How to remove negative items from your credit report

Missed payments and other items generally stay on your report for seven years, but they can be removed sooner in some cases

Summary

If a negative item such as a late payment is holding down your credit score, you may be able to get it removed from your credit report, particularly if it’s an anomaly or it doesn’t actually belong to you. Here’s how credit blemishes can be erased from your report.

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If you’re trying to improve your credit score, but have a few blemishes on your credit report, there are a few things you can do.

Negative items on your credit report can stay there for seven to 10 years, but you can try to remove them sooner, especially if they’re the result of errors or identity theft. You can also try to negotiate with creditors to have accurate negative items removed, or hire a credit repair company to help improve your credit score.

While accurately reported negative items generally can’t be removed, there are ways to eliminate erroneous or fraud-related items and even legitimate missteps from your credit report. If you suspect that there are negative items or mistakes in your credit report but aren’t sure, start by requesting a free copy at AnnualCreditReport.com.

How long do negative items stay on my credit report?

Most negative items stay on your credit report for seven years. One exception is a chapter 7 bankruptcy, which hangs around for 10 years.

Missing a credit card or loan payment, or one becoming seriously past due, will negatively impact your credit score. Other credit missteps that can hurt your score include collections, repossession and foreclosure.

How to dispute a credit report error

Errors are common on credit reports, and it is not unusual for a credit report to include negative information about someone else — or for your own credit report to contain mistakes.

If you see any of these errors on your credit report, you can dispute the mistake with the credit bureau that generated that report. Each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — has a dispute resolution center on its website, but you can also file a dispute by mail.

Keep the following tips in mind when you’re disputing credit report errors.

Pay attention to the timing

When you’re disputing an error on your credit report, it’s best to do so sooner than later. In general, the credit bureaus have up to 30 days to investigate and respond to your dispute. Once you have all the documentation you need, it’s best to move quickly to resolve the issue.

Keep your dispute letter simple

It’s best to keep your dispute letter short and to the point. Include an explanation of the error and any supporting documentation.

For example, you might send a letter disputing a late payment notification by sending a payment confirmation from the lender or a copy of the canceled check you used to pay the bill. If the error involves an account that isn’t yours, send a copy of your driver’s license as proof.

You might even want to dispute the account directly with the lender before sending a letter to the credit bureau.

Avoid sending originals of any documents unless the credit bureau specifically asks you to. Instead, use copies of the documents and keep the originals for your own records.

Keep track of your correspondence

When you dispute errors on your credit report, it’s essential to keep track of your correspondence. Retain copies of the letters you’ve sent and be sure to date them.

When the credit bureau responds to your letter, it should send you the results in writing. If the dispute results in a change to your credit report, be sure that you receive a free copy of the updated report.

How to remove negative items related to identity theft

Sometimes negative items on your credit report are the result of identity theft. If you find yourself the victim of identity theft, it’s best to take steps to minimize the damage to your credit report.

The first step is to obtain your credit reports from all three credit bureaus immediately. If you find negative information, file a police report and add a fraud alert to your credit report. You can also request a credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies.

To remove negative credit report items related to identity theft, the best way to start is to file a dispute with the credit bureau or the company that provided the information to the bureau. If the dispute is found to be accurate, you can try including additional documentation to support your request.

Other ways to remove negative items

Sometimes it’s possible to remove accurate negative information from your credit report by working directly with the creditor. For example, you could try to remove late payments on your credit reports by writing a goodwill letter. A goodwill letter is a note you send to your credit card issuer or lender explaining why you missed a payment. For instance, if you were affected by a major storm and your power was out for several days, perhaps you weren’t able to make your credit card payment on time. In general, goodwill letters work best if you’ve been a responsible borrower in the past and your credit misstep is an anomaly. However, your creditor is under no obligation to grant you mercy.

If you have a long overdue debt that’s being pursued by a collection agency, the collector may be willing to negotiate your payment in exchange for deleting the item from your credit report. However, this practice runs afoul of consumer data collection standards.

Should I hire a credit repair firm?

Credit repair companies can help you improve your credit score by disputing inaccurate information on your credit reports. However, there are many scams in the credit repair industry.

If you are considering hiring a credit repair company, you should do your research to find out if the company is legitimate. Check to see if there are any complaints filed against the company with the Better Business Bureau and read reviews from previous customers.

The cost of credit repair can range from $69 to $149 per month, depending on the services offered. The process of improving your credit score by disputing inaccurate information on your credit reports can take several months to a year.

Bottom line

While negative items stay on your credit report for up to seven or 10 years, there are ways to remove them sooner. You can dispute credit report errors with the credit bureaus, or try to negotiate with the creditor directly. You can also hire a credit repair company to help improve your credit score.

To prevent negative items from hitting your credit report in the first place, practice good credit habits, such as paying your bills on time every time and regularly checking your credit report.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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