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How Do I Get Negative Items Off My Credit Reports?

Credit Cards, Credit Score, Personal Finance
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If you have negative items on your credit reports, you’ll want to get them removed for the sake of your credit scores.

With some of these items, you’ll have to be patient and let them resolve themselves. With others, you’ll have to take action.

Wait for them to fall off

The majority of legitimate negative items will linger on your credit reports even after the associated debt is paid off. Here’s how long you should expect to see the following items on your reports:

Bankruptcy is the wipeout of your consumer debt, either entirely or partially. How long it stays depends on the type:

  • Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or liquidation bankruptcy, will stay on your credit reports for up to 10 years
  • Chapter 13 bankruptcy, or the type that requires you to pay off most of your debts on a three- to five-year plan, will stay on your reports up to seven years

A tax lien is the government’s legal claim against your property for nonpayment of taxes. As of July 1, 2017, the three credit bureaus will not include tax liens that don’t have sufficient identifying information, including either a Social Security number or birthdate. For liens that meet the new standards:

  • Paid tax liens will stay on your credit reports for seven years from filing date
  • Unpaid tax liens will stay on your reports for 15 years from the date they were filed

Civil judgment, when you’re sued over money owed and a judge rules against you. The credit bureaus will apply higher standards for identifying information starting July 1, 2017, and experts say most judgments will not clear that hurdle. But if yours does, it can remain there for up to seven years from the date filed.

Charge-off, a delinquent account that the lender has written off because it isn’t expecting repayment: Seven years.

Repossession, a lender taking back an item used as collateral: Seven years.

Account in collections, an account sold to a collection agency because of nonpayment: Seven years plus 180 days from the date you fell behind on payment.

Foreclosure, when a lender forces the sale of an asset to recover the balance of an unpaid loan: Seven years.

Remember, these items will stay on your reports for this number of years only if they are legitimate or you don’t dispute them.

For false negative items on your credit report, you need to take action.

What to do about errors

Dispute it with the credit reporting agency: Every year, you should pull your credit reports from each of the three credit reporting agencies. If there’s a mistake or outdated information on one or all of these reports, you can dispute it.

Ask the company directly to remove it: If you find an incorrect negative item, you can ask the company that furnished the information to the credit bureaus to remove it from your credit reports. You’ll have to provide evidence that the item wasn’t reported accurately, but the company will update all three credit bureaus if you successfully make your case.

If all else fails, take it to the CFPB: If you’re sure the item on your report is incorrect, but the credit bureaus and company refuse to remove it within 30 days, it’s time to take it to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Make a copy of your dispute letter and proof and submit it to the CFPB.

Continue to pursue this until the error is fixed, and then watch your credit reports to make sure no other discrepancies occur.

Erin El Issa is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: erin@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @Erin_El_Issa.

Updated June 30, 2017.