How to correct an erroneous credit report

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Dear Dr. Don,
My husband and son have the same name, except my son is the 3rd. My son is in the U.S. Air Force and is only 20 years old. When applying for a loan to purchase his first car, he found out he has a judgment on his credit report of $1,879. This is a civil judgment in our county of residence. The judgment belongs to his father. We know this because my son has no credit yet; he has no credit cards or installments loans of any kind.

We took care of our son financially until the day he left for basic training. My husband’s credit history suffered over the past few years when he had cancer and wasn’t working. During that time, money was scarce and we only stayed current on the necessities such as the mortgage and utilities payments.

Please tell us what we can do to correct this the fastest way possible. I don’t understand how this could have happened, as my husband and son have different Social Security numbers. The loan officer at the bank said these things happen when a father and son share the same name. If I would have known that 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have named my son after his father.
— Michelle Mistaken

Dear Michelle,
Your son needs to dispute the information on his credit report. The dispute process requires the consumer reporting agencies to review and decide on a disputed credit history, and in most cases this must happen within 30 days. He doesn’t have to dispute the item with all three consumer reporting agencies. When he wins the dispute with one agency, the information is relayed to the other agencies. The dispute process is controlled by provision on the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, but Bankrate has a helpful primer on the topic as well.

The key in this process is to have a paper trail. Contact the consumer reporting agencies in writing. Provide written information showing the information in the credit report is in error. I’d recommend spending the additional money to have the letters sent certified mail, even though that step shouldn’t be necessary.

It also would be a good idea to contact the clerk of courts to see if that’s where the problem started and if it was, get the record fixed at the courthouse. It’s even possible taking this step first will eliminate the need to dispute the information with the consumer reporting agencies. The court will provide the agencies with the information needed to clear this negative information from your son’s credit report.

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