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.
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