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By Andrea AgostiniGabriel Rodriguez and Norma Rodríguez
Updated: September 3, 2021 12:05 PM ET | Originally published: August 25, 2021

 

Money; Shutterstock

We’ve outlined how to remove negative items from your credit report and the paid services you can use. Remember that only incorrect items can be removed. If you’ve done this already, but your credit score is still low, you will need to repair bad credit over time. Although accurate items cannot be removed by you or anyone else, there are still many credit report errors that can damage your score, and these are worth looking out for.

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How To Remove Negative Items From Credit Report Yourself

1. File a dispute with the credit reporting agency

Initiate a claim directly with the credit bureau by writing a dispute letter. The purpose of this letter is to notify them that you believe certain information in your credit file is inaccurate.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA) requires creditors to report accurate information about every account. This means they have a legal obligation to review, investigate, and respond to your claim. This process is free and can take up to 30 days to complete.

You can begin a dispute with any one of the credit bureaus through their websites or via mail. The leading credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. It’s essential to have documentation and to be precise about the information you are challenging.

Each of the three major credit bureaus has an online section dedicated to walking consumers through the process of disputing a claim online. It would be best to dispute the entry with each credit bureau to make sure the removal is complete across the board. After receiving the initial claim, the credit bureau will contact the source of the erroneous information and dispute it on your behalf.

How to file a dispute letter:

  • Write a letter to any one of the credit bureaus. The Federal Trade Commission offers a free sample letter consumers can use as a reference
  • Give specific, detailed descriptions of each item in question
  • Explain thoroughly why that item is incorrect and clearly state that you want it removed or corrected
  • Be sure to enclose copies of every document that supports your claim (but keep the originals!)
  • Mail the letter by certified mail with the return receipt requested. This will certify that the credit reporting agency received the letter, and you will receive a signature as evidence.
  • Keep the certified mail signature, along with copies of your letter and any enclosed documents

2. File a dispute directly with the reporting business

Reporting businesses include credit card issuers and banks. Upon receiving a dispute, they are required by law to investigate and respond. If the reporting business corrects the issue, you saved yourself the step of contacting the credit reporting agency. It is vital to make sure the items are cleaned up for all three credit bureaus mentioned above.

However, trying to work out your debt directly with the lender will not necessarily change the amount of time said negative item would remain on your credit report. It will only change if the dispute is resolved with the lender and deleted from your credit report.

3. Negotiate “pay-for-delete” with the creditor

Requesting pay-for-delete means that the debtor offers to pay the debt (partly or in full), and in exchange, the collector or original creditor agrees to delete the account from the credit report. This strategy is usually employed when debts have already been sold to a debt collection agency.

Investing time and energy in a pay-for-delete request may not be necessary. The latest credit scoring models (FICO 9 and Vantage score 3.0) don’t consider paid collection accounts when calculating your score. This means that once you pay a collection account fully, it will not weigh down your score, even if it still lingers on the actual credit report.

Benefits of pay-for-delete

Consider pay-for-delete for accurate items that cannot be contested with the credit reporting agency. Creditors want to get back as much money as possible, so committing to paying may be enough of an incentive for the collection agency to remove a negative entry from your credit report.

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Downsides of pay-for-delete

Pay-for-delete is not a dependable solution. It is a request, and the collection agency has all the right to reject the petition. Furthermore, it falls into a legal gray area because debt collectors must legally report accurate information to the credit reporting agencies.

Pay-for-delete also won’t remove an account completely from the credit report. It may remove the account in collection, but the negative item from the original creditor (say, the non-payment of a student loan or credit card), will still appear.

4. Send a request for “goodwill deletion”

Like pay-for-delete, writing a goodwill letter seems like a long shot, but it’s an option for borrowers who want to exhaust every possible alternative. Write to the creditor and ask for a “Goodwill Deletion.” If you have taken appropriate steps to pay down your debts and have become a more responsible borrower, you might be able to convince the creditor to remove your mistake.

There is no guarantee that your plea will get a response, but it does get results for some. This strategy is most successful for one-off problems, such as a single missing payment, but it may be futile for borrowers with a history of missed payments and credit mismanagement.

