Sometimes life happens – late payments, overdue bills and credit mishaps can hurt even those with excellent credit scores. Even the smallest issue can cause your credit score to take a hit and leave a debt collection account on your credit report. Waiting to see credit scores bounce back, or late payments and collections from previous years to finally drop from credit reports is a not an easy feat.
Generally, it can take years for credit scores to return to what they once were.
It’s true that the primary way to heal your credit is the passage of time. Most negative credit reporting remains on your credit reports for up to 7.5 years from the date you first missed a payment to a credit card that later went to a debt collection company.
You can wait while avoiding major financial moves, but you may need your credit score to recover more quickly. You may be looking to finance dependable transportation, or hoping to purchase a home. Your credit may be in rough enough shape that you are denied credit, or find the loan you can qualify for is likely to be set at much higher interest rates. Future financing plans aside, you may just want your credit score fixed ASAP.
Waiting is not the only solution. Here are some ways to get collections and late pays off of credit reports sooner.
Dispute a Collection Account
You can dispute an item on your credit reports that you believe to be inaccurate, incomplete or out of date. This only works if there is a legitimate cause to believe an item is not yours, like a collection account tied to an account you have never had, or an address where you never lived.
You can also dispute if you think the balance of a collection account is wrong. Collection balances tend to get inflated. Sometimes collectors can’t prove how they are legitimately owed a larger amount than what you think it should be. Balance disputes can occasionally result in a collection account being removed from your credit.
Disputes can result in corrections to errors found on your credit reports. This can be done by phone, but oftentimes it can be difficult to reach someone beyond a customer service representative who does not have the power to handle disputes. It may be better to send disputes in writing and use a certified mail return receipt. Keep a copy of all communications you send and organize anything you receive. You may need them later.
Pay Off or Settling Collection Accounts
Settling old bills that went to collections can help improve your ability to qualify for loans. If you have unpaid collections on your credit reports, you may need to pay them to qualify for a home loan. Or, maybe you’re more financially stable and want to resolve old debts.
Negotiating a lower payoff with bill collectors is fairly common. The savings you can achieve will vary by person and account. Paying old collection balances in full can be a lengthy process, whereas negotiating lower payoffs allows you to resolve multiple debts more efficiently. Either paying in full or getting a debt collector to agree to accept less results in the same thing – a zero balance owed updated to your credit reports.
Paid collections can briefly drop a credit score, depending on the one you are looking at. FICO scores factor in whether or not collection items are paid, whereas a newer version of VantageScore will not factor in paid collection items. Settling a collection account and any resulting credit score drop could impact pricing and access to other credit products.
Pay for Delete Requests
There are some limited instances where you can contact your creditor, or a service provider you owe, and request that they remove any negative reporting in return for your full payment. The opportunities for this “pay for delete” method to work are limited. My experiences suggest you may have a shot with this strategy on unpaid medical and utility bills, but little else.
Goodwill Letter Requests
You may also write a letter to someone still reporting negative information to the credit bureaus even though you already paid that account. This is generally most effective when you have a history of ontime payments.
Creditors have no obligation to remove these payments. Realize you are asking people to make exceptions to set business policies and internal job training. In your letter, keep a polite tone and avoid blaming the creditor. While keeping it brief, mention your positive payments and the personal hardships or situation that led to a late payment. You’re asking the person reading your letter to exhibit good will by ceasing to report negative information.
Ensure your letter is sent to the address for correspondence, not the address that receives payments. You may also want to use certified mail to ensure your letter arrives. While positive outcomes from goodwill credit removal requests are generally uncommon, they can be worth a shot. You may find success writing to service providers and companies.
Use these strategies carefully. Goodwill requests and pay for delete negotiations can be counterproductive if you’re reaching out to debt collectors. They have contracts with the credit bureaus and won’t risk those relationships based on your goodwill request, or a payment for one account. When you request credit report removal as a condition before you agree to pay, it could lead to a debt collector to hold out for more money in your negotiations in exchange for help cleaning up your credit.
Request An Expedition of the Removal
If you want to shorten how long it will take for the credit to be removed from your report, it might be wise to send an appeal. Send a letter of appeal to the collection agency, again using certified mail, asking to expedite the removal of this credit. This is a good option for those who plan to make a big purchase or request a loan in the near future. In this request, you may want to explain why the debt collection item is there and any steps you are taking to move forward and clear debt.
While this won’t necessarily facilitate or quicken the process of clearing blemishes on your credit history, it won’t hurt and it’ll help you stay informed. When dealing with collection items from your past, it’s important to check your credit reports, and to determine what you need to work on. You can monitor your credit scores for free on Credit.com to track your progress and get a plan in place to improve them.
Finding the patience to wait for credit damage to run its course, and making good choices to rebuild your credit along the way, can be tough, but it’s worth it. Whether you wait it out or take small actions to quicken the process, getting your credit back on track will be worth it.
More on Managing Debt:
- The Credit.com Debt Management Learning Center
- 5 Tips for Consolidating Credit Card Debt
- Understanding Your Debt Collection Rights
Paige DiFiore contributed to this article. This article has been updated. This article was originally published July 18, 2014.