Can You Shake 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. With a negative credit history, you might have to pay security deposits on utilities, cell phone companies may not give you a contract (and therefore no discounts on phones), and landlords may turn down your rental applications. You can turn your credit history around, but it won't be easy.

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, judgments, tax liens, or bankruptcy on your credit report. These all come from missing payments on your accounts. One or two late payments alone won’t cause a negative credit history, but several late payments will, especially if you’re late on several different accounts within a short period of time.

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.

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 scores – one of the most used versions of your credit score – range from 300 to 850. Scores on the lower end of the range, usually lower than 650, indicate a negative credit history. The VantageScore is another type of credit score, ranging from 501 to 990. The VantageScore gives 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 since it’s the document that includes the negative details. Consumers in the U.S. are entitled to a free credit report every year. You can get your free reports from the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – through Otherwise, you can purchase a credit report from the credit bureaus or

You can also check your credit score for free (no credit card required) by visiting,, or 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 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.

You might be able to remove negative things 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. 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.

The adage “Time heals all wounds,” is true even with a wounded credit history. As the negative information gets older, it will impact your credit score less. You may begin to qualify for new credit cards and loans, but you may not get the best terms on those. 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. It’ll help you improve your credit and qualify for much better accounts in the future.