When writing the letter:

  • Assume responsibility for the issue that caused the account to be reported to begin with
  • Explain why the account was not paid
  • If you can, point out good payment history before the incident

5. Hire a credit repair service

A reputable company like Credit Saint may be a viable solution if your report is riddled with inaccuracies that further complicate the repair process. Credit repair services can help you with the following items:

  • Cleaning up credit report errors
  • Disputing inaccurate negative entries
  • Handling creditor negotiations

If you decide to hire a credit repair service, know that laws govern how they operate and what they can do. The Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) establishes the following regulations governing credit repair services:

  • They cannot provide false or misleading information concerning a person’s credit status and identification
  • They must provide a detailed description of the service
  • They cannot receive payment for the performance of any service until said service has been entirely performed
  • There must be a written contract detailing the services to be performed, the time frame during which these services will be performed, and the total cost for those services
  • They cannot promise to remove accurate information from a credit report before the term set by law (seven years, ten years for some bankruptcies)
  • The consumer will have three days in which to review the contract and cancel without penalty

Credit repair companies provide a helpful service, but it is crucial to understand what they can and cannot do. Any company that promises to remove accurate negative items is most likely scamming you or engaging in illegal practices that will come back to haunt you. Have realistic expectations, make sure the credit repair company is reputable, and avoid paying high fees before any work has been done.

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6. Work with a credit counseling agency

Several non-profit credit counseling organizations, like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), can help dispute inaccurate information on your credit report. The NFCC can provide debt counseling services, help review your credit reports, work with lenders, and help create a debt management plan free of charge.

As always, be wary of predatory credit organizations or companies. Make sure to find a reputable counseling agency and keep a lookout for any red flags, like hidden fees or lack of transparency.

When looking for a credit counselor, the Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to check out each potential agency with:

  • The Attorney General of your state
  • Local consumer protection agencies
  • The United States Trustee program

7. Get a free copy of your credit report

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting companies. Monitoring your credit report is a necessary practice to keep in check any negative information. Consumers should obtain their free credit report and review it at least once a year to catch any irregularities on time and keep track of disputed items.

Consumers are entitled by law to a free annual credit report from each of the three main reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and you can access all three of them through one single website:

AnnualCreditReport.com is the only authorized website through which you can gain free access to your credit report from the three major bureaus. Be wary of other sites that promise the same, as they may have hidden fees, try to sell something, or collect personal information.

Online at AnnualCreditReport.com
Phone: (877) 322-8228
Mail: Download, print, fill out, and mail to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Experian offers a free 30-day trial period before charging you $21.95 a month for the monitoring service. With that fee, you get identity-theft protections, fraud-resolution services, and credit score monitoring, which helps you be aware of any issue you might need to clean up your credit report. Credit reports are also available through each of the major reporting agencies themselves. If consumers sign up for one of these companies’ monitoring services, the membership includes unlimited access to your report, amongst other benefits.

Equifax made headlines in 2017 due to a massive data breach, but it remains one of the top 3 services to get your credit report. The company provides a few different service levels if you want to monitor your credit score monthly (instead of getting a free, yearly report). Monitoring packages start at $14.95 per month, and the $19.95 per month options (there are two) include, ironically, a host of identity-theft protection options.

For $24.95 a month, TransUnion will monitor your credit scores from all three reporting bureaus in real-time, alert you if someone applies for credit using your name, and features personalized debt coaching services.

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Avoid The Following Strategies

Closing a line of credit that is already behind on payments

This does nothing to remove the debt, plus it and can lower your score, as it will increase the debt-to-credit ratio.

Filing for bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a legal process that will be listed as a public record. It will show up even after your debts are discharged, and the bankruptcy process is completed. Consider bankruptcy only if the burden of debt becomes untenable

Impact of bankruptcy on your credit report

It will hurt your credit score by up to 200 points or more and will also remain on your credit report for seven to ten years.

Common Credit Report Errors To Look Out For

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, these are the most common errors consumers find on their reports:

Mistaken identity

  • Wrong name, address, and phone number
  • Mixing up your account with someone with a similar name
  • New accounts owing to identity theft

Incorrect account status

  • Accounts that are wrongfully reported as open, past due, or delinquent
  • Accounts that wrongfully list you as the owner instead of authorized user
  • Wrong dates in last payment, date opened, or delinquency status
  • Same debt listed multiple times

Data management

  • Information that is not removed, despite already being disputed and corrected.
  • Accounts that are listed multiple times, with different creditors

Balance

  • Incorrect current balance
  • Incorrect credit limit

Negative Credit Report Entries That Impact Your Score The Most

Accurate items will stay on the credit report for a determined period. Fortunately, their impact will also diminish over time, even if they are still listed on the report. For example, a collection from a few years ago will bear less weight than a recently-reported collection. If no new negative items are added to the report, your credit score can still slowly improve.

Multiple hard inquiries

Multiple hard credit checks over a short amount of time are a red flag for lenders, as it tells them that you are applying for credit too often and, potentially, being denied.

Delinquency

Payment history constitutes a large portion of your credit score. If you are chronically late or not paying at all, it will hurt your score significantly. It also signals lenders that you cannot afford or are unwilling to pay your debts.

In some cases, a creditor might wait two months before reporting delinquency, but according to Equifax, a single payment past due by 30 days can cause a point drop. Reported delinquencies stay on record for seven years.

