Your credit scores take a hit if you fall behind on payments to a creditor, and again if an account is sent to the creditor’s collection department or sold to a third-party collector. You may be able to repair some damage to your scores by resolving a collections account on your credit reports.
Collections accounts generally stick to your credit reports for seven years from the point the account first went delinquent. You may want them off sooner than that; unpaid collections always hurt your scores. And while newer versions of FICO and VantageScore credit scores ignore paid collections, many lenders still use older formulas that count even paid collections against you.
There are a few ways to get a collections account off your credit report, depending on your relationship with the creditor and the account status.
First, do your homework
Get information on the debt from two places: your credit reports and your own records.
Gather your own records for details on the account, including its age and your payment history.
Between the two, verify these details:
- Account number
- Account status (paid, charged off, closed)
- The date the debt went delinquent and was never again brought up to date
Once you have the details straight, you can decide which approach works for you.
1. If a collection is on your report in error, dispute it
You may have a collections account on your credit report that shouldn’t be there. Maybe it’s too old to still be reported, or the collection itself is incorrect.
Too old to be reported: Delinquent accounts should fall off your credit report seven years after the date they first became and remained delinquent. But that doesn’t always happen. For debts that linger longer than they should, file a dispute with any credit bureau that still lists the debt.
If a credit bureau has made a mistake on your report — if you don’t recognize the account or a paid account shows as unpaid, for example — gather documentation supporting your case. Then, file a dispute by using the credit bureau’s online process, by phone or by mail. The bureau has 30 days to respond.
Collection is incorrect: If you think the error is on the part of the debt collector, not the credit bureau, ask the collector to validate the debt to make sure it’s yours. Note that you have 30 days from the date the collector first contacted you to dispute the validity of the debt. If the collector can’t validate, the collection should come off your reports. Follow up to make sure.
2. If you already paid the debt: Ask for a goodwill deletion
You can ask the current creditor — either the original creditor or a debt collector — for what’s called a “goodwill deletion.”
Write the collector a letter explaining your circumstances and why you would like the debt removed, such as if you’re about to apply for a mortgage. There’s no guarantee your request will be accepted, but there’s no harm in asking. A record of on-time payments since the debt was paid will help your case.
Your credit record will still show the late payments leading up to the collection action, but removing the collection itself takes away a source of score damage.
3. If you haven’t paid the debt: Pay for delete
Debt collectors may be willing to take the collections account off your credit report in exchange for payment on the debt. The collections account will be deleted, but negative information about late payments to the original creditor will persist.
Achieving a pay for delete is rare; you’re more likely to get one if a major life event led to the debt going into collections, such as a loss of job or illness.
If the collector does agree, it can be a win-win: The collector gets payment on the debt, and you get the account off your credit report. Note that you may be able to negotiate paying less than the full amount.
Get the agreement between you and the debt collector in writing to ensure the deal is upheld.
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