Most people don't realize how many time limits there are for negative items on a credit report. There are federal laws regulating credit reports, but there are also agreements among the three major credit bureaus that they'll report certain items for shorter periods of time. This article explains how long different types of derogatory marks can stay on your credit report as well as how to get both accurate and inaccurate items off your credit report.
Written by Attorney John Coble.
Updated August 12, 2021
If you have derogatory marks on your credit report, you might be able to remove them. If the marks are inaccurate, you can send a dispute letter. By law, credit bureaus have to remove inaccurate items. If the derogatory marks are accurate, it's less likely you'll be able to remove them, but it may be worth trying.
This article explains how long different types of derogatory marks can stay on your credit report. It also discusses how to get both accurate and inaccurate items off your credit report.
Time Limits for Different Derogatory Items on Credit Reports
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the federal law regulating credit reports. The FCRA has several time limits for how long a derogatory mark can remain on your credit report. Collection accounts are accounts placed with the original creditor's collection department, assigned to a collection agency, or sold to a debt buyer. The creditors are credit card companies, student loan companies, mortgage companies, and other personal lenders.
Missed payments, late payments, repossessions, and foreclosures can remain on your credit report for seven years. Hard inquiries can stay on your report for two years. By law, bankruptcies, whether under Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 can remain on your credit history for 10 years from the filing date. But, all three of the major credit bureaus— Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—only report Chapter 13 bankruptcies for seven years. The credit bureaus can change this exception for Chapter 13 bankruptcies at their whim, but you can take comfort that they have followed this rule for the past several years.
The FCRA allows charge-off debts in collection accounts to stay on your credit report for up to seven years plus 180 days (about 7.5 years). Yet, the collection account can only remain on your credit report for seven years. Is this a contradiction? No. The debt can be on the payment history as a delinquency for the lesser of the time before it's transferred to collections or 180 days. After that, it can stay on your credit report as a collection account for seven years.
What happens if the debt remains with one debt buyer for three years and then it's sold to a second debt buyer? The second debt buyer can only report the collection account for four more years. The time doesn't start over just because there's a new debt collector. It doesn't matter if it's assigned to a new collection agency, the seven years don’t start over and there are no new 180 days.
Time Limits for Liens and Judgments
The first thing to know about liens and judgments is the three major credit reporting agencies have adopted the National Consumer Assistance Plan. This plan has strict requirements for public records items on credit reports. At the time of this writing, bankruptcy is the only public records item that meets these strict requirements.
Most items on your credit report are provided by the original lenders, collection agencies, and debt buyers. These entities are called the "furnishers." Some credit report items come from public record searches by the credit bureaus. Bankruptcies, for example, are public record. And, civil judgments and tax liens are recorded in county recording offices across the nation. The credit bureaus have decided to stop searching these local records offices but this could change at any time. For this reason, it's important to understand the law.
The FCRA allows tax liens and judgments to stay on your credit report for as long as the statute of limitations for those items. Statutes of limitations are laws that set a time limit for the enforcement of legal rights. For this reason, the seven or 10-year limitations don’t apply to judgments and some tax liens. Federal tax liens are enforceable for up to 10 years, so they can stay on your credit report for 10 years. A state may have a different statute of limitation for its tax liens. For example, California has a statute of limitation for the collection of California state taxes of 20 years. That means, in California, a federal tax lien can stay on your credit report for 10 years, but a lien for state taxes can stay on your credit report for 20 years. Right now, tax liens and judgments are not showing on credit reports, though this could change.
A judgment can stay on your credit report as long as it's allowed to stay in effect under state law. In some states, a judgment is enforceable for 15 years. In other states, a judgment may only be enforced for 10 years but can be renewed indefinitely. Theoretically, in such states, the judgment would stay in effect until it's paid off as long as it is renewed before the expiration of the judgment. It’s important to remember that reporting limits for credit reports and statutes of limitation aren’t the same. Statutes of limitation are only relevant for judgments and liens.
Are there "special credit reports" where all items can stay on the report forever?
Yes. Negative marks can't be on your regular credit report after a certain amount of time passes. But every derogatory mark remains on the credit bureaus' computers. The FCRA allows the credit bureaus to report these items under the following circumstances:
A credit transaction that is for more than $150,000 or should be expected to be for more than $150,000;
The underwriting of life insurance involving, or which may reasonably be expected to involve, $150,000 or more; and
The employment of any individual at an annual salary which equals, or which may reasonably be expected to equal $75,000, or more.
So, for example, if you apply for a mortgage, the lender can see missed payments going back further than seven years since most mortgages are for more than $150,000. Does it matter? If mortgage companies were only lending to people who never had a past-due payment, they would go out of business due to a lack of "qualified" borrowers. Will an old missed payment cause you to pay a higher interest rate? Probably not since there's competition among lenders for your business.
