Whether you’re applying for a loan, looking for a new job or trying to improve your finances, a good credit score is key to reaching your goals. Unfortunately, a Federal Trade Commission study found that one in four consumers has an error on their credit report that might affect their credit scores. For this reason, it’s important to check your credit regularly and dispute any errors.

One method of correcting erroneous information is to submit a 609 dispute letter to the credit bureaus. This simple letter requests that the credit bureaus seek proof of any specific debts from your creditors. If there are errors on your credit report, a dispute is part of the process of correcting them.

What is a 609 dispute letter?

A 609 dispute letter, also known as a credit dispute letter, is a written request to credit bureaus to remove incorrect, negative information from your credit report.

While many people call these documents 609 dispute letters after a section in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), dispute letters are actually covered under Section 611. Section 609 gives consumers the right to request information related to debts listed on their credit reports.

Examples of information that you may want to dispute include:

  • Accounts opened due to identity theft
  • Late payments that were paid on time
  • Missing payments
  • Paid-off loans showing a balance

If the creditor cannot provide information to the credit bureau proving that you owe the debt, the credit bureau will remove the item. Because many creditors and collection agencies buy and sell consumer debt, they don’t always have the substantiating information behind the debt. Writing a dispute letter can remove these marks on your credit report.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act section 609

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus, medical information companies and tenant screening services must protect consumer data. These companies must maintain accurate records and investigate when a consumer disputes information. Additionally, any company that uses this credit information must inform consumers when there’s an adverse action based on that data.

The FCRA Section 609 also regulates other areas of credit, including:

  • The right to obtain and dispute credit information — Paragraph (c)
  • Rights of identity theft victims — Paragraph (d)
  • Disclosure of credit scores — Paragraph (f)
  • Disclosure of credit scores by certain mortgage lenders — Paragraph (g)
  • Who has accessed your credit report in the last two years — Paragraph (a)(3)
  • Who ran soft inquiries over the preceding year — Paragraph (a)(5)

It is paragraph (c) that enables consumers to request a free copy of their credit report from each of the credit bureaus once per year.

Credit report information is updated regularly. Active accounts may update once a month or even more often. It’s wise to check your credit report at least once a year so that errors do not affect your score or ability to get approved for a loan, credit card or other type of financing.

How to write a 609 dispute letter

When writing a 609 dispute letter, you’re not disputing items contained within your credit report. Instead, you’re requesting the credit bureau to verify the accuracy of items listed on your credit report.

For example, does a creditor have a signed loan agreement or other documents proving that you agreed to the debt? If not, they may not be able to prove you owe it.

While some companies offer 609 dispute letter templates for sale, there’s no reason to spend money to buy one. Section 609 of the FCRA does not require that consumers submit requests using a specific template or format.

What to include with your 609 dispute letter

An effective 609 dispute letter must contain certain key elements to ensure you achieve the desired results. You need to include details about which credit report items you want more information on, as well as personal information, so the credit bureaus know it’s a valid request.

Start by including this personal information in your 609 dispute letter:

  • Full name
  • Current address
  • Phone number
  • Date of birth

Additionally, your dispute letter should include the following information and supporting documentation:

  • A statement asserting your rights under the FCRA
  • Proof of identification, such as a copy of your government-issued identification
  • Account names and numbers of items you want verified
  • A copy of your credit report with items in question circled or highlighted
  • Request to remove any unverifiable negative information from your credit report

Include additional documents that prove your claims. For example, if a paid-off loan is showing as open with a balance remaining, include a copy of the final statement showing a zero balance. Alternatively, you can provide copies of checks or bank statements showing that all payments were made.

Each credit bureau may have different information you need to dispute. Customize your letters based on which disputed items are showing on each credit report. In some cases, you may need to send a letter to one credit bureau, while at other times, you may need to contact all three bureaus.

How to send a 609 dispute letter

If you send your Section 609 dispute letter by normal U.S. mail, you won’t have proof of when (or if) your letter is received by the credit bureaus. Instead, send your letter via certified mail with a return receipt. You’ll be able to prove that your letter was sent, and you’ll receive a record that it was received.

While this method costs extra, it provides peace of mind. Additionally, the credit bureaus have limited time to act upon your request. With a certified letter and a return receipt, you know exactly when that timeframe starts.

Use these mailing addresses to send letters to the three major credit bureaus:

Equifax Information Services LLCP.O. Box 740256Atlanta, GA 30348

ExperianP.O. Box 4500Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion LLC Consumer Dispute CenterP.O. Box 2000Chester, PA 19016

Consumers can also file disputes with the credit bureaus online or over the phone. Here are the websites and phone numbers for each one:

What happens after you send a 609 dispute letter

After the credit bureaus receive your letter, they typically contact the creditor about your dispute. The credit bureau may share your letter and supporting documents to help the creditor investigate the account. Using the information from your dispute, the creditors will review their files to determine whether they have accurate information.

Once the creditor has completed its investigation, it will share the results with the credit bureaus.

By law, credit bureaus must reply to your dispute within 30 days of receiving your request. Depending on the circumstances, they may receive a 15-day extension. If the creditor cannot verify the disputed account information by the deadline, the credit bureau will remove it from your credit report.

Limitations of a 609 dispute letter

Despite the claims some companies make, nobody can guarantee that a dispute letter will remove negative items like late payments, bankruptcy or loan defaults from your credit report. Legitimate accounts will stay on your credit report even if you dispute them.

A dispute letter will not eliminate existing debt that you cannot pay (or don’t want to pay). The original lender or a collection agency typically has the supporting information behind each debt. Submitting a dispute letter will not get rid of the debt, eliminate monthly payments or stop collection efforts — it can only force bureaus to remove inaccurate information.

If you’re facing money issues, you may want to consider starting a side hustle to earn more money, pare down your monthly expenses or consult with a professional. Credit counseling agencies and bankruptcy attorneys typically offer a free consultation to determine if their services are right for your situation.

Alternative steps for credit repair

A credit dispute letter may work to eliminate or correct negative marks on your credit. However, that may not be the only step you need to take to improve your credit. Consider the following options:

  • Ask the bank to lower your interest rate: High interest rates cause more of your monthly payment to go toward interest charges rather than paying down your balance. Many banks are willing to reduce interest rates for good customers, either temporarily or permanently. Call the bank to ask if they’re willing to reduce your rate. If your request is declined, follow up in a few months.
  • Consolidate your debt: A debt consolidation loan allows you to combine balances from several debts into one monthly payment. While these loans typically charge a higher rate than balance transfers, they tend to be lower than credit cards. Additionally, the repayment period can last for five years or more so that the monthly payment amount remains affordable.
  • Make all payments on time: Your payment history is the largest factor in your credit score. Consider setting up automatic payments to avoid late fees and negative marks on your credit report.
  • Reduce your credit card balances: Keeping your credit card balances below 30% of your credit limit is another good step to building excellent credit. When your balances get too close to your credit limit, lenders consider you a higher risk of defaulting on your debt.
  • Use a balance transfer offer: Balance transfers move debt from a credit card with a higher interest rate to one with a lower rate. When you apply for a new credit card, you may qualify for a 0% intro APR offer for up to 21 months. This provides almost two years of interest-free financing to tackle your debt and improve your credit score.

The bottom line

It’s important to review your credit report regularly and dispute all inaccurate information. A Section 609 dispute letter allows consumers to request verification of accounts on their credit reports. If the disputed information cannot be verified within 30 to 45 days, the credit bureaus must remove it from your credit history.

While this process cannot remove legitimate debt or negative marks, it can be an effective tool to fix your credit and protect it from creditors unable to validate their claims.

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