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Negative information on your credit can be extremely frustrating. You know it’s not good, and you just want it to go away. Before you pull your hair out or spend thousands of dollars trying to repair your credit, you’ll want to understand the ways this kind of information can be removed from your reports.

First, find out exactly what you’re dealing with. You can’t fix what you don’t know about, so you need to get your credit reports (here’s how to get them for free) and your credit scores (which you can get for free at Credit.com) so you can see how these items may be affecting your credit.

If your reports do contain derogatory information, here are five ways to get it removed.

1. Wait It Out

Over time, negative information can no longer be reported. The limit is usually seven years, with some exceptions:

Collection accounts may be reported seven years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor (such as your credit card issuer) leading up to when the account was placed for collection.

Bankruptcies may be reported 10 years from the date you filed, though the major credit reporting agencies will remove completed Chapter 13 cases seven years from the filing date.

Unpaid judgments can be reported indefinitely or until the statute of limitations expires, though credit reporting agencies will usually remove these 10 years after they were entered by the court.

Unpaid tax liens may also be reported indefinitely, though you may be able to get them removed sooner if you qualify under the IRS Fresh Start Program. Here’s how to get tax liens off your credit reports.

2. File a Dispute With the Credit Reporting Agency

Under federal law, you are allowed to dispute any information on your report that is inaccurate or incomplete. Does your charged-off credit card or collection account list an incorrect balance? Are wrong dates listed? You can challenge it. If the information is not confirmed by the original source reporting it (such as the collector or credit card company) in a timely manner — usually 30 days — it must be removed.

In fact, this is the main tactic credit repair companies use. The truth about credit repair is that these companies often send form letters to the credit reporting agencies asking them to investigate negative items on consumers’ credit reports hoping some will not be confirmed and will no longer be reported.

While the fastest way to dispute mistakes is to request an investigation online, in the case of serious mistakes you may want to send a letter to to fully protect your rights. Here’s a guide to fixing credit report mistakes.

3. Ask the Creditor to Remove It

Creditors and other furnishers who report information also have the power to correct or withdraw it. This is sometimes referred to as “re-aging” the account. You can ask creditors to stop reporting something that is accurate but negative because of extenuating circumstances, and sometimes they will agree. For example, if you have always paid your credit card bill on time but then accidentally missed a payment when you were in the hospital or traveling, your issuer may be willing to stop reporting the slip-up. Or you might be able to persuade a medical provider who failed to properly bill you to pull an account back from collections.

Keep in mind that creditors and collection agencies aren’t supposed to remove negative items just because you agree to pay them. So you’ll want to have a persuasive argument as to why they should work with you.

In addition to asking the company that furnished information to the credit reporting agency to make an exception for you, you also have the right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to dispute an item directly with that furnisher. Simply send them a letter (with proof of delivery) using the contact information found on your credit report. Generally they have 30 days to investigate and get back to you, or the information must be removed.

4. File a Complaint With the CFPB

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulates credit reporting agencies as well as many of the companies that furnish data to them. Generally, you will want to try the methods listed above to resolve the problem before you contact them. And they can’t help you remove accurate but negative information that you simply don’t want listed on your reports. But if you have a legitimate problem you have been unable to resolve, you can file a complaint. In turn, they may contact the parties involved and you may get results you weren’t able to get on your own.

5. Hire a Consumer Law Attorney

If all else fails, you may need to reach out to a consumer law attorney for help. If a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act occurred, you may be entitled to statutory damages of $100 to $1,000 per violation as well as actual damages for losses you suffered, emotional damages and/or punitive damages. A consumer law attorney familiar with the FCRA and state laws can help you determine whether this is the appropriate course of action.

[Offer: If you’re worried about errors on your credit reports, and you don’t want to go it alone, you can hire companies – like our partner Lexington Law – to manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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  • heavyw8t

    As I have found out recently, #1 is the most important, and should maybe be #5, because once you have made sure there is nothing inaccurate on your report, time is the only thing that will heal your credit score. You can do so much, but if your performance has been weak, nothing or nobody is going to be able to create what amounts to a falsified credit report. Many fly by night companies profess to be able to do that (I hear an ad all day long on satellite radio making this claim), but if your credit history is poor, it’s time to man up and admit that the only thing that can fix it is time.

    • SpikeWon

      And as the debt ages your credit report gets better. A 6 year old debt means less than a 2 year old debt.

    • missDD86

      That’s not true. There are attorneys who are able to get the items completely removed if you have paid the items off, because there is no real reason those things should still be on your report if you have paid them off. So petitioning the credit bureaus to remove the items in order to help raise your credit score is not a bad idea, it’s called being proactive and fixing your credit. Unfortunately paying the item off is not always enough to get it removed, so it’s important to challenge the items once they have no real reason to continue to be there.

