Why an old debt may vanish from credit report

Don't celebrate yet; it's probably temporary

Speaking of Credit columnist Barry Paperno
Barry Paperno is a freelance writer and credit scoring expert with decades of consumer credit industry experience, serving as consumer affairs manager for FICO (formerly Fair Isaac Corp.) and consumer operations manager for Experian. He writes "Speaking of Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about credit scoring and rebuilding credit, for CreditCards.com. His writings about credit scoring have appeared in The Huffington Post, MSN Money, CBS Money Watch and other consumer finance websites.

Ask a question.

Dear Speaking of Credit,
I noticed a collection account came off my credit report, and the account is 4 years old. Is it possible that it came off only because a new collection agency bought the debt? Could it reappear on my credit report soon? – Scott


Dear Scott,
If a new agency recently bought the 4-year-old collection debt, then yes, it’s possible that recent changes to how the credit bureau reports the debt – new agency name and contact information, for example – could be responsible for its unexpected removal. And yes, in this situation I would expect it to return to your credit report sometime soon.

Fortunately, when the debt returns to your credit report with the new owner’s information, the account should continue to reflect the same “assigned” or “open” date that, along with the date the debt first became delinquent, helps determine the length of time the account will remain on your credit report.

In addition to this possibility, there are a few other scenarios that could explain why it vanished from your credit report:

Falling through the cracks
Have you or a credit repair company acting on your behalf disputed that collection with any of the credit bureaus? If so, there could be a more likely explanation.

For years, using a less-than-ethical credit repair practice called “jamming,” many consumers and credit repair agencies have been able to temporarily remove negative-but-accurate credit bureau information. They take advantage of a legal requirement that gives the collection agency 30 days to reply to a bureau’s request for verification that the debt belongs to the consumer. If that requirement is not met and no reply is received within 30 days, the item must be removed from the credit report.

The “jamming” refers to the consumer or credit repair company disputing everything. They file multiple disputes of all negative item as “not mine” in hopes that eventually the collection agency will fail to respond within the allotted time and trigger removal of the item from the credit report. The thinking here is that the more disputes there are to be investigated, the greater the likelihood of a consumer dispute verification falling through the cracks at the collection agency, credit bureau or somewhere in between.

A major downside for the consumer when using this tactic is that, even when successful, the collection is likely to reappear on the credit report at a later date when re-reported by the collection agency.

Not being reported at all three credit bureaus
Unlike most creditors that report credit accounts to all three major credit bureaus, some collection agencies report to only one or two of the three largest credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). In this case, you shouldn’t expect to see the collection on all of your credit reports.

In your observation that the collection is now missing from your credit report, are you sure you have been comparing credit reports from the same credit bureau? Have you looked at your credit reports from all three credit bureaus? If not, there is a good chance that the missing collection may have never been reported to all three credit bureaus in the first place. This, of course, would not be a bad thing for your credit at the bureau not reporting it.

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to order your latest credit reports from any of the three bureaus that you may not have checked recently by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.

Reported using an old address
Another possible answer to the missing collection question is that, when first reported, the collection agency may have supplied the credit bureau with only your name and an old, perhaps even temporary, address. Neither a Social Security number nor date of birth is required for reporting collections to a credit bureau.

When this occurs a split file can result, due to a lack of sufficient identifying information attached to the collection at the bureau. With a split file, you would essentially have one main file containing all or most of your other credit information and another consisting of only this collection. Unless you or a creditor provide that old address as a previous address in any credit report requests, the collection is likely to be left out of the report you or the creditor receive.

To obtain all of your credit information under these circumstances, simply include the address associated with the collection as a previous address when requesting your credit report.

So, regardless of the reason for its removal, and whether paid or left unpaid, expect to see this collection return to at least one of your credit reports in some form and remain there for another three years.

See related: Nuisance debt in collections under $100 may not hurt score, How long negative information stays on a credit report

Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.

Updated: 01-22-2018