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You’ve found a mistake on your credit reports and you know you need to dispute it. But what happens when you do?

Here are four questions we often hear from consumers about the process of getting information removed from their credit reports.

1. Do I Have to Tell the Credit Bureau to Take Old Information Off?

Once information is too old to be reported — late payments that occurred more than seven years ago or bankruptcies filed more than 10 years ago, for example — you shouldn’t have to ask or instruct the credit reporting agencies to remove it. It should happen automatically.

For that to happen, though, the dates reported must be accurate. When you are checking your credit reports (which you can do for free once a year) make sure to double-check all dates, especially for negative information that may only be reported for specific periods of time. (Positive or neutral information can be reported indefinitely.)

One thing that often trips consumers up is collection accounts, says Susan Henson, vice president, public relations for Experian. “An account with a status of collection remains on a consumer’s credit report for seven years from the original delinquency date,” she explains. “The original delinquency date is the date the account first became late, after which it was never again brought current. When the account is paid off, the status will be updated to show that it is paid in full, or that it is a ‘Paid Collection.’ Although it is not removed, a collection account that has been paid is usually viewed slightly more positively by lenders than if the debt was still outstanding.”

2. Should I Go to the Source?

If you find a mistake should you ask the credit bureau or the creditor to remove it? You can certainly reach out to the creditor to ask them to fix the error. They may have additional information about your account that can help them figure out what’s really going on. And if they agree it is wrong they must supply the correction to all the credit reporting agencies that received the erroneous data. But if that doesn’t work it’s a good idea to file a dispute with any credit reporting agencies reporting the mistake.

“In either case – whether that information is disputed by the consumer and subsequently removed,  or if the information is  removed by the data furnisher – the information is completely removed from display on the consumer’s credit report,” says Henson.

3. How Soon Will It Be Taken Off?

Consumers often want to know how quickly corrections will be made. Generally, credit reporting agencies have 30 days to investigate errors. (That period can be extended by 15 days if they request more information.)

Fixing the actual mistake can happen quite quickly, but it can sometimes take as long as a month or two to receive an updated report.

If you are monitoring your scores, you should see them change as soon as the new information has been reported and an updated credit score is requested. Your score is calculated based on credit report information available at that moment in time.

4. Will It Come Back?

Just because you don’t see information on your credit reports anymore that doesn’t mean it has completely disappeared. Says Robert Brennan, consumer law attorney and founder of SoCalCreditDamage.com, “The material technically is never completely deleted.  Each of the credit bureaus has a ‘suppress’ or ‘block’ function that it can apply to any item on your credit report, so when the credit report is sent to you or to a creditor, the suppressed or blocked information is not included. However, it still resides in the bureau’s database in a ‘blocked’ status.” This is done so that if the creditor reports the same information again, the system should stop it from reappearing.

“Once removed, incorrect information cannot be re-reported,” says Jay Fleischman, also a consumer law attorney and founder of ConsumerHelpCentral.com. “In other words, it is improper for the information to show up on the credit report again. This seldom happens, but it’s not impossible.”

Before an item that has been taken off the report after a dispute goes back on the report, the consumer must be notified. “An item that is removed as a result of a consumer dispute can be reinserted only with notice to the consumer as required by the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act),” says David Blumberg, public affairs manager with TransUnion.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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