Author: Amy Davis, Investigative Reporter/Consumer Expert,
Cody Schultz, News Producer

HOUSTON – It’s the three-digit number that can affect how much someone pays for a car, a house, even insurance. Credit scores dictate an incredible amount in our lives, yet errors can be hard to fix.

The website Annual Credit Report is key to deciphering credit problems. Experts recommend checking each item on a credit report. If any errors are found, consumers can dispute them by writing a letter to the bureau. The Federal Trade Commission even has a sample letter form to help people get started.

Proof is imperative when it comes to disputing a claim. Consumer attorney Dana Karni says if the dispute is denied, it can hurt a person’s credit more than the original bad debt.

“I would encourage a consumer to add every bit of information that they can to support their claim,” Karni explained. “If you do not have a good basis for a dispute, you’re much better off just letting that listing on your report age. It will have much less of a detrimental effect on your credit score over the years.”

After seven years, that old debt will fall off the credit report. If a consumer doesn’t have that much time, like if they’re buying a house, there’s still a way to recoup money lost on a higher interest rate.

“If you feel like you’re going to lose the home of your dreams because of this credit reporting dispute, go ahead with the closing and then turn around and assert your rights in court,” Karni said.

In court, a judge could force the credit bureau or the company responsible for the bad information to cover the extra costs incurred because of the error. It’s always best to consult an attorney before going through with a closing to ensure the case is strong enough to pursue.

Lastly, Karni suggests avoiding credit repair companies. They can stir up things on a credit report that were about to expire anyway. For instance, if there’s a debt that’s six years old, the credit repair company may try and dispute it, and the creditor can renew that debt, which would keep it on the record for another seven years.