We all know that credit report information reflecting late payments, delinquent or defaulted accounts, and other unfulfilled financial obligations can have a very detrimental effect on your overall credit standing as well as your wallet by extension. Fortunately, there are limits on the length of time such negative information can remain on your files with the major credit bureaus.
But what are these limits? And what can you do if you believe that negative information has overstayed its welcome on your credit reports?
These are very important considerations, as the answers can impact how you should approach your financial situation. There is also a lot of misinformation out there concerning how long negative information can remain on your credit reports as well as what your options are in dealing with it.
The following table will give you a general sense of the shelf life that different types of negative credit report information have. We will also discuss the issue in further detail – offering explanations, exceptions, and tips – below.
|Type of Negative Information||Examples||Timeframe|
|Late Payments||Missing a credit card or loan payment||7 Years|
|Accounts Sent to Collections||Defaulting on a medical bill, phone bill, or loan||7 Years|
|Lawsuits & Unpaid Court Judgments (Public Records)||Child support & tax liens||7 Years|
|Bankruptcy||Chapter 7, 11, & 13||10 Years|
Before we get into further specifics, it’s important to note that there is NOTHING you can do –from hiring a “credit repair” service to even paying off amounts owed – to decrease the length of time that negative information will remain on your credit reports.
Credit reports track your payment history on different types of credit-based financial accounts, including credit cards, car loans, mortgages, and lines of credit. While records of on-time payments can help bolster your credit standing, information about tardy or missed payments will have a negative effect for years.
The impact as well as the length of time that negative information concerning these credit accounts can remain on your credit reports depends on how far past due you are/were on payment.
- Late Payments: People often get concerned that a payment that is just a few days late will be reflected on their credit reports. That is not the case, however, as you must be at least 30 days late on a payment for it to show up on your credit report. Information about payments that are late by 30+ days will remain on your credit file for 7 years from the original missed due date.
- Charged-Off Account: When you are 120 days behind on a loan payment or 180 days late on a credit card, your lender will be required to write the debt off its books (this is known as a charge-off) and your account will be classified as “Not Paid as Agreed” on your credit reports. This information will remain on file for 7 years after you have charged-off.
Accounts that you do not pay as agreed – whether they are charged-off credit accounts or unpaid medical bills, for example – are often sold to collection agencies. These accounts are classified as “Collection Accounts” on your credit reports. Credit accounts sent to collections should be listed as a continuation of the charged-off trade lines that have been on your reports all along (i.e. not new entries), while medical bills generally only show up once they enter collections.
Collection accounts remain on your credit reports for a period of 7 years.
Certain types of publically available information that reflects irresponsibility (usually financial, but not always) will also enjoy an extended stay on your credit reports. The exact timeframe can vary based on the particular type of public record reflected as well as, in certain situations, your payment status.
- Civil Judgments: When a court decrees that you owe money (e.g. for child support or as a result of a lawsuit), a record of this judgment generally remains on your credit reports for 7 years from the date it was filed. This will not change even if you pay amounts owed.
- Tax Liens: Unpaid tax liens can remain on your credit reports indefinitely. Paid tax liens generally remain for 7 years from the date of payment (known as the “release” date).
“Tax liens are a different beast,” says Jessica Gabel, associate professor of law at Georgia State University. “They can hang out on your credit report for the amount of time it takes to pay the assessment plus another 7 years. … Tax liens can stay on a credit report longer than any other negative event.But the IRS will formally withdraw a tax lien if the taxpayer remits a full payment or begins an installment plan that encompasses a full payment. It is up to the taxpayer to request that a withdrawal be filed. This only applies to federal taxes – not state tax liens. It also doesn’t apply to settlements with the IRS or to offers to compromise.”
The length of time that bankruptcy information can remain on your credit reports depends on the type of bankruptcy in question as well as whether or not you have upheld the terms of your filing.
- Chapter 7 & Chapter 11: Remain on your credit file for 10 years from the date filed.
