Credit scores are an integral part of people’s financial lives. They determine everything from the loans that you can qualify for to the interest rates that you pay when you buy a car or a home.
Sometimes, your credit score can impact your ability to get a phone plan or open a utility account without providing a down payment.
Credit scores are tracked by three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
These companies keep information on you, such as your history of making payments, all the loans you have open, and how much debt you have. This information is called your credit file, and each company calculates a credit score based on your credit file.
Unfortunately, the credit scoring system is far from perfect.
It’s not uncommon for one or all of the credit bureaus to have errors in their credit files about you. You might run into a situation where your credit file has been mixed with someone else’s.
This can result in your score being drastically different from what it should be. That can have a major impact on your financial life and is something that you should try to correct.
How It Happens
There are a lot of ways that your credit file can be mixed up with someone else’s.
Similar personal details
One of the most common ways for it to happen is if you share a name with someone or have a very similar name as someone else.
If you were named after your father, for example, you may find your credit files getting mixed up. When you apply for a loan, the lender will look up your credit report. Lenders also regularly report details about your loans to the credit agencies.
Eventually, one of the credit agencies might pull your father’s report instead of yours when it receives a request for information. A credit agency might also accidentally add information on your father’s debts to your report.
Of course, credit agencies and lenders use a lot of safeguards to try to avoid this situation. They may ask for other information such as where you live. That’s why it’s particularly common for family members with similar names to have the credit reports mixed together.
If you share a name and an address with someone, credit agencies have few ways to differentiate between you.
Social Security Number mixup
Another common mishap comes when you or someone else enters your social security number incorrectly. Social security numbers contain 9 digits, which means there are 1 billion possible combinations available.
The population of the United States is over 325 million, so if you enter any random, 9-digit number, the odds of it being someone’s SSN is about 33%.
If someone ever puts in your social security number when they apply for a loan, that loan information will likely be added to your credit file. If this happens, it’s not necessarily a case of identity theft. It may just be a simple mistake.
In either case, your credit will now be affected by how that person handles their loan.
How You're Affected
Having someone else’s loan information appear on your credit report can have a significant effect on your finances.
In some cases, the effect can be good. If the person whose credit has been mixed up with yours handles their loans well, it can boost your score.
One of the most important aspects of your credit score is your payment history. Adding a loan with years of on-time payments to your credit file could give your score a huge boost. That can make it easier to qualify for loans or credit cards.
Of course, it’s just as likely that having someone else’s details on your credit file will hurt your score. Even one missed payment can drop your score by dozens of points.
You can even lose points if you have a new card on your report because the average age of your loan accounts impacts your credit score. You may handle debt perfectly but find yourself unable to qualify for even the simplest loans.
If you ever find yourself with a credit score lower than you think it should be or failing to get loans you feel qualified for, you should look into what has caused your score to drop.
Steps to Take to Correct the Error
If you feel that there is an issue in your credit report, you should take steps to correct it.
Start by obtaining a copy of your credit report. You can’t know what problems need fixing if you don’t know what the problems actually are.
Thankfully, federal law mandates that you get free access to your credit report once each year. You can actually request your credit report from each bureau once per year, giving you the chance to see it three times each year for free.
We recommend that you use AnnualCreditReport.com to check your credit reports. The website is sanctioned by the U.S. government for this purpose. You also won’t be forced to sign up for any subscriptions. The site lets you request a report from one, two, or all three of the agencies at once.
If you’d rather, you can request a report by phone by calling 1-877-322-8228. If you prefer physical mail, you can send a form to
- Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA
Either of these methods will get a report mailed to you within 15 days.
Another option would be to get a free copy of your report from a card issuer you have an account with. Many companies, including Citi, American Express, and Discover offer copies of your report as a cardholder benefit. These reports are updated monthly, free of charge, and can offer insight into your credit score.
The third option is to request a copy of your credit report from a lender. If you are denied for a loan, you have a legal right to the copy of the report used to deny your application.
You can also get copies of your report in the following situations:
- You were denied or notified of an adverse action related to credit, employment, insurance, government license or other government-granted benefits, or another transaction initiated by you within the last 60 days and your credit report was the basis for the credit decision.
- You were denied a house or apartment rental or were required to pay a higher deposit than normally required within the last 60 days and your credit report was the basis for the credit decision.
- You are unemployed and intend to apply for employment within the next 60 days. (One credit report every 12 months.)
- You are a recipient of public welfare assistance. (One credit report every 12 months.)
- You have reason to believe that your credit report contains inaccurate information due to fraud.
Once you have a copy of your credit report in hand, look over it very carefully.
Examine each account listed on the report to ensure that it is an account that belongs to you. While you’re at it, look at the details of each account to make sure the information is correct. You might find incorrect records of missed payments that are hurting your score.
If you notice errors, it’s time to contact the credit bureaus. Contact the bureau that has the error on file, in writing. The Federal Trade Commission provides a sample dispute letter to help you make contact. Also, include any copies of documents that support your claims surrounding the errors.
The addresses to mail dispute requests to each of the major bureaus are:
P.O. Box 4500.
Allen, TX 75013
Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
Each company may have its own requirements for what documents you need to send when filing a dispute. Make sure to confirm exactly what must be sent to each company before submitting a dispute.
You should also send a letter to the lender providing the erroneous information. They will have to investigate your claim when they receive your dispute.
Once the credit bureau has received your letter, it will have 30 days to investigate your claim. Usually, this means that the bureau will bring your dispute to the lender who has reported your information incorrectly. The two companies will sort things out and the credit bureau will report the results of your dispute to you.
If your dispute results in a change to your credit report, the credit bureau will also provide a copy of your new credit report. You should go over this for any other errors you may have missed.
You can also request that the credit agency send notification of changes to your report to everyone who has requested your report in the past six months. You can use this if you need to ask a bank to reconsider a loan application.
Having your credit report mixed up with someone else’s can be a headache, but it’s important to try to get it resolved.
Work with your lenders and the credit bureaus to correct your report so you can start getting for the loans you deserve to qualify for.