Credit scores predict whether or not you’ll make payments on time, so it's no surprise that late payments can drag down your scores. In some cases, it is possible to have late payments removed from your credit reports as you rebuild your credit.
Accurate, or a Mistake?
Late payments appear in your credit reports when lenders report that you paid late. That can happen in one of two ways:
- You actually paid late, and the lender report is valid.
- You never paid late, and the lender or credit bureau made a mistake adding the payment to your report.
If the report is accurate, it can be difficult and time-consuming to get the payment removed from your reports—and it likely won't be removed for seven years.
If the late payment is incorrect, it can be relatively easy to fix the error. You need to file a dispute explaining that your report contains a mistake and demand that the payment be removed. If you mail the letter, then you should send it by certified mail with a return receipt request.
Lenders must correct errors, and failing to do so is a violation of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Fixing the error may take several weeks, but you may be able to accelerate the process using rapid rescoring, in which you pay for a faster update of your report. Doing this typically only makes sense if you’re in the middle of a home purchase or another significant transaction.
How to Get Late Payments Removed
The simplest approach is to just ask your lender to take the late payment off your credit report. That should remove the information at the source so that it won’t come back later. You can request the change in two ways:
- Call your lender on the phone and ask to have the payment deleted. The first person you talk with most likely will not be able to help you. Politely ask to escalate the issue and speak with a manager or a department that can approve your request. Once you have them on the line, make your case politely.
- Write a letter and ask for a removal. Often known as a goodwill letter, these requests allow you to formally explain why the payment should be removed. Include proof that supports your case—the more, the better.
If the late payment is accurate, you can still ask lenders to remove the payment from your credit reports. They are not required to do so, but they may be willing to accommodate your request, especially if one or more of the following apply:
- You paid late due to a hardship like hospitalization or a natural disaster
- The late payment was not your fault, and you can document the cause (for example, your bank made an error and will provide a letter explaining the problem)
- You can offer them something in return, like paying off a loan that you’re behind on
- You usually pay your bills on time and you made a one-time mistake
Hardship reasons can help, and you get even better results if you ask nicely. This is a stressful and important situation for you, which makes it especially challenging, but your odds are always better if you can calmly explain your case and ask for help.
Your initial request may not be successful. That’s okay—ask several times and try your luck with a different customer service representative. Ultimately, you might not be able to get those payments removed, but it’s worth a few tries.
Some situations are so complicated or unfair that you need professional help. An attorney licensed in your area can review your case and offer guidance on additional options.
If You Don’t Succeed
Late payments in your credit history will remain for seven years, which can make it harder to get approved for the best loans and insurance rates. After that time, the payments will “fall off” your credit reports—they’ll no longer be shown to others, and they won’t be part of your credit score.
Rebuilding Your Credit
Especially with late payments in your reports, you'll need to rebuild your credit to raise your scores. The most important thing you can do is to avoid additional late payments—get your payments in on time going forward. Send payments several days early, and sign up for electronic payments (at least for the minimum payment) to prevent problems.
Also make sure you don't get too close to your credit limits on any of your accounts. It's safe to stay under 30% utilization of your credit to ensure that it doesn't negatively impact your score.
Adding new installment loans and making those payments on time might also help, but only borrow if it makes sense to borrow. Don’t just borrow to game the credit system—it costs money, and you need a strategy for it to work.
Borrowing With Poor Credit
Your scores will be lower if late payments remain on your credit reports, but that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow money. The key is to avoid predatory lenders (such as payday lenders) who charge high fees and interest rates.
A cosigner may be able to help you get approved for certain types of loans. Your co-signer applies for a loan with you and promises to make the payments if you stop paying on time. Lenders evaluate their credit scores and income to determine their ability to repay the loan. That may be enough to help you qualify, but it’s risky for the co-signer, because their credit could take a hit if you make late payments.
Why Late Payments Matter
Your payment history is the most significant factor in your FICO credit score, with a 35% weighting. Even if your credit reports are in good shape, one late payment can damage your credit.
The impact of one late payment depends on several factors, including whether or not your lenders ever report late payments to credit bureaus.
Payments less than 30 days late are unlikely to appear in your credit report. After that, payments get categorized (30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and so on, until the lender resorts to a charge-off). Paying 90 days late has a more severe impact than paying 31 days late.
One or two late payments will undoubtedly damage your credit, but the damage is limited if you avoid making a habit out of it. If you regularly pay late or you have late payments on multiple loans, the impact will be greater.
A late payment affects your credit score within a month or so. Fresh information is meaningful for the scoring model. Still, it can be helpful to remove late payments that are several years old, because any negative items in your credit will weigh down your scores.