Your credit report is a fundamental part of your financial record that details your financial activity over time. The information in your credit report will determine your credit score.
While this information is compiled using data supplied by your banks, lenders, and other financial institutions, it isn’t necessarily completely accurate.
If you have negative items on your credit report, you should try to remove them so you don’t have to wait seven years to have good credit. It’s in your best interest to start cleaning up your credit report if you want to get a mortgage, car loan, insurance, or even a new job. Here’s how to get started.
How to Get Something Off Your Credit Report
According to the Federal Trade Commission, “No one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report.”
However, if the item is questionable or doesn’t quite tell the entire story, you are entitled to file a dispute. You can request an investigation with each credit bureau that’s reporting it. You also have the right to file a dispute if an account results from fraud or identity theft.
Request Your Credit Report
The first step is to request a free credit report from each of the credit bureaus.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), consumers are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months.
Be aware that you won’t see your credit score on your credit reports. Instead, it will contain your identifying information, as well as a history of your financial movements as reported by the respective credit bureau.
Review Your Credit Report
After you’ve gotten your free credit report from each credit reporting agency (credit bureau), you need to review them to see which items are hurting your credit scores.
In this step, you’ll locate errors and negative information on your credit reports that needs to be corrected or removed. Pay close attention to the account information and payment history included on your credit reports and highlight any issues.
Look closely at:
- Personal information, such as the name, address and Social Security Number listed on your accounts.
- Account information, including balances, credit limits, payment history and current status.
- Bankruptcy and collection data, including whether any of your accounts were marked past due for over 30 days and sent to a collection agency.
It’s also essential to make sure the item you are disputing is actually negative. You want to avoid disputing credit accounts that positively impact your credit scores.
Submit Dispute Letters to the Credit Bureaus
Before trying anything else, we recommend writing a dispute letter to each of the credit bureaus reporting the negative item. Creditors are mandated by federal law, the FCRA, to report accurate information about each account.
When a dispute is filed, the credit bureau must remove the negative item from your credit report if they cannot verify it with proper documentation.
You can dispute items on your credit reports by phone, online, or mail. But disputing credit report errors by snail mail is the most effective method for several reasons.
The three credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate and respond to your credit report dispute. However, you may sometimes receive a letter from the actual creditor requesting that you provide additional documentation so they can properly investigate the claim. This is a common stall tactic, and you’re not obligated to respond.
What to Do If the Dispute Letters Don’t Work
Dispute letters should take care of the problem. But sometimes, credit bureaus and your creditors don’t cooperate. The good news is you still have numerous options to have them removed.
Write a Goodwill Letter
No luck with direct contact or a written dispute? A goodwill letter is another tool in your arsenal to nix those late payments from your credit report.
These letters are ideal in situations where you missed payments and are now in good standing. (If the account(s) is already in collections, a pay for delete arrangement may be your best bet. More on that shortly…)
A goodwill letter is a written request to the bank, credit card issuer, or other creditor to remove the late payment from your credit report.
There’s no guarantee that they’ll remove the negative mark, but it’s worth a shot. Plus, you can plead your case again if they reject your request the first time around.
When drafting up your letter, be honest about why you were delinquent. For example, if you became unemployed or dealt with medical issues, include that information. Or maybe you had a compromised account, or an autopay glitch that prevented the payment from processing.
Regardless of your reasoning, be as specific as possible and reiterate that the entry does not reflect your true character. It just resulted from a financial rough patch, and that you’ve worked hard to get back on track.
Request a “Pay for Delete” Arrangement
If you have unpaid charge-offs or collections, you can offer to pay the unpaid debt in exchange for deletion from your credit report. You can even negotiate with them to pay a lesser amount than what you originally owed. In fact, some collection agencies will settle delinquent accounts for far less than what’s owed.
But before moving forward, you want to make sure that you’re negotiating with the right collection agency. If the debt has bounced from place to place, you may have a better shot at having the item deleted by filing a dispute. This forces the collection agency to prove that the outstanding debt is actually yours.
Otherwise, make your offer in writing to the collection agency and await approval before remitting payment. (And don’t give them your banking information. Submit a paper check, instead.)
