Late payments on your credit report can cause a dramatic drop in your credit score. This can in turn substantially increase how much you’ll pay for financing. If you find falsely reported late payments on your credit report, you have a right to dispute the incorrect information. In some cases, even if the reported information isn’t blatantly inaccurate, you may still be able to negotiate with the creditor to remove the late payment from your credit history. This article will cover how late payments affect your credit report, the difference between when they're reported correctly and incorrectly on your credit report, and what you can do to remove them.
Written by Attorney Paige Hooper.
Updated September 3, 2021
Your credit report can have an enormous impact on your personal finances. The information in your credit report is the basis for your credit score. Your credit score can affect your ability to get a credit card, buy or rent a home, set up utilities or phone service, secure an auto loan, or even get a job.
The most important factor in calculating your credit score is your payment history. So, even one late payment can negatively impact your credit score. If your credit report contains late payments, they could be costing you a lot of money, especially if they were falsely reported. Fortunately, you can take steps to remove erroneous late payments from your credit history.
Errors in Credit Reports
Your credit report is a detailed summary of your financial activity over the past 7-10 years. Credit reports typically contain information about open and closed credit accounts, payment history, collection actions, and public records such as bankruptcies. Credit scoring software uses the information in your credit report to generate your three-digit credit score. Lenders use this score to assess your creditworthiness and to determine your interest rates.
Your credit report and credit score may also come into play when you buy car insurance, lease an apartment, or apply for a job. Despite how important it is for lenders and other furnishers to report information accurately, finding mistakes on your credit report is surprisingly common. Over the past decade, multiple studies have revealed that between 20-34% of people have errors on their credit reports.
Inaccuracies on your credit report can be a very serious problem. This is especially true for negative items such as incorrect balances, duplicate debts, or payments reported as late. These errors are sometimes the work of hackers or identity thieves, but most of the time they’re simply mistakes. Still, even an innocent slip-up can wreak havoc on your credit score and potentially cost you a lot of money, so it’s important to make sure your reports are accurate.
In the U.S., there are three major credit reporting bureaus — TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax — that compile and oversee credit reports. Usually, you’re entitled to a free credit report from each bureau once every 12 months. But through April 2022, you can access your report once every week. You can catch mistakes by reviewing your credit reports from all three bureaus carefully.
If you find inaccurate information, you’ll typically need to notify the appropriate credit reporting agency and, in some cases, the relevant creditor. Some credit errors are simple to dispute, while others are more complex. If you’re unsure about disputing an item, it’s usually best to seek professional advice from a credit counselor experienced in credit repair.
How Late Payments Affect Your Credit
The FICO scoring model is the oldest and most widely used method for calculating credit scores. Your payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO score, making it the most important scoring factor. It looks at whether you’ve ever made a late payment and if so, how late.
Under federal law, creditors can’t report late payment information to the credit reporting bureaus unless they are at least 30 days past the due date. Payments that are fewer than 30 days late won’t affect your credit report or credit score, though you may be subject to late fees or other penalties from your lender. Payments that are 30 or more days late, on the other hand, can have a serious impact on your credit score. The higher your credit score is to start, the more points you can lose due to a late payment. Making just one payment 30 days late can lower a 780 credit score by 90-110 points and a 680 score by 60-80 points.
Late payments continue to show up on your credit report for approximately seven years. More recent activity carries more weight when calculating your score than older information. In other words, as time passes, late payments have less of an effect on your credit score.
Generally, your credit can bounce back from an isolated 30-day-late payment within a few months, provided you otherwise have good credit and a long history of paying on time. On the other hand, if your report contains multiple payments that were 30, 60, 90, or more days late, the negative effect on your credit is more severe and recovery is more difficult.
Correct vs. Incorrect Information
If you want to remove negative information from your credit report, you’ll first need to determine whether the information is correct. Accurately reported negative items, such as late payments, usually can’t be removed from your credit report by any method except the passage of time.
Misinformation, on the other hand, can and should be removed. Incorrect entries, such as inaccurate late payments, can significantly harm your credit score and your financial prospects. Inaccurate personal information, such as your name or Social Security number, won’t affect your credit score, but errors in this information can cause other problems. It can often be extremely challenging and time-consuming to correct mistakes in your personal information. The credit bureaus and the federal government take identity theft seriously, so you’ll have to overcome some security hurdles to get this information corrected.
