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Clean up credit before finding new apartment

By

To Her Credit
To Her Credit, Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also writes regularly for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
Ask Sally a question, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Question

Dear To Her Credit,
How do you go about having an eviction removed from your credit report?

My boyfriend and I want to rent a place together, but he has a few delinquencies we are taking care of, this eviction being the big one. His ex paid the company and had it taken off her credit report, but it was never taken off of his.

Keep in mind, it takes seven years before it falls off the report and my boyfriend is in year four. Thanks in advance for any information you can provide! -- Emily

Answer

Dear Emily,
How do you have true, negative marks removed from your account? You don't.

I think your boyfriend's ex may be confused as well. Here's why:

  1. You generally can't pay to have accurate information removed from your credit report. Credit reporting is not designed to work that way.
  2. Credit reports do not show records of evictions. According to Wayne Sanford, president of the credit consulting company New Start Financial, "If you are evicted, then it will show up as a collection as any apartment debt a consumer owes, such as cleaning fees or lease breaking."

However, it is true that paying off the amount your boyfriend owed his old landlord will improve his credit.

Sanford explains where some of the confusion may come from. He's heard of collectors making it sound like the debt will no longer be on your report once paid. That is partly true as the outstanding balance is shown as paid in full. However, he says, "The negative account and its reporting will stay on for another seven years from the last payment."

Sanford also notes, "Two of the largest apartment collectors, Hunter Warfield and Rent Debt, do not offer 'pay for deletions.'"

Here's what you and your boyfriend should do.

First, check both your credit reports, if you haven't done so already. You can pull them for free once a year from each of the big three credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. Never assume you know what's on them. If you see erroneous information, be sure to have those items removed by disputing them. If either of you have negative marks for which you have an explanation -- for example, if your boyfriend was unemployed or hospitalized when he fell behind on bills -- add a 100-word statement to your credit report.

Still looking at your credit reports, try to determine what you can do to improve your credit scores (you have to pay about $20 each to get your FICO scores at myFICO.com). You may boost your scores if you pay down your credit card balances, for example. You can also improve your credit utilization ratio by having your credit card's credit limit increased. (Don't use the higher credit limits, or you'll be in worse shape than before!) Pay off any other outstanding debts, such as medical bills, that show up on your reports.

When you apply for an apartment and your are asked for permission to pull your credit, you should explain remaining negative marks. There's no need to tell them your boyfriend has been evicted. Just point out his good history of paying rent and bills since then. Remember that negative marks from four years ago are far less relevant than more current information.

From now on, the best way to improve your credit score is to always, always pay bills on time. Consider setting up minimum payments with your bank online, so you never have late payments. When the bill comes, you only have to pay the remaining balance. When the two of you become fanatical about paying bills before they are due, your credit scores should start looking better, and your chances of landing the place you want should quickly improve.

See related: FICO's 5 factors: The components of a FICO credit score

Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts
Vexed by a personal finance problem? CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers every weekday. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.
Gary Foreman, New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman,
"New Frugal You"
Sally Herigstad, To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad,
"To Her Credit"
Tony Mecia, Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia,
"Cashing In"
Barry Paperno, Speaking of Credit columnist Barry Paperno,
"Speaking of Credit"
Elaine Pofeldt, Your Business Credit columnist Elaine Pofeldt,
"Your Business Credit"
Erica Sandberg, Opening Credits columnist Erica Sandberg,
"Opening Credits"

Published: March 21, 2014


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