Credit reports related to job applications may be a bigger issue. Several states have prohibited or restricted employers' abilities to get prospective employees’ credit reports. These states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Even if you live in a state where employers aren't restricted from seeing your credit report, most employers don't pull your credit report. The employers that do pull credit reports often only get the reports for applicants to cash-handling positions.
Ways to get an item off your credit report quicker than 7 or 10 years
Some lenders or debt buyers forget to stop reporting an item after seven years. Debt collectors sometimes purposely leave items on past their time to increase their chances of collecting the money. It's important to get these negative items off your credit report. It could mean the difference between good credit and bad credit. How do you do this credit repair?
Dispute inaccurate items.
If inaccurate negative information is on your credit report, it needs to be removed. Removing errors helps your credit score, which is also known as your FICO score. But how do you remove an inaccurate item? Start by disputing the debt.
You can file a dispute by letter, online, or via telephone. Though credit bureaus make it easy to dispute erroneous items by telephone or online, this isn’t recommended. It’s important to keep a written record of your dispute to ensure FCRA timelines are followed. If you use the telephone, you're not keeping a written record of the dispute. Filing through the website does provide a paper trail, but it can have unintended consequences that hurt you too.
The FCRA gives you the right to sue the credit bureau and the creditor if inaccurate negative information isn't removed after a dispute. Some people who’ve filed disputed online have inadvertently agreed to an arbitration agreement, losing their right to sue the credit bureau or creditor. In the past, credit bureaus’ websites have included arbitration agreements in their terms and conditions.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) Arbitration Agreements Rule may protect you from these arbitration agreements, but don't depend on it. This rule applies to arbitration agreements in loan contracts. It isn't clear if it would apply to credit dispute issues. The rule was also overturned by the Trump administration. It could return under the Biden administration.
For these reasons, writing a dispute letter to the credit bureau is the best practice. It's also a good practice to send a copy of this letter to the debt collector too. Send your letter using certified mail with a return receipt so you can prove you sent the letter and when the credit bureau received it. What should your letter look like? The CFPB has sample letters that can help you get started.
Include any supporting documentation with this letter. This might include bank statements and bills showing that a late payment was actually paid by the due date. Or it could be an account statement showing that you have a zero balance when the credit report shows you still have a balance. The documentation should be any evidence that supports your position.
Once the credit bureau receives the letter it has 30 days to resolve the issue. It must get in touch with the furnisher (the original creditor, collection agency, or debt-buyer) to investigate the disputed item. The FCRA allows 45 days for the investigation if you provide additional documentation during the 30 day period. A CFPB rule allows 45 days if you're disputing the item from your annual free credit report.
The next question is, where do you send these letters? You only need to send the dispute letter to the credit bureau that is showing the inaccurate item. The addresses for each of the major credit bureaus are:
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
Pay and request the creditor remove the item from your credit report.
If the derogatory mark on your credit report is accurate, your chances of getting it removed are much lower. The credit bureaus will not remove an accurate item. You might be able to get a debt collector to remove the item from the credit report. This is unlikely to work, but it does work at times, so it's worth a shot. There are two ways consumers try to get accurate information removed. One is to send a goodwill letter and the other is to negotiate a pay-for-delete debt settlement.
A goodwill letter is a humble request that explains the difficulty that caused you to pay late or miss a payment. Goodwill letters are sent after you've paid an item. You'll ask for the mercy of the creditor. Sometimes, the lender will remove the item. It's worth a try since it will improve your FICO score if the item is removed.
The other way to get an item removed is to agree to pay off the debt only if the debt collector will remove the item from your credit report. This should not work since it usually violates the furnisher's contract with the credit bureaus. Some debt collectors aren't as worried about being caught as they are about making money. If that’s the case, this may work. For you, it could improve your credit score.
Most people don't realize how many time limits there are for items on a credit report. On top of that, there are agreements among the three major credit bureaus that they'll report certain items for shorter terms than the law allows. Currently, there are some items such as judgments and tax liens that the credit bureaus aren't reporting. It's important to know the legal limits since the credit bureaus’ decisions to report less than the limits allowed by the FCRA aren't binding. They can change at any time.
You don't have to wait for an item to expire from your credit report. The law requires credit bureaus to remove items that are shown to be erroneous. Some consumers have had success convincing creditors such as credit card companies, student loan lenders, and even collection agencies to remove accurate items.
To have the best credit score possible, it's important to review your credit reports at least once a year. When you find errors, dispute them. You'll end up saving a lot of money with the lower interest rates that come with a better credit score.