"My Credit Report Says I Owe Double!"
(MONEY Magazine) – Q About a year ago my student-loan company, American Education Services, changed all of its account numbers from Social Security numbers to non-identifying numbers. The problem: My Equifax credit report now shows two loans for $23,000 instead of one, so it looks as if I have twice as much outstanding debt. I asked Equifax to investigate, but the company just confirmed that both accounts belonged to me and then closed the dispute. When I called, I was told the problem was with AES. AES told me the problem was with Equifax. Meanwhile, my credit score has suffered. What now? —A.H., Sparks, Nev.
Answer When we first contacted Equifax, we were told that the agency is only as accurate as the information it's given—in other words, blame the creditor. However, your credit report with other bureaus was correct, suggesting that AES wasn't the one at fault. "Equifax created a duplicate record instead of updating the account with the new number," says Keith New of AES. "We did everything we could to take care of it."
Though they wouldn't cop to an error on their part, Equifax did correct the mistake within 24 hours of our investigation. The errant account was closed and deleted from your file. You also got a call from a representative who apologized and said that the company was considering using your situation for training purposes (Equifax was unable to confirm this later, however). The best part is that you now get the credit you deserve: Your score jumped 15 points.
Something to remember the next time you note an inaccuracy on your report: "The person receiving your dispute spends one minute with it, on average," says Gerri Detweiler, president of Ultimate Credit Solutions. So a two-page complaint with three attachments won't have the impact you think it might. Keep it simple and call in the big guns. State the problem in one to two sentences, then mention that this is your second (or third) dispute and that you plan to contact the Federal Trade Commission and a consumer law attorney.
Keep your correspondence with credit bureaus brief. A good test: You should be able to read it yourself in 60 seconds or less. And if you've already disputed an item once, copy the FTC on your second go-round.
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Reporting By Kate Ashford contributed to this article.