Congratulations on reviewing your free annual credit report. Good job! Checking your credit report is an excellent way to stay in control of your finances. If you found inaccurate or incomplete information on your credit report, it's time to get to work.

The Benefits of Correcting Errors

One-quarter of people who review their credit history find some type of mistake, so you are not alone. Errors are typically found in tradelines, collection records and the personal information section. Disputing these mistakes probably won't affect your credit score a great deal. However, some consumers have been able to increase their scores by more than 20 points. If your score is 669, a one-point change can put you in a lower risk category, which will earn you lower interest rates and more approvals. Errors with your name and address won't affect your credit score, but they are still worth correcting. If you've found a mistake on your credit report, follow these steps.

1. Gather Documentation

As soon as you find an error, start gathering evidence that proves your point. Depending on the type of mistake, you might need copies of your ID, credit card statements, bank statements, receipts or other records.

2. Contact the Credit Bureau

All three credit bureaus give you the option to initiate a dispute online or while you are viewing your credit report. If you upload enough supporting documentation and provide enough details about the problem, this method may work.

Don't dispute your records over the phone because you won't be able to give the bureau all of the details. It's better to dispute an error by mail. Just make sure to explain the problem and provide documents showing that the information is incorrect. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a sample letter that you can use as a template. Add as much detail and information as you can.

3. Contact Your Creditors

The three major credit bureaus report information from your creditors, so you should dispute the information at the source. You can call your credit card company or the corporation that services your loan, but it's generally better to submit the information in writing. You can find instructions about initiating disputes on the back of your statement. Include a copy of all relevant records and a letter like the one that you sent to the credit bureau.

4. Follow up on the Dispute

Creditors and credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate your complaint. If your dispute is successful, you should receive a response. You can sometimes check the status of your dispute online as well. Be aware that you may not get the result that you want. If the information cannot be verified, it's possible that the account will be removed from your credit report, which can have unintended consequences.

5. File a Complaint

If you have not been able to correct inaccuracies after several attempts, you can file a complaint with the CFPB. This site has resources for disputing information about credit cards, loans, collections and other financial products. Include as many records as you can find, such as bank statements, credit card statements, receipts and letters. The company will have 15 days to respond to you and the CFPB.

What to Expect

At a minimum, your credit report should say that the information was disputed by the consumer even if the entry wasn't removed. If you don't receive the desired result, you can always try again. Don't hesitate to follow up with the company and talk to someone in the dispute department after you have submitted a claim by mail.

It's your credit report, and you have a right to be in charge of the information that's included there. Stay on top of your finances by requesting free credit reports each year. You don't have to get all three at once. You can get one at a time and space them out during the year. That way, you can address potential errors quickly. Good luck on your credit journey!