Foreclosure

Foreclosure is another red mark on your credit that can cause a credit score to drop substantially. FICO reports that a credit score can see up to a 100-point drop from a foreclosure, depending on the consumer’s starting score. Foreclosures stay on record for seven years.

Charge-offs

A charge-off happens when the original creditor has given up on you paying your debt, and they “charge off” your account. This could cause a credit score drop of 100 points or more in some cases. Charge-offs stay on record for seven years.

Repossessions

If your car is repossessed, the credit bureaus may include a note in your credit report that stays on record for up to seven years. A repo can include many of the negative line items you see here, such as late or non-payment, so the score drop can easily exceed 100 points.

Judgments

A judgment happens when a court gets involved to ensure debt repayment. Credit score impacts can vary, but the drop could also be of over 100 points. Judgments stay on record for seven years.

Collections

A collection occurs when the original creditor resorts to hiring an outside firm to collect payment. Collections fall under payment history, so the hit to your credit score can also be over 100 points. Collections stay on record for seven years.

What Makes Up Your Credit Score?

A credit score is determined by multiple models, each with its own private metrics and criteria. VantageScore and FICO scores are the ones consumers should pay the most attention to. Both use the same source material: the credit reports generated by the three major credit reporting agencies.

VantageScore 4.40’s Scoring System

VantageScore prioritizes total credit usage, balance, and available credit first, followed by credit mix and experience. It then considers payment history, age of credit history, and new accounts. The VantageScore model does not take into account closed accounts.

FICO’s Scoring System

FICO scores are an industry standard used by most lenders, and it is composed of five categories. The amount owed is another strong influence on your FICO score, accounting for 30%, while the least important are the new credit and credit mix, accounting for only 10% each.

What’s Included In Your Credit Report?

A credit report includes a variety of information that makes up a detailed summary of your credit history. You’ll usually find the following types of information on all of your reports:

  • Personal information (name, address, social security number, date of birth, employment information)
  • Credit accounts (types of accounts, payment history, opening date of accounts, credit limit or loan amount, account balances)
  • Credit inquiries (hard inquiries, soft inquiries)
  • Risk factors (items in your credit history that are hurting your score)
  • Bankruptcies (filing date and chapter or type of bankruptcy)
  • Collections (credit accounts, accounts with doctors, hospitals, banks, retail stores, cable companies, or mobile phone providers)
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Impact Of Identity Theft On Your Credit Report

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it to apply for new lines of credit. If these new accounts go into default, they will appear on your credit report and hurt your score.

Cleaning up your credit after identity theft can take anywhere from a day to several months or even years. The longer it takes you to realize someone stole your identity, the more difficult it will be to undo the damage. Monitoring your credit report will help you to stay on top of potential fraudulent charges.

Credit Repair FAQ
How long does bankruptcy stay on your credit report?
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Completed Chapter 13 bankruptcies stay on your report for seven years. Chapter 7 bankruptcies stay in your report for 10 years.
How long do late payments stay on your credit report?
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Late payments stay on your report for up to seven years from the original delinquency date — the date of the missed payment.
How long do hard inquiries stay on your credit report?
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Hard inquiries stay on your report for two years before they fall off naturally. However, they only impact your score for the first 12 months. They have no impact on your score after that point. Additionally, not all hard inquiries impact credit scores.
How to dispute a credit report?
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The dispute process involves sending a letter to the credit bureau that generated the report with the inaccuracy and explaining the error. Then, you must inform the person, company, or organization which provided the inaccurate information that you are disputing an item in your report. The bureau generally has up to 35 days to investigate and respond to a claim.
How much will my credit score increase if a negative item is removed?
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It depends on the item in question and how it affects the score. Seeing as past due payments account for a higher percentage than, say, hard inquiries, a late payment that drops off will raise the score significantly, while a hard inquiry will not make that much of a difference.
How to remove collections from your credit report?
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To remove a collection from your report, you may dispute it, request debt validation, or request goodwill deletion. You may also negotiate a pay-for-delete to eliminate the collection.

COVID-19 and Credit Repair: What You Should Know

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, consumers can find debt and credit relief measures. Unfortunately, original creditors and debt collectors can still report negative items. But lenders have put accommodations in place for consumers to avoid falling behind on payments in the first place. These include:

  • Payment plans
  • Mortgage forbearance
  • Deferred payments
  • Loan modifications
  • Reduction of interest rates
  • Loan extensions
  • Waiving late fees

If borrowers take advantage of most of these accommodations, creditors must keep reporting your accounts as current.

Given the skyrocketing unemployment rates caused by the pandemic, it is important to note that filing for unemployment will not show up on your credit report nor affect the score.

Until April 20, 2022, Experian, Equifax, and Transunion will offer free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com. Having regular access to credit reports will help consumers monitor and protect their personal finances during the pandemic.