How to Handle a Negative Credit History

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The effects of a negative credit history are far-reaching. It can keep you from borrowing money for a house or car, from getting a good insurance rate, and even from getting a job.

You might have to pay security deposits on utilities, cell phone companies may require higher deposits or full phone purchases, and landlords may turn down your rental applications.

You can turn your credit history around, but it takes time.

What Is a Negative Credit History?

Having a negative credit history means you have several pieces of negative information on your credit report—a document that contains details of your payment and account history with creditors and lenders.

Several things can hurt your credit, but a negative credit history is most often caused by severe delinquent accounts like late payments, debt collections, charge-offs, repossession, foreclosure, or bankruptcy on your credit report. These all come from missing payments on your accounts.

Having high balances on credit cards and loans, compared to your credit limit or original loan amount, can also lead to a negative credit history.

Note

One or two late payments alone won’t cause a negative credit history, but several late payments will. This is especially true if you’re late on several different accounts within a short period of time.

How to Tell If You Have a Negative Credit History

Checking your credit score is the best way to gauge your credit history. Your credit score is a three-digit number that grades the information in your credit report. The lower your credit score, the more negative your credit history is.

FICO and VantageScores both range from 300 to 850. Scores on the lower end of the range, usually lower than 650, indicate a negative credit history.

Important

Older versions of the VantageScore ranged from 501 to 990 and included a letter grade, similar to a school grade, along with the credit score number making it easier to tell what your credit score means.

Your credit report is the second part of investigating a negative credit history because it’s the document that includes the negative details. Consumers in the U.S. are typically entitled to a free credit report every year from the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Now through April 2021, you can access this free credit report once each week. Otherwise, you can purchase a credit report directly from one of the credit bureaus or myFICO.com.

You can also check your credit score for free—no credit card required—by visiting CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com, or WalletHub.com. Many major credit card issuers also include your free credit score on your monthly billing statement. Keeping track of your credit score allows you to gauge whether you have a negative credit history.

Improving a Negative Credit History

Accurate negative details can stay on your credit report for up to seven years, or up to 10 years for bankruptcy. If the information blemishing your credit history is inaccurate, you can dispute that information with the credit bureau to have it removed.

Disputing credit report errors is as simple as writing to the credit bureaus letting them know there's an error with your information. If you have any proof of the error, include it with your letter to help the dispute process.

You might be able to remove other negative information from your credit history with a pay-for-delete or goodwill letter. The former is a request to remove negative information in exchange for payment, and the latter is a request to remove negative items as a matter of goodwill.

Warning

Businesses do not have to remove accurate negative information from your credit report as long as those items are within the credit reporting time limit. Even paying a delinquent account doesn’t change the fact that you were once delinquent.

“Time heals all wounds” is true, even with a wounded credit history. As the negative information gets older, it will have a lesser impact on your credit score.

You may begin to qualify for new credit cards and loans, but you may not get the best terms until your credit score has improved. You may have to accept low limits and high interest rates until your negative credit history gets better.

Use these accounts to demonstrate you can handle credit and to add positive information to your credit history. This will help you improve your credit and qualify for much better accounts in the future.