By comparison, incorrect financial items, such as falsely reported late payments, are fairly easy to remove. Each credit reporting bureau offers a free online dispute process that you can access through their websites, or you can send a dispute letter. You’ll need to report which item you believe is inaccurate and why. Attach any evidence or documentation that supports your position.
The credit reporting bureau has 30 days to investigate your claim, so it may take 30-45 days to receive a response. If the bureau agrees with you, it will remove the inaccurate item, though the removal may not be reflected in your credit report or score until the next month or next reporting period. If you’re in the middle of a major financial transaction, such as applying for a mortgage, it’s possible to have your report and score updated sooner — often within days— by paying for a rapid rescore.
If the late payments on your credit report are correct, you can ask the creditor that reported the delinquency to remove it from your payment history. A goodwill letter or a pay-for-delete letter are two possible ways to accomplish this.
Federal law requires creditors to report your account activity accurately and consistently. That said, the law also gives creditors the ability to decide whether to report each late payment. You may be able to use this flexibility to your advantage by sending the creditor a letter requesting a goodwill adjustment.
A goodwill adjustment is when a creditor voluntarily agrees to retract a reported late payment, based on your history of prior dealings with the creditor. A goodwill letter is the easiest, most straightforward way to get a late payment removed from your credit report. But this typically only works if your existing payment history has been relatively good. In other words, if this is your first late payment in a long time.
To write a goodwill letter, first outline your history of on-time payments and good relations with the creditor. Then explain why your payment was late and attach supporting documentation if applicable. The creditor may be more likely to comply with your request if you had a legitimate reason for paying late, such as a hospitalization, natural disaster, or other hardship. Assure the creditor that the late payment was a one-time incident, and request that the creditor remove the late payment from your credit report.
Even with an excellent reason for paying late and an otherwise spotless payment record, the creditor is not obligated to grant your request for a goodwill adjustment. In some cases, offering the creditor something in return, such as offering to pay off a loan that you’re behind on, may increase your odds of success.
Pay for Delete Letter
If you don’t have an established history of timely payments with a creditor, or if your account has already been transferred to a collection agency, a pay for delete letter may be an option. A pay for delete request is when you offer to pay a (usually past-due) debt in exchange for the creditor removing the negative information from your credit report.
A pay for delete letter should identify the account and clearly express the terms of what you are offering in exchange for removing the item from your credit report. You can offer full or partial payment. You can also offer to enroll in automatic payments so you avoid late payments in the future.
Like goodwill letters, creditors are not obligated to respond to or comply with pay for delete requests. There are also several other reasons why a pay for delete letter should be used only as a last resort:
It’s legally sketchy. While the pay for delete process is not explicitly illegal, the practice falls within a legal gray area. By law, creditors and collection agencies must accurately report payment history, and only inaccurate records may be legally removed from a credit report.
It’s incomplete. If the account has been sent to collection, the collection agency may agree to withdraw its report to the credit bureaus. Even so, a collection agency can’t remove the account as reported by the original creditor, which will likely remain on your report as “charged off” or “transferred to collection.”
It may not help. If the account is already in collection, removing it from your credit report likely won’t increase your credit score. That’s because the major credit scoring models, FICO and VantageScore, have ignored collection accounts for scoring purposes since 2016 and 2013, respectively.
File a Credit Dispute To Remove Incorrect Information
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects your right to repair your credit history. If you find mistakes on your credit report, such as erroneous dates, inaccurate balances, or duplicate accounts, you have a right to dispute the items as falsely reported. In some cases, it can be difficult for lenders to verify the exact details of your account history. If the reporting creditor is unable to verify the accuracy of the disputed item, the credit reporting bureau will remove that item from your credit.
Late payments on your credit report can cause a dramatic drop in your credit score. This can in turn substantially increase how much you’ll pay for financing. Review your credit reports from all three credit bureaus carefully to check for any mistakes that could be hurting your score.
If you find falsely reported late payments on your credit report, you have a right to dispute the incorrect information. In some cases, even if the reported information isn’t blatantly inaccurate, you may still be able to negotiate with the creditor to remove the late payment from your credit history.