      • heavyw8t

        I respectfully disagree. It is not the debt itself that caused the blemish, It is the late payment itself that caused the blemish. Paying off the debt does not retroactively correct that the payment was late however many months prior. I would love to have you post concrete examples of how an attorney got a legitimate late payment entry removed from your credit report. 99% of those “credit repair” places are scammers. They do nothing that you could not do yourself with a little bit of internet research and effort. You can always get erroneous information removed, but if it is accurate, it will remain. Whether it is damaging or not, if you committed the offense, you will need to wait it out until it falls off. Those late payments can remain as long as 7 years even if you have since paid the account off. I am living proof of that. I had court judgments against me. I paid them in full well before the settlement deadline, Those items are still on my report. I had a friend who is an attorney petition the three credit bureaus on my behalf and their response was pretty much what I said earlier. It is the offense of not making the payment that is the item on the credit report. Not the debt itself. There is a subtle but accurate difference in those two things. Your debt could have been as little as $50 but if you went 180 past due and it went to collection, paying the $50 doesn’t reverse the fact that you missed the payment, and THAT is how the negative entry happened.

  • Scot

    You’re wrong, after a debt has been sold it still must be removed from your report 7 years from the original delinquency, so yes you might have new items on the report but they will be removed when the original delinquency will be removed, or 180 days later

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Selling the debt doesn’t erase the fact that collection accounts must be removed 7 years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor. The scenario you describe used to be true before Congress updated the Fair Credit Reporting Act. However, you do raise a very important point: unpaid collections may be sold creating a new collection account on the credit report. We wrote about that here: Credit Report Double Jeopardy Means Double Damage

    • Jason Nunnelley

      Old convo, I know. But, there’s the rules and then there’s how collections companies and reporting agencies make money. It’s not in their best interest to strictly adhere to the rules, let alone enforce them.

      You just have to dispute the items when collectors break the rules. You dispute, report a violation of the rules, complain, and if needed sue for damages.

  • Sara Manalakos

    Matthew, I have a question to this, I just completed paid of a debt with a CA and settled for less than the original amount, and hadn’t missed a payment in over a 2 years with the CA. My credit score hasn’t improved at all. The new alert that just showed up on my report really looks more like a negative stating “settlement reported”. How do I get this turned around to a positive and improve my score?!? I have no more credit debt, but credit score still looks HORRIBLE!

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Unfortunately paying collection accounts doesn’t help credit scores under the most widely used models (VantageScore 3 and FICO 9 treat ignore collection accounts with zero balances, but those models aren’t widely in use yet). However, by resolving it, you don’t run the risk of having the debt turned over to still another agency, creating a new collection account. As this account ages, it will have less impact provided everything else is paid on time. Make sure you have positive references reporting going forward. Also make sure the original date of delinquency is reported properly so it comes off your reports when it should.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    If by resolved you mean disputed and removed, then the scores should rise without you having to do anything further. If you mean that the accounts have been paid off or brought up to date, you’ll find tips here:
    How to Rebuild Credit

  • Today

    I paid a lien in full to the a state of Illinois. They didn’t remove it from my credit report. I have the letter stating that it has been paid in full

  • kiki

    On my credit report there is no real information about tbe derogatory marks….just initials and amounts. How do i find out what they are? Is it because the report i get is a free one? Thanks!

  • christina

    I have a question I fell behind on one of my credit cards and it has been sold to a collection agency and I have been making monthly payments with them …. This year will be 7yrs since I fell behind from the original creditor if I stop paying them will it close the account cause its been 7yrs from the original creditor or is it 7yrs from when I started to pay the collection agency

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      A collection account remains for 7 years plus 180 days from the date the account was delinquent leading up to when it was placed for collection. After that time, it must be removed regardless of when it was paid or when it was placed for collection.

      Stopping paying will not close the account, though; it will stop it from being reported on your credit report. You can read more here: Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

  • ick

    I have a heloc of about 122000 that went into default the same time that a mortgage loan I had went into defaulr in 2009, the credit report will remove the mtg default in July of 2016 which is ok but the heloc of 122,000 wont; be removed until until Aug 2018, why would that be? Also will tha stop me from getting a loan which I am going to need to refi in Oct of 2016?
    Eccy

  • Teresa

    I had a couple of monthly secured loans but for awhile I fell into the circle of renewing them each several times when monies were available as opposed to making the payment. They have all since been paid off in full and show as paid and closed on my reports but due to me renewing go back a few years I know these are having a negative impact on me due to the constant renewal but since they are all closed how can I get them off?

  • Gil R

    I have two negative marks on my credit I have paid both off and have received a paid in full notes but they both still appear as not paid on my credit report what can I do to get them removed?

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