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How Long Do Public Records Hurt My Credit?

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Public records on your credit reports — including bankruptcy and some tax liens — can linger for years. How many years depends on the issue. Here are common ones that people worry about:

How long will bankruptcy stay on my credit report?

Bankruptcy will affect your credit for different lengths of time depending on which chapter you file. The two most common chapters for individuals are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or liquidation bankruptcy, stays on your credit reports for 10 years. This type of bankruptcy wipes out most or all of your debts, but some of your existing property may be sold in order to help pay these unpaid debts.

In order to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must pass a means test. It examines your income in relation to your state’s median income, any bankruptcy filing history, your necessary expenses and current debt load. It may be determined that you’re able to pay for some of your debts on a payment plan. In this case, you’ll file Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for seven years. This type of bankruptcy allows you to keep all of your property, but does require you to pay back some or all of your debt through a three- to five-year payment plan. Therefore, you have to prove to the court that your income is sufficient to cover your payment obligations, or you’ll be referred to Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

How long will a tax lien stay on my credit report?

A tax lien is the government’s legal claim against your property due to nonpayment of taxes owed. Paid tax liens will stay on your credit report for seven years after the filing date. Unpaid tax liens stay on your credit report for 15 years.

If there’s a lien on your property, there are a few options to withdraw or discharge it. This doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You will still owe the debt, and it may still be reported as a public record.

However, as of July 1, 2017, liens may not appear unless they have sufficient identifying information, including either a Social Security number or date of birth.

What about civil judgments?

A civil judgment is the decision made by a judge on a lawsuit. For instance, if you’re very delinquent on one or more of your bills, the company you owe may attempt to collect what you owe by suing you. If a judge determines you owe this money, the judgment could be reported on your credit report.

However, vast majority of civil judgments do not meet the rules imposed on July 1, 2017, requiring identifying information such as a Social Security number or date of birth. Those that do, however, can be reported for seven years.

So I’m doomed to seven to 15 years of bad credit?

While these items will stay on your credit report for this amount of time, the good news is that credit-scoring models focus more on recent history than years-old credit information.

Going forward, the best thing you can do for your credit is keep all of your accounts in good standing. That will stack up more-recent positive information to offset the older negatives.

This article was updated Nov. 22, 2017.