There it is, like a big financial zit on your otherwise unblemished credit report, that derogatory account information. It’s ugly and you want it to go away as quickly as possible, but before you start panicking, you should start off by making sure you have all the facts.
First, find out exactly what you’re dealing with. You can’t fix what you don’t know about, so first and foremost, get your credit report (here’s how to get your free annual credit report) and your credit score (you can get two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com) so you can see how negative items might be affecting your credit.
After that, your options will depend a lot upon what type of negative information you’re dealing with. As a general guide, here’s how long it takes for negative account information to come off your credit report.
- Collection accounts may be reported for 7 years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor leading up to when the account was placed for collection.
- Late payments may be reported for up to 7 years, regardless of whether the account is currently up-to-date. Get more details on how late payments hurt your credit here.
- 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 handle old tax liens on your credit reports.
If you’re willing to do the work, there are some scenarios in which negative information — both accurate and inaccurate — can be removed from your credit report. (If you want help removing errors, you can go here to learn more about your options.)
Accurate, Negative Information
If there’s a blemish on your report that is legit, you still might be able to do something about it. Creditors 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.
Inaccurate, Negative Information
This one is a bit more straightforward, but still requires some effort. Requesting an investigation by the credit bureaus is the fastest way to dispute mistakes, but if it’s a more serious mistake, you might want to send a letter to the creditor in order to fully protect your rights.
“If information is changed by the lender as a result of your dispute, the lender must notify all of the consumer reporting agencies with which it shared the information of the change,” said Rod Griffin, Director of Public Education at Experian in an email. “So, you don’t have to contact [all three] credit reporting agencies, but it is still a good idea to do so to verify that the changes have been made.”
Griffin also advised working with both the creditor and the credit reporting company during the dispute process.
“The credit report reflects the information in the lenders records, so the lender needs to change that information in their files, as well as on the credit report,” he explained. “Working with the lender may result in your credit report being updated without needing to dispute through [the credit reporting agencies].”
Keep in mind the agencies and creditors need to act quickly.
“Erroneous information must be removed immediately,” Troy Doucet, a consumer attorney in Columbus, Ohio, said in an email. Once the bureau receives notice that an error could be present, they have 30 days to validate the account. If they cannot validate it within 30 days, or if it is wrong, then they must remove it.
“We recommend people send verification that the account is erroneous,” Doucet said.
And don’t stop regularly checking your report once an error is removed, recommended Michael Bovee, founder of Consumer Recovery Network and Credit.com contributor. “I see too many instances where deleted items reappear later,” he said in an email.
Failure to remove the erroneous information is a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and 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, and attorney fees.
You can find more information about filing disputes on Credit.com.
Bankruptcies, the Sticky Wickets of Credit Reports
There’s no getting around a bankruptcy on your credit report. By law, a chapter 13 bankruptcy public record will appear in a credit report for 7 years from the filing date. Chapter 7 bankruptcy remains for 10 years.
“The further in the past that the bankruptcy took place, the less impact in will have on credit scores and lending decisions,” Experian’s Griffin said. “It’s important to establish a positive payment history after bankruptcy. Over time, a positive payment history will help offset the negative effect of the bankruptcy.”
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
- How Do I Dispute an Error on My Credit Report?
- What’s a Bad Credit Score?
- How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life
Image: Wavebreak Media