Collection accounts generally honor your credit reports for seven years from the time the account became delinquent.
But you might want to take them out sooner than that; unpaid collections can make you look bad to potential creditors. And while the new versions of FICO and VantageScore credit scores skip paid collectionsmany lenders still use older formulas that even count collections paid against you.
Here are the steps to remove a collection account from your credit file:
Dispute the account in case of error
Request a deletion of goodwill if you have paid the receipts
An Unlikely Option: Pay to Remove
1. Do your homework
Get debt information from two places: your credit reports and your own records.
Until the end of 2023, you can get a free credit report each week from each of the three major credit bureaus in using AnnualCreditReport.com. Additionally, you can check your free credit report at NerdWallet as often as you like, plus a free credit score, both from TransUnion.
Gather your own records for account details, including its age and your payment history.
In between, check these details:
Account status (paid, debited, closed)
The date the debt became unpaid and was never updated
Once you understand the details, you can decide which approach works best for you.
2. If a collection is on your report in error, dispute it
You may have a collection account on your credit report that shouldn’t be there. Perhaps it is too old to still report, or the collection itself is incorrect.
Too old to report: Overdue accounts should disappear from your credit report seven years after the date they became and remained overdue. But that doesn’t always happen. For debts that last longer than they should, File a Dispute with any credit bureau that still lists the debt.
If a credit bureau made a mistake on your report — if you don’t recognize the account or if a paid account shows up as unpaid, for example — gather documentation to support your case. Then, file a dispute using the credit bureau’s online process, by phone, or by mail. The office has 30 days to respond.
The collection is incorrect: If you think the error is on the part of the debt collector, and not the credit bureau, ask the debt collector validate the debt to make sure it’s yours. Note that you have 30 days from the date the collector contacted you to dispute the validity of the claim. If the collector cannot validate, the collection should exit your reports. Follow up to make sure.
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3. If you have already paid the debt: Request a deletion of goodwill
You can ask the current creditor – either the original creditor or a collection agent – what is called a “deletion of the goodwill.”
Write the collector a letter explaining your situation and why you want the debt removed, such as if you are about to apply for a mortgage. There’s no guarantee that your request will be accepted, but it’s okay to ask. A record of payments on time since the debt was paid will help your case.
Your credit file will still show late payments leading to collection action, but removing the collection itself removes one source of damage to the score.
4. An unlikely option: pay to delete
Under a payment-for-deletion agreement, debt collectors remove the collection account from your credit report in exchange for payment of the debt. The collection account will be deleted, but the negative information about late payments to the original creditor will persist.
However, achieving a pay to delete is rare, potentially unethical and soon to be obsolete. Since debt collectors must report accurate information to credit reporting agencies, deleting correct information falls into a gray area.
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