The Fair Credit Reporting Act (hereafter, “FCRA”) affords each of us many rights as it pertains to our credit reports. One of those rights is the right to challenge or “dispute” information with which we disagree. There are no restrictions as it pertains to the method of dispute. Although, most disputes are submitted either via the credit bureaus’ websites or via good old-fashioned U.S. Mail. It begs the question, what are the pros and cons of paper and online disputes?
Regardless of the method of delivery, the entire dispute process cannot take longer than 30 to 45 days. And, according to the credit reporting industry, most disputes are completed within a couple of weeks, or sooner. What this means is as long as you plan ahead and have a legitimate error on your credit report you should be able to get it corrected or removed before you apply for some form of credit.
Filing a dispute online is free and easy. All three of the credit bureaus allow for the submission of online disputes via their respective websites. You’ll save the time of having to write and mail a dispute letter by using the credit bureaus’ online dispute portals.
Filing online also eliminates the potential delays that are common with sending letters through the mail. And, when you file a credit report dispute online you will eliminate several days of mail delivery on the front end. So, you can turn an already expeditious process into one that takes even less time.
Paper disputes, however, do allow the consumer to provide a more voluminous dispute with any added context they feel is needed to facilitate the process. By using the credit bureaus’ online dispute portal you’ll be limited to a few garden variety dispute reasons like, “not mine” or “was never late.”
There is also reason to believe that paper disputes, as in those sent on a piece of paper in an envelope, are more likely to be read and processed by a human being rather than a computer. A review by a human might be more effective especially if your dispute is complex and cannot be summarized in a few sentences.
And finally, whether you choose to use paper or online methods you can submit supportive documentation with your dispute. The document is attached to your dispute form when it is sent to the furnisher of the allegedly incorrect information, normally a financial services company or a debt collector.
When you submit an online dispute you are limited to choosing from the credit bureaus’ dispute reason “pull-down” menu. There is a chance that, because of the limited options, none of them will be a good fit for your specific dispute, especially if it is complicated. This may mean whatever dispute is sent by the credit bureau to the furnisher may not be representative of your actual dispute and you may not get back the desired result.
When you submit an online dispute you may be asked to agree to certain terms and conditions of using the online dispute portal. While this may be perfectly fine with you, others may not be agreeable to the terms. And, you may not even take the time to review the terms or may not fully understand what it is that you’ve just agreed to when filing disputes online.
When you submit a paper dispute it’s, well, a paper dispute. That means you have to type it, print it, fold it, lick a stamp, and address, and mail a letter. When was the last time you did all of these things as a matter of choice?
There have also been anecdotal reports that paper letters may actually be viewed and read by OCR software rather than always being reviewed by human eyes. OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition, which means a machine reads your letter and attempts to interpret it. There is no need for this process if your dispute is submitted either via online methods or even verbally if you’re able to speak with someone at the credit bureau.
If you’re in a hurry and don’t mind agreeing to the terms and conditions of a credit bureau’s online dispute portal, then online is the better method because it’s faster and more efficient. You get the process started immediately rather than “in a few days” if you were to send a letter.
And while opinions certainly vary on the issue of effectiveness, I’ve never seen any evidence suggesting one method of dispute yields more favorable results than another method of dispute. Ultimately what matters most is whether or not the information on your credit reports is accurate, or not. If it’s accurate then paper versus online may not matter. If it’s inaccurate, then again your choice of dispute method may not matter because they’re both likely to be equally successful.