- Chapter 13: A discharged chapter 13 bankruptcy generally remains on your credit file for 7 years from the date filed, while a non-discharged chapter 13 bankruptcy remains for 10 years.
“Interestingly, some people believe that if they file a Chapter 13 – or what they believe is a ‘medical bankruptcy’ (and legally, there is no such thing as a “medical bankruptcy”) – then their credit will be less affected. But that’s not the case,” says Dr. Deborah Thorne, an associate professor of finance at Ohio University. “Now, if folks file before they start to fall behind on their debts, then the overall damage to the credit score should be less because the only negative hit is the bankruptcy. If you don’t fall behind on your bills before you file, then those dings for late payments are not on your credit report.”
Unfortunately, there is no way to minimize the credit score damage that results from bankruptcy. However, you can (and must) take the opportunity to right your financial ship, rather than reverting back to the mistakes that helped get you into trouble in the first place. “Bankruptcy on a credit report isn’t great, but what is even more damaging is to go through a bankruptcy and then come out and get over-extended all over again,” says Mary Jo Wiggins, a professor of bankruptcy law and vice dean at the University of San Diego School of Law. “This can happen fairly easily since a lot of credit issuers actually deluge people who have gone through bankruptcy with credit offers because they know that a significant portion of their personal debts may have been discharged.”
Exceptions Based On State of Residence
In some cases, state law will limit the length of time that certain types of negative information can remain on your credit reports. These exceptions apply only if you are a current resident of the state in question.
- Satisfied Judgments: Remain on your credit file for 5 years from the date filed.
- Paid Collection Accounts: Remain on your credit file for 5 years from the date of last payment.
- Paid Tax Liens: Paid, or “released,” tax liens remain on your credit file for 7 years from the date released or 10 years from the date filed.
- Unpaid Tax Liens: Unpaid, or “unreleased,” tax liens will stay on your credit reports for 10 years from the filing date.
How to Minimize the Impact of Negative Information
When you consider just how important the information on your credit reports is to your overall credit standing as well as the fact that negative information can cost you a lot of money, it’s clear that you should not take the presence of such information in your files lightly.
There’s only so much you can do when records are listed and removed correctly, but that’s far from guaranteed. There are also many “credit repair” companies out there that will promise miracle fixes to your credit woes (for a fee, of course). You should therefore keep the following tips in mind:
- Review Your Credit Reports: In many cases, consumers aren’t even aware of negative information on their credit reports until a lender sends them a disclosure noting that their application was denied or they were given a higher interest rate because of its presence. What’s more, various studies have found that up to 30% of all credit reports contain errors serious enough to warrant a denial of credit. You don’t want to be punished undeservedly, so it’s best to take advantage of your right to a free copy of each of your major credit reports once every 12 months. By requesting one of your three major reports every few months, you’ll increase your chances of spotting inaccuracies as well as fraud before they can have serious consequences.
- Pay Extra Attention to How Collection Accounts are Classified: Debt collectors aren’t always the most ethical bunch, believe it or not, and they have been known to report information as a new trade line rather than a continuation of an existing charged-off account in order to intimidate you into paying them.
- Call If You Have a Question: People tend to hide from financial problems, but if you aren’t sure about something it definitely doesn’t hurt to call your creditor or a credit bureau for an explanation. You might find that an error has been made or the organization in question will be willing to work with you toward a mutually-beneficial solution.
- Regulators are There for You: Consumers have a new ally in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You can take advantage of this watchdog’s regulatory power by reporting illegal debt collection activities or unresolvable situations that you might encounter with a given creditor/credit bureau.
- Don’t Forget About SOLs: While the length of time that negative information can remain on your credit reports tends to be capped, the timeframe in which you are legally liable for amounts owed can reset when you make a payment (or in certain other situations). It’s important to be mindful of what can reset the Statute of Limitations (SOL) clock when dealing with negative information on your credit reports.