from my credit report within 30 days.
Enclosures: Add a list of all the supporting documents you include with this letter.
Once you've made your four copies and written and printed out your letter, you'll need to put together three separate packages and send one to each credit reporting agency listing the account you need to have verified. Keep one set of the letter and documents for yourself.
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
Take the extra trouble to go to your local post office and send the packages by certified mail.
You'll pay less than $7 an envelope at today's postal rates, including a return receipt. A small investment to ensure these packages get where they need to go!
If printing and sending a letter with physical copies seems too old-school for you, you can start a dispute online with each of the three credit bureaus.
While there are no guarantees that a 609 credit dispute letter will help you remove negative information from your credit report, if you are right that the credit bureau has made a mistake on your report, you have the best chance of fixing the mistake (and your credit rating) with a 609 credit dispute letter or by filling in the online equivalent.
The bureau wants to make sure there was a mistake made, and they find the documents required to verify the debt(s) in question and how clearly the items are disputed.
609 letters are the best way to get the dispute process started. Once you've requested information from the credit bureaus, they must give you all the information in your credit file related to the items you've inquired about.
They don't have a choice whether or not to give you the information you asked you. Under the law, you are entitled to the information, and they cannot withhold it.
This is the federal agency charged with enforcing the FCRA. Filing a complaint with the FTC will put additional pressure on the credit bureau to respond and also to fix any errors in your credit report.
Even though it's probably understood, it might still be worth mentioning. Submitting a 609 dispute letter isn't about finding a clever legal loophole. It's just about making sure your rights are protected and taken care of under the law.
And that's worth a whole lot.
Still have questions? We've got the answers! Let us know in the comment section below, and we'll be sure to respond to you.