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Four out of five credit reports contain errors.
Four out of five credit reports contain errors. / Peter Cade, Getty Images

Various surveys suggest four out of five credit reports contain errors. That's trouble if you need a loan or some other credit.

Make sure you're in the minority:

Get all three reports. Credit scores can differ among the three major bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian — so be sure to check all three. You can access free reports annually by going to annualcreditreport.com.

Review carefully. Dallas CPA Wray Rives notes that each bureau's report will summarize any negatives. Still, examine the entire report. Common mistakes: an account that has been closed but has been reported as active, and accounts mistakenly in your name.

Challenge mistakes. You can contest mistakes right there on annualcreditreport.com. A letter to the bureau is also an option. Provide complete personal information, including your Social Security number, account numbers and a complete explanation of why the information is mistaken. You also can send a similar letter to the company involved in the mistake. By law, the credit bureau must investigate within 30 days.

Be diligent. Check your scores annually. And, Rives stresses, be proactive: “The greatest factors to a good score are making payments on time, not using too much of your available credit and the length of time you've had positive credit reports.”

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