They may counteroffer with a higher amount. However, you have the option to keep negotiating until you reach the sweet spot. Once both parties agree on an acceptable number, the debt collector will remove the item once the balance is paid in full.
Please note: You must do this in writing so that you have proof that they agreed to the arrangement if the negative item is not removed.
Still no luck?
Consider Hiring a Professional
If you’ve exhausted all your options and still haven’t had much luck, professional credit repair services can help you. This is also a viable option if you simply don’t have time to correspond back and forth with the creditors or credit bureaus.
Of course, you’ll want to go with a trusted credit repair company that has a proven track record and wealth of experience in the field.
Wait For the Negative Item to ‘Fall Off’
If all else fails with the above tactics, your only choice may be to wait for those negative items to fall off your credit report. Federal law allows most negative information to be reported for up to seven years. Bankruptcy, however, can be reported for up to 10 years.
Negative information affects your credit score less and less over time, especially if you are managing your credit history and adding positive information.
A credit reporting agency will usually delete negative items from a report after the seven-year period. However, information may still be kept on your credit file and can be released under certain circumstances. If you apply for a job with a high salary or a credit line or insurance policy over a certain amount, creditors may still have access to that information.
Benefits of Cleaning Your Credit Report
In addition to simply being a great financial habit, reviewing your credit report for negative items can literally pay off by improving your credit score. It’s always worthwhile going through your credit report carefully, and acting quickly to dispute any errors or old information.
Another significant reason to regularly clean your credit report is identity theft. It could severely damage your credit score, and often the only way to know for sure is by reviewing your credit report. Regularly scanning your reports will make it easier for you to spot potential instances of identity theft.
Common Credit Report Errors
It’s good to be aware of the most common credit-related errors that pop up on a credit report. This can make it easier for you to know what you’re looking at when you encounter an error.
Identity theft is a real threat. However, if you see an unfamiliar address or account on your credit report, it may just be a case of mistaken identity.
If you suspect this, the first step is to contact the respective creditor to see if you can resolve the error. Sometimes this kind of issue can be due to simply sharing a name with another consumer. Or perhaps human error led to the credit bureau mixing up your contact information with that of another consumer.
Incorrect Account Status
There could potentially be a related to the status of your accounts. For example, you might be reported as a primary cardholder when you’re merely an authorized user on your parents’ account.
In addition, there could be incorrectly reported dates, payments information, or duplicate accounts. The majority of such errors should be easy to solve by contacting the creditor directly. However, you can also dispute them with the credit reporting agencies if necessary.
There could also be some kind of error relating to the balances of your various accounts. This could be an incorrect current balance, an incorrect lifetime account maximum, or simply an incorrect credit limit.
The good news is that these items can usually be fixed by the creditor relatively easily. However, you may also wish to file a dispute with the reporting agency.
Credit Report Repair Strategies To Avoid
Filing for Bankruptcy
It’s important to know that filing for bankruptcy doesn’t remove negative information from your credit report immediately. It’s true that when your debts are discharged through bankruptcy, the balances will be reported as $0. However, the accounts will remain on your credit report for up to 10 years.
Many people mistakenly presume that closing a delinquent credit account will remove it from your credit report. But simply closing an account won’t eliminate the delinquency reporting. If you close an account with a past due balance, your delinquent payment will continue to be reported until you complete the payments.
Paying an Overdue Balance
Furthermore, if you do pay off a delinquent balance that won’t necessarily erase the negative entry on your credit report. After paying the balance, the account status will change to “OK” as long as the account hasn’t been charged off or sold to collections.
If you want to have a previous overdue balance completely deleted from your credit report, you’ll have to contact and potentially negotiate with the creditor.
Removing Negative Credit Report Entries FAQs
How long does it take to fix your credit report?
Removing negative items from your credit report can take anywhere from one to six months, depending on the volume of disputes you make.
How often should I check my credit report?
You should review your credit reports at least once per year.
How long does it take to clear bad credit history?
Negative information will remain on your credit report for up to seven years.
Can I pay someone to clean up my credit?
It is entirely possible to pay a credit repair company to clean up your credit. However, generally speaking, there is nothing they can do that you cannot also do for free. You’re just paying for the expertise and convenience.
It’s possible to have negative items removed from your credit history. But you must be patient and open to pursuing all the methods available to you.