To anyone who’s ever doubted the ability of individuals to convince large faceless institutions (like, say, credit bureaus) to fix their errors and do what’s right, the National Park Service’s recent announcement that it will be restoring a quotation at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., must represent a ray of hope.

For those not familiar with the story, the granite memorial, which was dedicated last fall, featured a quote of King’s that had been condensed from 45 words down to 10. The problem was that the truncated version actually conveyed the opposite meaning of the “drum major” speech it was taken from. After poet Maya Angelou and others disputed the abridgement, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar finally ordered the park service to correct it.

“Yeah,” you might be saying, “but they could prove THAT error. How am I supposed to prove an error on my credit report is wrong?”

Answer: You don’t have to.

No, really. The burden of proof is on the credit bureaus and creditors, not the consumer. The Fair Credit Reporting Act ensures that when you contact the bureaus with a dispute about your credit report, their responsibility is to contact the creditor, and the creditor has to verify it.

The only exception is that sometimes you’ll need to prove your identity. The bureaus frequently will require proof of identity — a photo ID with your current address, something with your Social Security number, and something else confirming your current address — if you’ve moved within the last couple of years. Creditors, too, will sometimes require completion of a fraud affidavit if an account appearing on your credit report isn’t yours.

One last thing to remember: The bureaus can’t tell you to stop disputing, or that they won’t investigate a dispute anymore. As a consumer, you always have the right to dispute. For us, if a bureau responds to a client’s dispute by saying, “Yeah, it’s verified, and it’s correct the way we’re reporting it,” if the client says it’s still not correct, then we continue to fight on that item and continue to dispute.

Ultimately, whether you’re talking about faulty credit reports or botched memorials, there’s no reason people should feel powerless to correct bad information. And fortunately, unlike the King quote, credit reports aren’t written in stone.

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